A Run Through Prokofiev, Complete With a Stumble

A Run Through Prokofiev, Complete With a Stumble

On Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall, the New York Youth Symphony, in its first major concert of the season, was only a couple of minutes from the end of a terrific performance of Prokofiev's bustling and powerful Symphony No. 5 when trouble struck. Somehow a jaunty theme fell out of sync with its rambunctious accompaniment. Paul Haas, the accomplished young conductor of this impressive youth orchestra, whose players range in age from 12 to 22, had no choice but to stop briefly and start over.

This surely bothered the young musicians much more than it did the audience, who cheered vigorously when the performance ended. I single out the problem only to note that it might have been easily prevented.

Mr. Haas conducted this 50-minute score from memory. However freeing it feels for a conductor to work from memory, the practice, increasingly common, is obviously unnecessary and potentially dangerous. Without a score to consult, Mr. Haas had to ask the concertmaster what the rehearsal number was at the place in the final movement where he wanted to start over. Conducting from memory seemed especially unwise for a concert with a student orchestra.

In any event, I hope the young musicians realize what an exciting account they gave, over all, of this teeming 1944 work. The mercurial first movement, an Andante, flowed inexorably in this aptly heavy-footed and rich-toned performance. Mr. Haas and the players captured the unnerving giddiness of the Scherzo, the bitterness that bursts through the pensive lyricism of the slow movement, and the mix and wildness and sarcasm in the dizzying finale.

Mr. Haas also led an assured and spirited account of Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra", with Peter Schickele on hand to read his jokey version of the explanatory narration for this tour through the instruments of the orchestra.

Every concert by the New York Youth Symphony includes the premiere of a new work by a young composer. This one began with an entrancing seven-minute score, "Snow," by Mark Dancigers, born in 1981, trained at Yale and now studying at Princeton. The composer describes the work as evoking a scene of standing on a mountainside during a snowfall.

If you did not know this, though, you might still have been beguiled by the transparent scoring, the squiggling Morton Feldman-like string figurations that run through the piece, and the high-pitched sustained tones and rustling riffs that eventually collide into tremulous lyrical lines.

Publication Information

December 5, 2006
The New York Times
Anthony Tommasini

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