May 10, 2016 | « back

NYTIMES.COM — Review: Carnegie Hall Turns 125, With Brass and Other Fanfare


Addressing a packed Carnegie Hall on Thursday night, Richard Gere, the evening’s host, welcomed everyone to the venerated hall’s “125th-birthday party.” The night was indeed the exact anniversary of Carnegie’s festive opening, May 5, 1891, at which Tchaikovsky, in his only visit to America, conducted his “Marche Solennelle,” and Walter Damrosch led the first New York performance of Berlioz’s “Te Deum.” Thursday’s concert, as Mr. Gere suggested, was more a celebratory musical affair than a substantive musical program. And why not?

Sure, Carnegie Hall might have commissioned a work for the occasion, or performed something as ambitious as that Berlioz piece: a 50-minute score for a tenor soloist, two choruses, children’s choir and orchestra. But Carnegie has been a commissioning colossus for decades and has presented hundreds of challenging programs. This was party time. The celebrants were a cavalcade of popular artists, including Renée Fleming, Isabel Leonard, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Lang Lang, Emanuel Ax, Michael Feinstein and James Taylor.

In a gesture both fitting and poignant, the Oratorio Society of New York opened the program, with the dynamic conductor Pablo Heras-Casado leading the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. The society was founded in 1873 by Leopold Damrosch (Walter’s father). Andrew Carnegie became its president in 1888, and his determination to secure a fine home for the choir, as well as the city’s Symphony Society Orchestra, led to the building of Carnegie Hall.

On Thursday, after a stirring performance of the national anthem, fortified by brass players in the aisles and balconies, Mr. Heras-Casado led the chorus and orchestra in a rousing account of Handel’s “Zadok the Priest,” a coronation anthem. Turning to chamber music, Mr. Perlman, Mr. Ma and Mr. Ax played the Andante from Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor. That these artists chose the tranquil, beguiling slow movement from this Mendelssohn work, which they played beautifully, brought a reflective moment to a gala evening. Then Mr. Ax and Mr. Lang, making an unlikely piano duo, gave a sprightly account of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance in G minor for piano four-hands. Mr. Ma joined them for “The Swan” from Saint-Saëns’s “The Carnival of the Animals.”

Mr. Lang had the piano to himself for a milky Manuel Ponce intermezzo and one of Ernesto Lecuona’s feisty “Danzas Afro-Cubanas.” Ms. Fleming sang Strauss’s song “Morgen,” accompanied by Mr. Heras-Casado and the orchestra, with Mr. Perlman no less, playing the wafting violin solo. She was joined by Ms. Leonard for a beloved duet, the “Barcarolle” from Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.” Later, microphone in hand, Ms. Fleming slipped nicely into her pop mode for Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” with the orchestra.

After a sultry account of Bizet’s “Habanera,” Ms. Leonard also proved herself a stylish singer of American popular music, collaborating with Mr. Feinstein in a Berlin and Kern medley of works made famous onscreen by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It had to be a little intimidating for Ms. Leonard and Mr. Feinstein to sing those songs while photographs of Fred and Ginger in their glory were projected onto the backstage wall.

There were touching spoken tributes from two great singers, the mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne and the soprano Martina Arroyo, who both have many decades of association with Carnegie Hall. Then Mr. Taylor took the stage to play the guitar and sing George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun,” joined by Mr. Ma, followed by two of his own songs: “You and I Again” and “Shower the People,” in lush arrangements that involved the chorus and orchestra.

The evening ended with everyone onstage for a jam-session rendition of “The Joint Is Really Jumpin’ in Carnegie Hall.” Mr. Lang and Mr. Ax even took turns at the piano, playing boogie-woogie riffs.