A brief visit to New York included my first New York Philharmonic concert in years. We were attracted by the scheduling of Charles Ives's Fourth Symphony, which requires resources of orchestra, chorus, and rehearsal such that it doesn't get on symphony programs all that often. Plus many people put Ives in the rather massive category of modern music they don't get.
Ives, however, has wonderful uber-American elements in his music. He loved bands and church hymns, so his works are full of them. I had forgotten that he was so sophisticated a composer that the references are often brief and not all that long and thus not always able to register as you move from hearing one and listening for more.
The symphony runs about 35 minutes and is sufficiently complex as to require a second conductor to assist the Philharmonic's dynamic young leader, Alan Gilbert. I gather that the second conductor (the NY Phil's associate conductor) guides selected parts of the orchestra but I can't be definitive on that. There was also a large chorus, made up of apparently star members of major New York choral groups and styled as the New York Choral Consortium. They sang hymns in the first movement and then briefly in the finale--I wished they were involved in more.
The Ives left us at the end feeling a bit less than overwhelmed. Lots of clashing sound and yes, fury, but not much became clear as to what he was really aiming to achieve. I always loved the concept that motivated him--he liked trying to compose what it would sound like if two bands marched toward each other--but in the hall, it was hard to discern what was going on.
The Bernstein was a serenade, which really was a violin concerto, and featured the marvelous soloist, Joshua Bell. His virtuosity, combined with Bernstein's usual exciting, attracting themes, made this the highlight of the evening, even if the programmatic reference to Plato's Symposium may have left me less than able to grasp everything he may have intended to convey in the piece. Bell always is exciting to watch as well as hear--he does fantastic things with his fiddle.
The curtain-raiser (even if there was no curtain, of course) was Christopher Rouse's short piece based on Poe's The Masque of the Red Death. It was echt-modern and not as exciting or interesting as the Ives. Using a Poe story is fine but I can't say that the product stirred much response; it proved very difficult to gather what he was seeking to do.
I'm not sure if this was a typical Philharmonic crowd--compared to years ago, when I last attended one of their concerts in the Pierre Boulez days, and half the audience walked out after Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht--but the house was mostly full and these days, most folks don't dress up for concerts any more. On that front, it was fun to see the orchestra players in full evening dress--tails--while the conductors and soloist were attired in fashionable black "modern" non-suit suits.