I don’t know about you, but I have found the steady barrage of bad local, national, and international news pretty discouraging. If it’s not the economy tanking, it’s international security deteriorating. And then there is the earthquake in Haiti, where, in addition to the overall tragedy, several close friends of mine have lost academic and other friends in the disaster.
It is a very bad patch for the world, with very few rays of sunshine poking through. Personally, however, I have been fortunate in many ways, not the least of which was the occasion of the 50th wedding anniversary that Adria and I celebrated with our children at a dinner in New York City on January 16. But the soul needs nourishment, too, and for that Adria and I usually turn to music, so a trip to Carnegie Hall last Sunday provided at least another moment of joy. We subscribe annually to a series of concerts by our favorite orchestra, from the Metropolitan Opera, conducted by our favorite conductor, James Levine. This series gives the Met orchestra occasion to play the standard orchestral repertoire, though of course Jimmie Levine cannot resist the temptation also to showcase the human voice.
Sunday’s concert was a great example of both. Levine programmed two symphonic chestnuts, Schubert’s 8th symphony (“Unfinished”) and Beethoven’s 5th. Everyone has heard both innumerable times, but these were memorable, controlled, intense performances. The Beethoven inspired the sorts of thoughts that E.M.Forster recorded in Howard’s End (and made me realize that I have to go back to that wonderful novel). The Met orchestra has wonderful individual musicians, and the wind players shone particularly in the two symphonies.
But the pieces de resistance were two selections from the vocal music of Richard Strauss — eight songs for soprano and orchestra (including Morgen! and Standchen), and the remarkable soprano aria (“Grossmchtige Prinzessin” from Ariadne auf Naxos). The soprano, whom we had not heard before, was the superb German Diana Damrau, who did wonderfully with both the songs and the operatic aria — she has a superb voice, a very musical understanding of the scores, and great dramatic presence. It was a glorious concert, and for a while it was impossible to think about anything other than beauty.
We exited to 57th St. on a rainy evening in New York, feeling much better about the world than we had two and a half hours previously. But now I’ll go back to worrying.