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American Symphony Orchestra

Botstein and the ASO Exhilarate at 20

By Sedgwick Clark

Leon Botstein just ended his 20th season as music director of the American Symphony Orchestra, during which he led an opera-in-concert performance of Richard Strauss’s Feuersnot, Bruch’s oratorio Moses, a concert of English music that included Walton’s Symphony No. 2, which Botstein called “one of the great symphonies of the twentieth century” (I’d say that about his First, myself), an impressively conducted retrospective of the late Elliott Carter’s music, and an equally impressively conducted program of 1920s avant-garde music by Antheil, Griffes (hardly modern, but a lovely respite in a challenging evening), Ruggles, Copland, and Varèse. The latter two’s Organ Symphony and Amériques, respectively, were masterful. Need one add “rarely played” to modify any of these works?

His final concert of this season, on May 30, was downright exhilarating. The ASO is shipshape these days, the program featured neglected works by Reger, Bloch, Ives, and Szymanowski during World War I, and performances were largely successful. As always, Botstein’s program essay was enlightening. He still resists taking the bull by the horns and interpreting the music, apparently believing that an accurate presentation of the notes is sufficient. Max Reger’s hymn to German supremacy, A Patriotic Overture(1914), complete with nods to Bach, Haydn, Bruckner, and Brahms, was properly broad in tempo and solemn in demeanor. I might have welcomed a touch more vigor and variation, but for all I know the performance was right on the metronome mark.

Whatever happened to the music of Ernest Bloch? Perhaps his attempt to capture what Botstein calls “Jewish national aspirations” in his music has caused conductors to think that it lacks universal appeal. Not even the once-popular cello concerto,Schelomo, gets played with any frequency these days. Well, I’m as W.A.S.P. as they come, and I enjoyed Bloch’s seldom-played IsraelSymphony (1912-16)—and Botstein’s performance—immensely. Okay, the second movement (Allegro agitato, “Yom Kippur”) lacked atonement to my goyish ears. But in the outer movements, Botstein proved the Israel a moving experience.

Charles Ives composed his knotty Orchestral Set No. 2 in horrified response to the sinking of the British liner Lusitania by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915, which resulted in the deaths of nearly 1,200 passengers and led to the U.S. entrance into World War I. However noble its aspirations, I’ve always found it less engaging than the sensuous, pictorial First Orchestral Set, better known as Three Places in New England, or the wild mish-mash of the Fourth Symphony. Botstein calls No. 2 “a startlingly courageous essay in musical form, one that in its third movement highlights America’s exceptional status and dramatic entrance into a transformative historical event.” This Ives fan remains unconvinced, but not even Stokowski made much sense out of the piece.

Szymanowski’s steamy Symphony No. 3 (“The Song of the Night”) made for a resounding finale. Suffused with Scriabin, Ravel’sDaphnis et Chloé, and Szymanowski’s own personal brand of sensual orientalism, the Third is one of his most alluring works. The composer’s advocates have been predicting imminent acceptance for decades. Performances of this caliber are certainly in the right direction.

Max Bruch's MOSES @ Carnegie Hall

By Oberon's Grove Thursday March 27th, 2014 - The American Symphony Orchestra and The Collegiate Chorale joined forces for a presentation of Max Bruch's 1895 oratorio MOSES at Carnegie Hall tonight

Oratorios - basically operas without sets, costumes and with little or no dramatic inter-action between participants - became extremely popular in early 17th-century Italy; opera-lovers embraced the genre because of the Catholic Church's prohibition of spectacles during Lent. Oratorio reached its apex during the time of Handel. In the late 19th century, Bruch was one of a handful of composers to continue working in this field and though it now seems a bit passé, oratorio remained viable throughout the 20th century, with works by such diverse composers as Stravinsky, Honegger, Penderecki, Golijov, and Sir Paul McCartney coming to fruition. In the 21st century, to date, Einhorn and Satoh have written oratorios.

Bruch's MOSES seems in part to have been written - with the encouragement of Johannes Brahms - as a rallying cry against the flood-tide of Wagnerism. Although Wagner had been dead for twelve years (and thus the music of the future was already in the past) when MOSEShad its premiere (in 1895), music was already veering off in exciting new directions. To put Bruch's work in a bit of context, Mahler's 2nd symphony also premiered in 1895, and Claude Debussy had already writtenL'après-midi d'un faune (1894) and was at work on PELLEAS ET MELISANDE.

That oratorio still appeals to audiences today was testified by the large, attentive and enthusiastic crowd at Carnegie Hall tonight. Bruch's 'conservative' music shone beautifully in a finely-paced performance led by Leon Botstein. The American Symphony Orchestra and Collegiate Chorale lovingly embraced the work, and the three vocal soloists seized on the many opportunities for expressive singing which Bruch provided for them.

Bruch draws upon four chronological events from the life of Moses to form the four parts of the oratorio. In the first, Moses is seen as the spiritual leader of his people receiving the Ten Commandments (which are nowadays considered the Ten Suggestions) on Mount Sinai. The second part revolves around the worship of the golden calf by Aaron, with the angry Moses lashing out at his brother and his renegade people.

Following an intermission, we have the particularly impressive 'Return of the Scouts from Canaan' where the chorus and the male soloists did some truly impressive work. In the final part, commencing with a long funereal address by the Angel of the Lord, we witness the death of Moses who, having brought his people to the Promised Land, gives a final blessing to his followers; the oratorio ends with a choral lament.

