New York Philharmonic picks up instruments from Staten Island junkyard

Philarmonic folks dig for instruments. (Photo by Chris Lee.)
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If it's been a dream of yours to watch the New York Philharmonic's elegant principal cellist, Carter Brey, race down from the stage at Avery Fisher Hall, dash over to the center of the audience, and hit a giant gong hanging from the ceiling, then Thursday is your night and Magnus Lindberg's Kraft, getting its New York premiere and only its second hearing in the U.S., is your piece.

Composed in the early '80s and influenced as much by punk and alt-rock music as by experimental composer Edgard Varèse, the piece—Lindberg's international breakthrough—joins a traditional orchestra with a range of unconventional percussion instruments, which Lindberg and the Philharmonic's staff accumulated in a recent trip to a Staten Island junkyard:

There are gas tanks, with the greenish patina of ancient Chinese bells, sawed off to produce specific pitches when struck. There's a car hood, and weird, threatening serrated objects. (Lindberg especially likes objects with dead, non-resonating sounds.) There's a piano with no lid. There are several gongs.

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Things are particularly challenging for the six soloists, including Brey, who in addition to the cello and that faraway gong plays the maracas, cymbals, blocks, and scrap metal. Chen Halevi, a clarinetist, plays four different kinds of clarinets, and also 10 percussion instruments. There are stations throughout the hall, so music will be coming unexpectedly from all around you, an immersive effect that worked well in the performances of Ligeti's Le grand macabre last spring. Oh, and to top it off, the conductor, Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert, gets a spoken-word part, a wine glass, stones, more objects, and a whistle.

It's a sprawling, exhausting work—Lindberg took a couple of years off after he finished it in 1985—but sometimes some locally-sourced noise is a kind of release after a long workday. (It's also a perfect antidote to last week's Viennese lushness at Carnegie.) Alongside two of the most delicate, lyrical pieces in the repertoire, Debussy's Prelude to The Afternoon of the Faun and Sibelius' Violin Concerto, Kraft will seem even louder. For that, and for a sprinting Carter Brey, we'll be there.