New York's big, big band hits the road

Broadway shows often tour America's hinterland. Now New York's magnificent orchestra is finally doing the same. That's great news for anyone on the seven-city tour who'd like to hear what one of the world's great musical institutions looks and sounds like in person.

Though this group of extraordinary musicians has traipsed the world in recent years, the rest of the United States has been undiscovered country.

Led by musical director Kurt Masur, the New York Philharmonic will travel in the US for the first time since 1990 and for the first time ever under his baton.

This year marks maestro Masur's 50th as a professional conductor and his ninth season at the philharmonic. The orchestra, of course, is well-known through its many recordings and appearances on radio and television. But live appearances are "more convincing [authentic] for audiences," the maestro told me in warm, German-accented English during a recent telephone interview.

The tour doesn't make any particular geographic sense, but as Masur explained, alas, "You have to go where they can pay you." This January's 10-day outing includes four West Coast cities; Las Vegas, Nev.; Chicago; and Boston.

One tour highlight will be performing Beethoven's and Shosta-kovich's fifth symphonies together. "I did it 20 years ago in Leipzig.... Both composers were reacting to their times - the Russian and French Revolutions.

"I once spoke to Shostakovich about this [idea], and he liked it very much."

Masur will become a transatlantic commuter in 2000, taking over the London Philharmonic while keeping his post in New York.

Although he sees the two orchestras as quite different organizations, he did allow that some musical ideas or even musicians might travel between them.

One highlight of New York's season will be a collaboration in April with Wynton Marsalis to celebrate Duke Ellington's 100th birthday. Masur said he admires Marsalis's ability to merge jazz and classical music, "like Gershwin and some others."

Marsalis first refused Masur's offer to perform together, feeling inadequate. They finally settled on dueling versions of "Peer Gynt." First the philharmonic will play the orchestral piece by Grieg, then the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra will play an adaptation by Ellington. A discussion led by Masur and Marsalis will "compare what happens when the piece is transferred into another spirit of music," Masur said.

Farther ahead, the orchestra is planning a special project for 1999-2000 entitled "Messages for the Millennium." Six composers from all over the world have been invited to send in 15-minute pieces expressing "their feelings, emotions, thoughts" at the turn of the millennium, he said.

"I hope we will receive pieces that will live for a long time."


In an Oct. 2 column on the 25th anniversary of Seiji Ozawa as conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra we said that Ozawa had "served longer than any other conductor today." Not quite right. As noted in this column, this is Kurt Masur's 50th year on the podium. We should have said Ozawa has been heading the same major orchestra longer than anyone else today.

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