As near as I can glean, the musicians are post-college classical performers of professional accomplishment. It's great to see young, vital classical musicians in their late 20's and early 30's. Watching major orchestras like the NY Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic would otherwise lead you to believe that the classical world is aging out and not being replaced. Quite the contrary. I put the quality of the music right up there with what you hear when you buy a CD of classical music by an "established" orchestra. The faculty and rotation of guest artists are professional players of world-class skill. The music director is a young composer named Solbong Kim. And it was a composition of his that opened the concert on Saturday.
It was fantastic. It's easy when describing the AMF to run out of superlatives. Forgive me if it gets tediously exuberant. Anyway, Kim's piece Excerpts from the Book of Nightmares contained four segments. Three dramatic, like segments from the soundtrack to an action film, and one peaceful and blissful. The music was all over the place, calling for outbursts and accents by various instrument groups, but not in an alienating way. The percussion was widely varied and there was a huge drum enthusiastically pounded for cannon-like punctuation that I really enjoyed. It made the walls of Lorimer Chapel shudder. There was a moment during the Interlude when mid-range strings come in with a sweeping beauty that gave me chills.
Next, was Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1. Here AMF provided me with education. I had this on my iPod, but was not familiar with it. Thursday night, knowing it would be performed Saturday, I gave it a preview listen. I liked it. But it sounded really, really challenging. Both for the cellist, and the orchestra. Having sat through many of my daughter's cello lessons, I was wondering, will someone from AMF pull that off?
Oh yes, is the answer. And now, having seen them perform it live, this piece is pretty much embedded as a classical favorite of mine. Jonah Kim played the cello and was, again, AMAZING. He insanely attacked the strings, a fevered intensity on his face. It was really, really hot and humid in Lorimer Chapel, which is inexplicably not air conditioned. Sitting still, I had sweat dripping down my sides and neck, and a sheen of moisture on my arms. I, knowingly from prior concerts, had worn shorts and a polo shirt. Jonah Kim was undaunted by these conditions. Have you ever seen sweat literally fly from the brow of a classical musician. I have now. Clad in dress pants and a jacket and seated on a vinyl piano stool, he sawed at the strings. Sweat dripped from his nose upon the wood of the cello. I wondered if his fingers would slip. And it was apparent that, yes, the Shostakovich is DIFFICULT. He was incredible, playing with near psychotic (but not off-putting) passion. It was almost like a rock concert or something. The audience leapt to an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end, applauding until he and conductor Jonathan Schiffman came back out to appease us with more bows. The orchestra, too, was phenomenal, and I was especially captivated by the clarinets and French horns in this performance.
It was interesting, as pointed out by a fellow attendee, that the audience was fanning themselves with their programs during rapid movements, yet all stopped during the Moderato. For the playing was so calming and blissful that it actually affected our physiology and cooled us.
After an intermission, the orchestra gave a skillful rendering of Brahms' Serenade in D Major. It is another work I was unfamiliar with, but greatly enjoyed. I may, in fact, need to purchase a recording of it.
All around, it was one of the most enjoyable concerts I've ever attended. Well worth sticking it out through the cloying heat.