Taking shelter from the frigid streets of New York City last week, Richard Kessler stripped off his jacket, his hat, his scarf, his gloves, his glove liners—you get the idea—and bounded onto the light-drenched stage of Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.
“Boy, is it cold out or what?” said Kessler, the dean of Mannes College and executive dean of Performing Arts at The New School, to an empathetic crowd of students, faculty members, and classical music lovers.
But as the bitter winter winds ripped down Ninth Avenue, “a warmth of music,” as Kessler described it, radiated through the hall. It came from none other than The Mannes Orchestra—and it left Kessler all warm and fuzzy inside.
“They are one hot ensemble,” Kessler said of the orchestra, “and they make me extremely proud.”
Conducted by the tireless David Hayes, The Mannes Orchestra performed a sizzling selection of music for its Spring Concert, taking on Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten; Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations, with soprano Mizuho Takeshita; the New York premiere of Mannes composer-in-residence Aaron Jay Kernis’ Whisper, Echo, A Cry; and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.
The first half of the concert featured a piece about Britten and a song by Britten. The orchestra performed Pärt’s Cantus with a brooding intensity matched by that of concertmaster Lele Jiang’s weeping violin. In Britten’s Les Illuminations, the orchestra, playing with rhythmic dexterity, beautifully complemented the legato of the radiant Takeshita, a 2014 Mannes Concerto Competition winner.
The second half of the concert opened on an ominous note as the orchestra performed Kernis’ Whisper, Echo, A Cry. Composed for the 75th anniversary of the San Antonio Orchestra, the piece started with a slow, lyrical passage that gave way to a tsunami of sound, a clashing cacophony in which the orchestra’s players competed to be heard. The orchestra capped off the evening with a musical endurance test—Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. Playing with intensity and virtuosity, the orchestra performed a luxurious, expansive introduction before taking the audience on a sonic rollercoaster of lively, dancelike rhythms, with cascading melodies and surprises around every turn.
Kessler wasn’t the only person who expressed pride in the orchestra. During intermission, Anthony Rudel, son of the late renowned orchestra conductor and Mannes graduate Julius Rudel, took the stage to announce the creation of the Julius Rudel Award for Conducting Studies at Mannes College, a program that places select Mannes conducting students in residence with the Buffalo Philharmonic.
The award, which Julius Rudel funded through his estate, is a reflection of the “deep admiration” he had for the orchestra, of which he was a conductor in 1988–1989, Anthony Rudel said.
“On the wall of his library, there is a nondescript photo of my father conducting The Mannes Orchestra,” Rudel said. “It was the first concert he ever conducted.”
Rudel said that his father cherished his academic experience at Mannes, crediting the school and its “generosity” with setting his career in motion. The award, Rudel added, was his way of giving back.
“It was no surprise to us, his family, that he wanted to give back in death, as he had done throughout his life, to Mannes,” he said. “What is particularly wonderful is that his gift will be used to help the careers of young, promising conductors, which is exactly what he wanted.”