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The MET Orchestra Performs Ravel and Debussy at Carnegie Hall

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Carnegie Hall

The MET Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Music Director
(Jeannette Lerman-Neubauer Music Director)

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Conductor
Isabel Leonard, Mezzo-Soprano

Carnegie Hall
Isaac Stern Auditorium/Ronald O. Perelman Stage

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 3, 2019

Claude Debussy (1862-1918): La Mer (1903-1905): "De l'aube à midi sur la mer” ("From dawn to noon on the sea"), "Jeux de vagues” ("Play of the Waves"),
"Dialogue du vent et de la mer" ("Dialogue of wind and sea").

Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013): Le temps l’horloge (2006-2009): "Le temps l'horloge" (“Time and the clock”), "Le masque" (“The mask”), “Le dernier poème" (“The last poem”), "Interlude", "Enivrez-vous" (“Get drunk”).

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937): Shéhérazade (1903): “Asie” (“Asia”), “La flûte enchantée” (“The enchanted flute”), “L'indifférent” (“The indifferent one”).

Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No. 2 (1909-12, 1913): “Lever du jour” (“Daybreak”), “Pantomime”, “Danse générale” (General dance”).

Courtesy of Carnegie Hall Program Notes.

What a glorious night at Carnegie Hall, once again, experiencing the conducting of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, The MET Orchestra’s new Music Director, as of this 2018-2019 season. The Canadian born, Maestro Nézet-Séguin chose a program of works by French composers, the renowned Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and the lesser known, more contemporary, Henri Dutilleux. The Maestro brought to this concert the extraordinary, Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano, Isabel Leonard, who performs with the Met Opera and internationally in recitals and operas. This was my introduction to Ms. Leonard, and she made a stunning impression on Carnegie Hall’s enthused audience tonight. She performs with poise and sumptuous tonal quality. She sang the Dutilleux and Ravel pieces with authority and authentic, seasoned French enunciation. Maestro Nézet-Séguin kept the audience’s rapt attention with his physical style of conducting, his entire torso exuding tempo and tone.

Debussy’s La Mer, 1903-1905, is a work I frequently listen to, orchestrally performed under a variety of batons. Under that of Maestro Nézet-Séguin, I was stunned at the tonal emotionality drawn from The MET Orchestra, as this is not a work of opera. The nuanced motion and mood of the sea, either stormy, subdued, or still, opening at dawn, then progressing to noon, the waves playing, followed by brisk wind overcoming the early calm, create magnetic musical moments. This particular performance was so profoundly absorbing, due to the palpable chemistry of conductor and musicians, the obvious pride and individual eye contact, emanating to my mid-orchestra seating. The evidence of this productive relationship will be mentioned in the latter comments below. When connected musical memory lives in one’s mind for hours, then days beyond a concert or live orchestra ballet, the conductor is to be thanked. Thus, I expect to memorialize this experience with a favorite orchestral work for some time to come, as I still hear passages of the two harps, celli, and flutes.

Dutilleux’ Le temps l’horloge (“Time and the Clock”), 2006-2009, includes a composition for five poems, and Ms. Leonard sang the entire work with orchestral accompaniment. Each poem relates to time, with both the title poem, and the second, Le masque (“The Mask”), by Jean Tardieu. I noted the atonality and eeriness of the tone, with the first poem evoking mystery and foreboding, with the prominence of flutes…“I prefer time when it shows itself…” The second, with a harpsichord and accordion, was more film noir, “A heavy object of hollow bronze, In the shape of a mask with eyes closed…” The third poem, Le dernier poème (“The Last Poem”), by Robert Desnos, “…I’ve walked so much, talked so much, So loved your shadow…”, was sung with warmth and resonance. The fourth, Interlude, was a purely orchestral movement, but the fifth, Charles Baudelaire’s Enivrez-vous (“Get Drunk”), had emotionality and both vocal and tonal force, “Always be drunk. That’s it! The great imperative! In order not to feel time’s horrid burden on your shoulders…” I will also revisit this poem, as Baudelaire is incomparable.

After intermission, Ms. Leonard returned for Ravel’s Shéhérazade (1903), his song cycle, not to be confused with his orchestral overture, also by the same title. Kudos to Carnegie Hall for including the original French libretto and the English translations for both vocal works, as many in the audience chose to follow along. At this point, I was immersed in the eloquent vocal sequences in French and self-translated enough to maximize the experience. The three movements, “Asie” (“Asia”), “La flûte enchantée” (“The enchanted flute”), and “L'indifférent” (“The indifferent one”), each evoke a unique affect and dramatic presentation. The music in “Asie” takes on exotic qualities, as the singer fantasizes about traveling to Asia, …“I’d like to see Damascus and the cities of Persia, with their slender minarets in the air…” This movement evoked for me memories of an extended stay in Istanbul, and the wonder and enchantment of the exoticism. Ms. Leonard seemed to travel with Ravel’s imagination from location to location, with such operatic nuance in her gesture and tone. The second movement, of an enchanted flute, played by an adoring admirer of a womanly slave who stays with her sleeping master, was equally eloquent and elegant, “…an air by turns languorous and carefree, played by my beloved, and when I approach the lattice, each note seems to fly…” The final third movement, of an indifferent young woman who passes by a lustful stranger’s doorstep, was sung by Ms. Leonard with yearning and a full sense of loss, “…Come in! Let my wine cheer you…But no, you pass on…”

In Ravel’s Daphne et Chloé, 1909-1912, 1913, Maestro Nézet-Séguin pulled out all the stops. The MET Orchestra, in this purely orchestral work, was once again front and center, on the Perelman stage, rather than hidden in their Opera House pit, and we heard this magnificent work as I have never heard it before. I mostly know this work as a ballet score, and almost always with an ambient choir. Synthesizing the listening experience for us, with the orchestra filling the hall with swirling, musical drama, the Maestro expanded this work with poignancy and tension. I loved every moment of this Ravel Suite, so emblematic of the composer’s charisma. At the finale, Benjamin Bowman, Concertmaster, as well as a wide variety of orchestral soloists were singled out by Maestro Nézet-Séguin for audience recognition, which is the comment about respect, mentioned earlier in this review. Each musician had seemed so connected, so enthused, so energized, moment to moment. And, within the endless audience accolades, the Maestro returned the connected enthusiasm in his walking about the musicians, gesturing them up in solo or ensemble, for their own spotlights. Kudos to The MET Orchestra, kudos to Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and kudos to Isabel Leonard.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at