Celebrating the life and legacy of architect Rafael Viñoly at Carnegie Hall

United StatesUnited States Various – A Musical Celebration of the Life of Rafael Viñoly: Itzhak Perlman (violin), Jonathan Biss (piano), Isaiah J. Thompson Trio, The Philadelphia Orchestra / Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor). The Viñoly Foundation, Carnegie Hall, NY, 28.11.2023. (RP)

The Isaiah Thompson Trio © Chris Lee

Verdi – Prelude from La traviata
BeethovenCoriolan Overture, Op.62; Romance for Violin and Orchestra in F major, Op.50; Piano Concerto No.5 in E-flat major, Op.73, ‘Emperor’
Kreisler – ‘Liebesfreud’
Pettiford – ‘Tricotism’
Ellington – ‘Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me’; ‘C Jam Blues’

Few people’s passings are commemorated in Carnegie Hall with performances by one of the world’s major orchestras, classical music luminaries and a jazz trio, but the architect Rafael Viñoly, who died in March 2023, is one of the select. Viñoly designed concert halls, including the Kimmel Center for The Philadelphia Orchestra and Frederick P. Rose Hall, the home of Jazz at Lincoln Center. It was those two collaborations that inspired and formed the backbone of this concert.

The orchestra was none other than those Fabulous Philadelphians led by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. They opened the concert with the Prelude to Act I of Verdi’s La traviata, which was played with gossamer lightness and delicacy. If it cast a bittersweet, reflective mood, that was soon erased by a riveting reading of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture. The overture alternates between furious, violent stabs of music and a poignant melody played superbly by the violins.

Carnegie Hall was full of Viñoly’s professional associates, family and friends, and music lovers too. (Not mutually exclusive cohorts, as evidenced by the architect himself.) Nothing attested to the latter, however, more than the outpouring of applause that greeted violinist Itzhak Perlman. Now 78 years old, Perlman embodies charm and benevolence but, more to the point, his artistry remains undiminished with the passage of time.

Perlman played Beethoven’s Romance for Violin and Orchestra in F Major and Kreisler’s ‘Liebesfreud’, as arranged by Clark McAlister. In the Beethoven, Perlman spun the elegant melody coursing through the work with the sweetest of tones, especially in the highest ranges of the instrument. Emotional as well as musical interest was heightened by the violinist’s exquisite turns and embellishments of the tune as it reappeared in the work.

The Kreisler was a delightful valentine to nineteenth-century Vienna, which Perlman played with panache and virtuosity. The following ovation was ten times more enthusiastic than the one that greeted him.

The Isaiah J. Thompson Trio paid tribute to the architect with three works – Oscar Pettiford’s ‘Tricotism’, and Duke Ellington’s ‘Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me’ and ‘C Jam Blues’. Their appearance was under the auspices of Jazz at Lincoln Center, founded in 1987 and headed by Wynton Marsalis. Its home is the Rose Theater, located on the fifth floor of the Deutsche Bank Center (originally the Time Warner Center), which opened in 2004.

Thompson, a pianist, bandleader and composer, was joined here by Julian Lee on tenor saxophone and bassist Marty Jaffe. All three trained at The Juilliard School, and they were the embodiment of sophistication and swing. Lee made his sax sing in ‘Tricotism’, with Jaffe, the epitome of cool, plucking out rhythms on the bass while Thompson played with verve and elegance. The music, coupled with their artistry, was a perfect fit with the other works in the concert.

Viñoly’s passion for music extended beyond his designs for concert venues. He was also an avid concert goer and accomplished pianist. (In his remarks to the audience, Román Viñoly, the architect’s son, told of standing outside Carnegie Hall as a boy with his father, hoping to score last-minute discount tickets.) The elder Viñoly’s interests in design and music combined in the creation of the Maene Viñoly Concert Grand Piano, which was making its North American debut here.

The piano was a collaboration with the workshop of Chris Maene, the Belgian piano manufacturer. Apart from the streamlined design and elegant case, the instrument’s most distinctive feature is its curved, ergonomic keyboard. It is an eye catcher, but the instrument’s transparency of sound and dynamic range are the real drawing cards.

Thompson had provided a taste of the piano’s sound in the jazz set, but Jonathan Biss’s playing in Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto was an equal measure of the quality of the instrument. After the orchestra played the concerto’s three tremendous opening chords, Biss began an exploration of the piano’s sonic capabilities in a performance that was most notable for its transparency and grace.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts pianist Jonathan Biss and The Philadelphia Orchestra © Chris Lee

Biss dispensed the concerto’s broken chords, trills, rapid-fire scales and melodies with ease and fluidity. The bell-like sounds he produced from the piano in the upper-most ranges of the scale were transfixing. When brilliance and power were in order, as in the exciting coda that ends the work, Biss was equally impressive, as was the piano. Nézet-Séguin led the orchestra with the expected polish and emotion, and it all combined to create a memorable performance of this masterpiece.

The concert marked a relaunch for the Viñoly Foundation, which was established in 2011. The foundation works to elevate public life through the transformative power of architecture, urban planning, education, science and the arts. Its two-fold mission encompasses both supporting architects in prioritizing the impact of their projects on the communities where they are built, and introducing children to the role design and space play in their lives. Without a doubt, music will have a role to play in the foundation’s future.

Rick Perdian

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