Arts and Entertainment

Carnegie Hall Is Back!

A review of Carnegie Hall’s opening night gala, the first live performance after the pandemic.

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By Zoe Buff

A ring of lights sparkled above rows of red velvet seats. Bouquets sat on the golden panels of the Isaac Stern and Itzhak Perlman Auditorium. One of the world’s most celebrated stages was lined with black chairs for the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra. After 572 days of silence, the walls of Carnegie Hall buzzed once again.

The opening night gala on October 6, 2021 was the venue’s first in-person concert in 18 months, the longest it had ever remained closed. Conducted by Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Music Director and Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the evening was an emotional return to live music. Like other celebrated musical organizations, Carnegie Hall once again opened its doors to the public, and the aisles of the auditorium were filled with fully vaccinated audience members eager to re-experience the power of an in-person performance.

The gala began with a moving speech by Board of Trustees Chairman Robert F. Smith and Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillison, welcoming the audience back to Carnegie Hall and thanking them for their support. Met with enthusiastic applause from the audience members, the speakers then introduced the first number on the program, “Seven O’Clock Shout,” a contemporary work by distinguished American composer Valerie Coleman. The piece, characterized by funky syncopation and sweeping, cinematic melodies, is meant to honor the front line workers of the pandemic. It ended with shouts and whoops from the members of the orchestra, depicting the daily 7:00 p.m. racket that rang through the streets of New York in the early days of the shutdown.

After Coleman’s work came a 20th century masterpiece, Shostakovich’s “Piano Concerto No. 2,” brought to life by world-class pianist Yuja Wang. Featuring three movements, the piece is a combination of expressive melodies and playful, stylish passages, embellished with musical ornaments and trills. Wang’s virtuoso rendition was followed by the overture of Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide,” an American operetta based on Voltaire’s 1759 novel of the same name. The work begins with a fanfare of brass instruments, developing into a “battle scene” embellished with witty, sophisticated melodies.

Before transitioning to the second half of the program, Maestro Nézet-Séguin picked up the microphone to say a few words. His first remark, “We missed you,” was met with laughter and applause from the audience, his speech emphasizing the importance of the return to live performance and the relevance of both classical works from centuries past and contemporary music, such as the program’s next number, Iman Habibi’s “Jeder Baum spricht” (“Every Tree Speaks”). This modern piece was commissioned to celebrate the 250th anniversary of composer Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth. It reflects the catastrophe of climate change and is an everchanging rhapsodical narrative of current events.

The program’s final number, Beethoven’s 5th symphony, is one of classical music’s most popular works and was the only piece of the night written before the 20th century. Led by Maestro Nézet-Séguin’s baton, the Philadelphia Orchestra portrayed Beethoven’s work with poignance and triumph, proving once again that they are one of the world’s top-tier ensembles. This magical, emotional, and exhilarating evening of live music concluded in a shower of musical sparks and thunderous applause from the audience. This event reminded the world of the special community Carnegie Hall has and how, even after the longest shutdown it had to face in history, it managed to pull through and come back bolder than ever to celebrate the power of live music.