Benjamin Lees (1924-2010)

Friday, February 11, 2022

Neidorff-Karpati Hall, Manhattan School of Music, New York City

Leonard Slatkin’s latest visit to MSM (his most-recent being this, brought an intriguing triptych of works.

Blossoming II (2011) by Toshio Hosokawa (born 1955 in Hiroshima) elaborates [see Comments] the original Blossoming (for string quartet). Distant ethereal sounds are heard first, suggesting the dawning of a new day; the intensity, volume and emotion grows; the timbres are exotic (alto flute and oriental chimes, for example) yet fortissimo bass drum strokes issue an ominous threat, and although the pulse is slow there is much activity above it until a mysterious calm takes this twelve-minute ear-bender (!) to its fading close. The student orchestra responded as a professional ensemble to Slatkin’s baton-less direction.

Benjamin Lees’s Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra (1965) featured in a Detroit SO concert that Slatkin conducted in November 2014, It was good to hear it again, a strong purposeful piece in three movements, robust and energetic in the first, sad in the second if changeable, and swift and puckish in the Finale. The orchestra is large but used for variety rather than fullness, and there are no balance problems. The students who took the quartet solos did themselves and the music proud, as did the orchestra, and Slatkin, now with stick, had the whole thing running like clockwork.

Witold Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra (completed in 1954) once again found the well-prepared musicians in confident and committed form, Slatkin leading a weighty and detailed opening ‘Intrada’, rather poignant in the expressive woodwind writing come the close; the ensuing ‘Capriccio notturno ed Arioso’ was suitably quicksilver and spectral; and the ambitious ‘Passacaglia, Toccata e Corale’ that completes this distinctive and dramatic ‘symphony in disguise’ (my description) was given due significance and unfazed virtuoso playing, Slatkin on top of the movement’s design so that the final section was excitingly worked through and emphatically and sonically thrilling. Good picture, even better broadcast sound. [watch here if relay remains available] [recent book and new CD]