Sometimes in New York, a little extra space can go a long way. On June 29 and 30, the New York Philharmonic got a lot of extra space when Music Director Alan Gilbert took the orchestra across town to the Park Avenue Armory for the orchestra’s final program of the season, “Philharmonic 360.” The Armory takes up an entire city block, and the Philharmonic used the 55,000-square-foot Drill Hall for a program built upon the theme of “spatial music,” featuring as a centerpiece Karlheinz Stockhausen’s rarely performed Gruppen for Three Orchestras, with other spatially inflected works, including Boulez’s Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna for Orchestra in Eight Groups, Charles Ives’s Unanswered Question—with trumpet-solo questions heralded from the balcony and flute soloists front-and-center—and the Act I Finale from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which calls for three separate orchestras playing independently of each other. (The program opened with Gabrieli’s Canzon XVI.) Lending Gilbert a hand with conducting duties were composer Matthias Pintscher, Philharmonic Composer-in-Residence Magnus Lindberg, and Assistant Conductor Joshua Weilerstein.
Adventurous as the music itself was, the staging was truly the highlight of the night. Several hundred audience members were seated in a circle on back-supporting cushions on the floor, with a small platform in the center that did triple duty as a conductor’s podium for the Boulez, a focal point of the Don Giovanni action, and a spotlighted stage for the four flutists attempting to answer the trumpet’s questions during the Ives work.
For the outside circle, three sets of bleachers alternated with three stages used for the three orchestras in the Mozart and Stockhausen works, giving seated audience members a fully enveloping sonic experience. Backlit panels behind each orchestra changed colors throughout the program. The program’s staging gave denser passages in the Boulez and Stockhausen valuable room to breathe, and the Ives took on a fittingly cosmic, yet still unsettled, feel.
Below, watch video from the Philharmonic’s dress rehearsal and comments from director and designer Michael Counts.