On October 15 I attended a concert by the NDR Symphony Orchestra of Hamburg at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. The performance consisted of only two pieces, yet both were met with enthusiastic applause and praise. The first piece performed was the Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35, by Piotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky, with the famous violinist Midori as the featured soloist. The piece was divided into three movements, the first being Allegro moderato. The Concerto opened with the orchestra playing a crescendo until the appearance of the soloist, who presented the principle themes.
From this point, the texture varied between the monophony of the solo violin and the homophony heard from the full orchestra. The melody introduced by the violin was then repeated in various instruments with large contrasts in dynamics and tempo, although the predominating tempo was allegro. When the solo violin returned, it was accompanied by the other violins playing a background of staccato notes. The high point of the first movement occurred when the solo violin produced an extremely high pitch in pianissimo and slowed down to a static pace, demonstrating her ability on the instrument.
This movement ended with the entire orchestra playing fortissimo with a strong beat. The next movement of the Concerto began in the woodwinds with a legato melody punctuated by one note played by the horns. Overall, this movement remained somber with periods of excitement, indicated by the orchestra playing at an active pace. The violins contributed by adding descending scales of pizzicato notes. The melody then became a legato solo, which commenced in the oboe and was passed to the basses. The solo then returned to the violin, starting adagio and then increasing the pace for the entire orchestra.
The finale occurred when two accelerating crescendos alternated with two ritardando decrescendos. Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D major, “Titan,” was performed next. It was much longer in duration than the first piece. It showed uniqueness in that it incorporated everyday sounds into the music, such as bulge calls, bird songs, and dance tunes, which provided for a very wide variety of tone colors. The symphony began with a thick-textured undertone in the strings and a two-note “hunting call” in the woodwinds, which persisted throughout the piece.
Also present was a bright fanfare in the trumpets, followed by a light descending melody played by the entire orchestra. After this movement, all the instruments began playing a strong fortissimo beat, which gradually increased the tension, leading up to a muted trumpet solo. The strings dominated the remainder of the movement, with a strong legato melody passed from the ’cellos to the violins, and, finally, to the basses. The third movement could be classified by the increasing significance of the drums, who moved the orchestra along in a clear duple meter.
Their presence became less important after a ritardando, which brought back the light melody to the woodwinds. Throughout this movement, imitative polyphony was the predominant texture as the melody created in the woodwinds was echoed by various other instruments. This portion was characterized by its dark and somber tone. The absence of the drums heard earlier left a weak beat and a suppressed meter. The finale began with a restatement of parts of the opening movement, which moved to a brass fanfare and cymbal crashes that built to multiple crescendos.
These often left me feeling that the orchestra was nearing the last notes of the symphony, only to hear another note start the process again. The true ending did come with a crescendo, but also incorporated the original two-note “hunting call” and descending notes in the horns. Through the experience of hearing these two very different works, I was able to comprehend the talents of the NDR Symphony of Hamburg. This was evidenced by the contrasts between the two pieces and the orchestra’s ability to perform well with a solo artist.