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Monday, April 6, 2009

"'David Robertson...' she murmurs. 'David...'"

Over the last year, I've noted the increasing amount of times my father will bring up David Robertson. David Robertson, in case you don't follow classical music, isthe American conductor of the moment. Pouring off of him are literally tsunami waves of heat. ... This time the particular show my dad was raving about was a behind-the-scenes look at symphony orchestras. The tale told was mesmerizing. It was like—Carnegie Hall, sold out, old famous conductor suddenly becomes ill (some kidney thing?), in flies this unknown ringer with a mere 24 hours to learn the terrifyingly complicated score... Our David doesn't just deliver it, he nails it! The audience is electrified! He gets four standing O's! Next, on camera: Beverly Sills, the hands over the heart, voice is husky. "David Robertson..." she murmurs. "David..." I think my dad, gallon of mint chip ice cream in hand, may actually have had an aneurysm.
—Sandra Tsing Loh, "Stalking David Robertson" Does David Robertson just have a knack for saving the day? The actual story of David Robertson's last-minute substitution for an ailing Hans Vonk can be found here, and Tsing Loh is not exaggerating all that much (though, sadly, Vonk was not really so old when he took ill). But now, via Alex Ross, Sarah Bryan Miller reports on David Robertson's latest superhero adventure:
Foul weather in the New York area meant lots of canceled and delayed flights from the rest of the country. The orchestra made it to Carnegie Hall less than an hour before the concert's start -- fortuitously set for 8:30 p.m. -- and some of their luggage arrived even later. Fortunately, the handsome, acoustically friendly sub-basement space of Zankel Hall lacks the formality of the big hall upstairs, and the occasional pair of onstage blue jeans was just fine. Composer/Chansonnier H.K. Gruber, whose performance in his “Frankenstein!!” was to have been the evening's climax, never made it at all; he was unable to escape Chicago in time. That meant a new role for music director David Robertson; he became Chansonnier-for-a-Day, learning the difficult piece in one afternoon. Resident conductor Ward Stare took over the podium duties. Both triumphed. Stare was just terrific, leading the eclectic score with confidence and style; the musicians followed along perfectly. Although in last week's performance at the Art Museum this came off as a one-artist work, crafted by and for Gruber's overwhelming persona, Robertson proved it wasn't necessarily so. His performance at times seemed to be channeling Gruber, but Robertson was at his best when he put his own mark on the material, and he did that often.
Okay WHAT?? HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?? Oh hey sorry our featured vocalist couldn't make it tonight David Robertson, could you please do THIS? (Sound clip via Boosey.) Note to everybody, next time you see David Robertson's name on your Carnegie Hall brochure, just buy that ticket. He'll probably manage to give the beat and cue the horns while dousing a wildfire and delivering a baby live on stage.

5 comments:

Graham Sleight said...

Well, at this year's Proms, he's giving us slabs of Stravinsky and Xenakis while also conducting the Last Night, which requires brash populism and a speech that usually verges on standup comedy.

Dan Johnson said...

That Xenakis program looks FANTASTIC. For some reason, I imagine the Xenakis and Rachmaninoff camps scowling at each other across the aisle as they're forced to suffer through each others' musical tastes, but then slowly—gradually—realizing that hey, maybe there's something to this stuff after all! Tentative smiles... warm smiles... all friends! Classical music is saved!!

(NOTE TO SELF: Will this work in Middle East??)

Graham Sleight said...

I fear that you have more faith in humanity than me. A couple of years ago, Rattle gave a Proms programme comprising of Birtwistle's Triumph of Time and Beethoven 9. I swear, overlap between the audiences before and after the interval was no more than 20%.

(Though, speaking of Middle East peace, these look tempting...)

strayling said...

Can he pitch?

Ruthy said...

I went to high school with David. Seriously. Knew him quite well. He played French horn in the school orchestra, and dabbled in drama, too...including the role of Harold Hill in The Music Man. Some people thought he was a snotty little bastard, but it was evident he had a lot of talent, even then.