Through Brahms, Freshly, and the Last Year of College

Through Brahms, Freshly, and the Last Year of College

Music In Review 
by Anthony Tommasini

At 27, the conductor Ryan McAdams is not that much older than the players in the New York Youth Symphony, who are mostly of high school and college age. And youthful freshness was the hallmark of the accomplished performance of Brahms’s First Symphony that Mr. McAdams led with this impressive ensemble on Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall.

Beyond the technical confidence, it was the unjaded enthusiasm of the playing that made the Brahms so rewarding. It is impossible for the performance of a staple to slip into routine when the orchestra is made up of gifted young musicians, many playing the piece for the first time.

For 25 consecutive seasons, the New York Youth Symphony has introduced a commissioned work on each program. On Sunday it was “Senior,” a 12-minute score by Timothy Andres, born in California and currently pursuing a graduate degree at the Yale School of Music. The piece is scored for string quartet and orchestra, and the soloists were the brilliant members of ACME Quartet, formed in 2007.

In a program note Mr. Andres writes that his piece evokes the state of mind of a college senior. This pensive and restless music does seem to touch on the conflicting emotions that Mr. Andres identifies with senior slump: expectancy and finality, bewilderment and boredom.

But the piece was fascinating on musical terms alone. As it opens, strings and winds play quietly gurgling figures and oscillating riffs over an ominous pedal tone and sustained chromatic harmonies. The quartet breaks in, giving a poke to the musical ruminations with some jabbing chords. 

As the back and forth continues, the opposing materials mix it up, with the nudging quartet becoming more searching, and the ruminative orchestra seizing on the restless bits and running with them. The acuteness of Mr. Andres’s ear lends intricacy to the layered lines and pungency to the piercing harmonies.

After this rhapsodic performance, to show off what they could do in hyper-charged mode, the ACME Quartet dashed off an encore, the raw, spiraling first movement of Jefferson Friedman’s String Quartet No. 3 from 2005.

The concert began with a breathless account of Carlos Chávez’s one-movement “Sinfonía India” (1936), which integrates elements of Mexican-Indian music into a perky and complex contemporary score. Mr. McAdams, the orchestra’s music director since 2007, is doing essential work.

The New York Youth Symphony’s final concert of the season is on May 31 at Carnegie Hall; (212) 581-5933; nyys.org.

Publication Information

March 24, 2009
The New York Times