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'Stuffy' NY philharmonic plays new tune
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Although the New York Philharmonic has recently been hailed by New York Magazine as "the most boring major orchestra in America," its Shanghai debut is warmly anticipated after the winter's dearth of first-class orchestras.

The orchestra, oldest in the United States, will perform Wednesday and Thursday at the Shanghai Grand Theater under the baton of Lorin Maazel, music director since 2002. A free concert is also expected but details have not been announced.

The Wednesday program features Beethoven's "Coriolan Overture," Mendelssohn's "Symphony No. 4, Italian" and Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No. 6, Pathetique."

On Thursday, the orchestra performs Rossini's "Overture to La Scala di Seta," Mozart's "Horn Concerto No. 2" with Philip Myers and Brahms' "Symphony No. 4."

The orchestra has long been known for being staid and unimaginative. Music critic Peter G. Davis of New York Magazine recently gave it the "most boring" label.

But changes appear to be in the works.

"For years, America's oldest orchestra has epitomized the stick-to-the-classics, no-surprises school of orchestra programming," music critic Alex Ross wrote recently in The New Yorker magazine. As if to prove the point, the orchestra kicked off the current season with a festival titled "The Tchaikovsky Experience." Last year, the spotlight fell on Brahms.

"All the same, there are signs of life at the Philharmonic," Ross says.

New and 20th-century works are proliferating. Three notable younger conductors have made debuts this season. More changes are on the way: a celebrity composer-in-residence, a contemporary series, and in 2009, a new chief conductor, the "musically assured, intellectually questing" Alan Gilbert.

"Critics may not have the old Philharmonic to kick around for much longer," Ross says.

The New York Philharmonic, organized in 1842, is the oldest active US symphony orchestra. It has superior players who can deliver the organic unity of the Cleveland Orchestra, the surface brilliance of the Chicago Symphony and the electricity of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

It includes many Asian musicians such as associate conductor Zhang Xian and principal oboist Wang Liang, both from China. Wang will play Monday night in Hong Kong but not in Shanghai.

Local music critic Li Yanhuan admires the Philharmonic's way of introducing classical music to ordinary audiences through its official Web site.

"I was stunned that the 'broadcasts and recordings' section included many recordings of its recent concerts, which enables music lovers around the world to appreciate its concert within two weeks and pulls us closer to the orchestra," he says.

Li says the Web site includes detailed introductions of the repertoire and performers, augmented by video explanations by the musicians themselves.

Maazel will lead 18 musicians to perform with the Student Orchestra of Datong Middle School and talk with students in the city.

Date: 7:15 pm, February 20-21
Venue: Shanghai Grand Theater, 300 People's Ave.
Tickets: 280-1,880 yuan
Tel: 021-6217 2426

(Shanghai Daily February 19, 2008)

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