by Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times.
The New York Philharmonic’s sold-out concert in its new-music series “Contact!” at Symphony Space on Friday evening had an air of excitement and a refreshing informality.
Alan Gilbert inaugurated the admirable series this season, his first as music director of the Philharmonic. He has said that the Philharmonic musicians expressed interest in forming a contemporary-music group, and to judge from the eclectic and youthful crowd on Friday there is certainly an audience eager to hear them.
Mr. Gilbert conducted a chamber orchestra in three premieres, each prefaced by a lively onstage discussion between the composer and the WNYC radio host John Schaefer. The concert opened with “These Particular Circumstances, “ by Sean Shepherd, a 30-year-old bassoonist and composer from a family of Nevada ranchers.
The “act of composition,” Mr. Shepherd has said, “is a visual one.” The subtitles of his one-movement work “” “Floating, Circling, Spinning. Grinding, Sinking, Teetering, Soaring” “” reflect the moods of its seven sections. “Teetering,” for example, evoked a tightrope image, and the upward motion of the final section, a soaring sensation. There were plenty of striking moments within the detailed, busy work, with its kaleidoscopic use of orchestral color. But some of the linking passages felt less cohesive.
In Nico Muhly’s arresting “Detailed Instructions” he eliminates the violins and doubles up on violas and cellos. During the preperformance chat Mr. Muhly, a 28-year-old American, described some of his more unusual musical directives, like asking the flute to play with a “dusky vibrato.”
“All the Way Up,” the work’s first movement, had a forward momentum, with jaunty wind fragments and a lively mood. “Tilt Your Head,” the second section, was particularly striking, with a piccolo solo and an ambient, dreamy mood. In a Philharmonic podcast Mr. Muhly described it as “very peaced-out Vermont starscape music.” In the finale, “Can’t Wait,” the energy of the first movement was reintroduced with rhythmically driven motifs.
Matthias Pintscher’s “songs from Solomon’s garden,” for baritone and chamber orchestra, came after intermission, with the baritone Thomas Hampson, the Philharmonic’s resident artist this season, as soloist. Mr. Pintscher, a German composer now based in New York and Paris, described the Hebrew texts from Chapter 2 of the Song of Songs as the “most beautiful love poetry ever written.”
“Every word is like a little island,” he added.
The expressive vocal line, sensitively sung by Mr. Hampson, traversed intimate and dramatic arches, beginning with an evocative solo and peaking to an urgent middle section with the text “I adjure you, O maidens of Jerusalem … do not wake or rouse love until it please!”
The ensemble accompaniment mirrored the vocal line at times and took on a different character during several orchestral interludes, with both quiet and spare textures and more colorful climactic moments. The work faded to a gentle close with Mr. Hampson’s final, whispered note.