A (Sort of) Lesson for Youth

A (Sort of) Lesson for Youth

Over the years, the remarkable New York Youth Symphony has been visited by some renowned guest soloists. The inspired young musicians can learn something from these role models, who always perform without a fee.

But the orchestra players, age 12 to 22, should think carefully about what they learned from the violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, who performed the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto on Sunday afternoon in the orchestra's final concert of the season at Carnegie Hall. Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg was typically kinetic and excitable. Her brilliant technique and burnished sound were on display. But so was her penchant for aggressive music-making.

Her tempo fluctuations seemed to have little to do with the content of the music and everything to do with making crass dramatic effects. She maximized dynamic contrasts for the sake, it seemed, of doing so: fortissimos were brutal; pianissimos were nearly inaudible. She took a breakneck tempo in the finale, varying it at whim. That the young musicians, under their excellent conductor, the 27-year-old Mischa Santora, mostly managed to accommodate her was to their great credit.

What are the young players to think? Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg, a recording star and a recent winner of the Avery Fisher Prize, has fashioned her own punkish persona as a violinist. The young people seemed understandably excited. But they should beware of her example.

The major work on the program was Shostakovich's challenging Symphony No. 5, and Mr. Santora, conducting from memory, led a spacious, resonant and accomplished performance. The music has been played with more technical polish but seldom with more eagerness.

Also heard was the premiere of ''Frenzy'' by the 25-year-old American composer David Mallamud. In this lavishly scored 10-minute work, the composer puts a ''small and innocuous motive,'' as he calls it, through a series of transformations. The result is a gyrating whirlwind of a piece. Imagine Stravinsky in his ''Rite of Spring'' mode writing music for the dance at the gym scene in ''West Side Story'' and you will get the idea. The piece may not be deep, but it cooks, and the performance was arresting. Moreover, in performing a new work by an emerging composer on almost every program the Youth Symphony offers its players an example of true dedication.        

Publication Information

May 27, 1999
The New York Times
Anthony Tommasini

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