There are three soloists: Moses (bass-baritone), Aaron (tenor), and the Angel of the Lord (soprano). The libretto (in German, natürlich) is a mixture of paraphrase from the Old Testament and quotations from the Psalms. The chorus, in the role of the people of Israel, hold forth in much the same style developed in Mendelssohn’s great oratorio ELIJAH. The organ plays a prominent role, both as a solo instrument for recitatives or woven into the orchestral tapestry. The overall effect is rich, soul-stirring, and falls ever-so-pleasantly on the ear.

Sidney Outlaw as Moses sang with dignity and increasing emotional power as the evening progressed; his baritone voice was able to successfully encompass the music which spans a wide range, including some resonant low notes. As the Angel of the Lord, soprano Tamara Wilson's strong, vibrant soprano proved also capable of some shiningpiano notes in the upper range. She was especially moving in the solo which opens the oratorio's final movement where she tells Moses of his impending death. Ms. Wilson's performance made me think she might be a wonderful Ariadne in the Strauss opera.

Tenor Kirk Dougherty made a particularly appealing vocal impression as Aaron; his voice is clear, warm and steady, filling the hall with expressive lyricism. He is able to generate considerable power without forcing and to develop a nice ping to the tone as the music rises higher. His big aria ("I go to the gates of Hell") in the oratorio's third part was the vocal highlight of the evening; as the text turns to pleading with Moses for forgiveness, Mr. Dougherty found a wonderful melancholy colour in his tonal palette, making me think what a very fine Lenski he might be. The aria even has a little 'cabaletta' which the tenor dispatched with élan.

Overall this was a very impressive evening: an opportunity to experience a rare work from out of the pages of musical history and to find its heart still beating and its drama still meaningful. In one ironic touch, despite the alleged 'antidote-to-Wagner' intent of the composer, I unmistakably heard a glimmer of a theme from - of all things - the Venusberg music fromTANNHAUSER...twice. This little ambiguity somehow gave me a secret smile.


A Rare View of Strauss in a Very Devilish Mood

By Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim 

The musicologist and conductor Leon Botstein has made a career out of championing works that have been overlooked or neglected. On Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall, he conducted a rarely performed one-act comic opera by Richard Strauss, “Feuersnot” (“In Need of Fire”), written 1900-01 as an indictment of Munich and what he saw as the provincialism of its inhabitants — a narrow-mindedness, he felt, that stood in the way of their appreciating both Wagner’s and his own genius.

The American Symphony Orchestra, the Collegiate Chorale, the Manhattan Girls Chorus and a large cast of terrific soloists offered an enjoyable performance of a work that is by and large entertaining. But they did not persuade me of any pressing need to add “Feuersnot” to the repertory.

The story is set “in the distant past” on the outskirts of Munich where villagers prepare to light bonfires to mark the summer solstice. The mysterious Kunrad steals a kiss from the mayor’s daughter, Diemut. Offended, she devises a way to ridicule him in public. In revenge, he extinguishes all the fires in the village, reveals himself as the heir of a certain master sorcerer, “Reichart der Wagner,” and declares that only a virgin’s love will make him rekindle the fires.

Egged on by the impatient townspeople, Diemut concedes, and the following orchestral interlude marks her deflowering with a climax every bit as graphic as a bloodstained sheet. The villagers cheer, and Diemut and Kunrad emerge professing ecstatic love.

In the pun-riddled libretto by Ernst von Wolzogen (a satirist and cabaret figure), all this is expressed in a mixture of Bavarian dialect (poorly rendered by this American cast) and that easily lampooned hodgepodge of alliteration and pseudo-archaic German of Wagner’s own librettos. “Maja maja mia mö,” sings the (excellent) children’s chorus over and over like a kindergarten of Valkyries in training.

Strauss shared Wolzogen’s disdain for the hysteria of the Wagner cult and retained a very turn-of-the-20th-century skepticism toward its transcendental aspirations. But as a composer, he kept his nose deep in Wagner’s pharmacopoeia. In “Feursnot,” Strauss used pastiche as a means to artistic self-discovery with results that range from over the top to all over the place.

Wagner-style “endless melodies” swell and pull back to harp-and-flute-sprinkled pianissimos, only to surge forward again, horns leading the charge. The orchestra played with them relish and a luscious sound. But there are also a couple of waltzes that prefigure Strauss’s “Rosenkavalier,” and Mr. Botstein shaped them with snarky panache.

The fluid way Strauss weaves solos, ensembles and choral passages into the score show him in full command of his technique. But the comic pacing grinds to a halt for Kunrad’s harangue, at over 100 lines a monologue of tedious length, with heavy-handed puns on Wagner’s and Strauss’s names only adding pomposity. Alfred Walker sang the part with a lean and powerful bass-baritone.

The soprano Jacquelyn Wagner brought a lovely clean and focused sound to the part of Diemut that effortlessly penetrated the rich orchestral score. Among the well-cast lesser roles, the soprano Micaëla Oeste and the mezzos Brenda Patterson and Cynthia Hanna stood out as Diemut’s gossipy girlfriends.

light my foyer

By John Yohalem

Each year, Leon Botstein leads the American Symphony Orchestra in a concert opera or two. His choices vary between two repertories: deeply obscure works or operas by Richard Strauss. On Sunday, at Carnegie Hall, the two circles of this Venn Diagram overlapped in a very rare display of Strauss’s second opera, Feuersnot(Need for Fire), in possibly its New York professional debut. Naturally, that drew quite a crowd.

Feuersnot is one of the innumerable “folk” operas that German composers—and others—felt called upon to write in the magnificent wake of Wagner’s derivations from medieval epic. Of all this music, much of it very fine, only Humperdinck’sHansel und Gretel and, perhaps, Dvorak’s Russalka entered the mainstream. Strauss had failed with his first operatic attempt, in 1894, the long and lugubriously “pious” Guntram, though he blamed the orchestra and not his own clumsy libretto for the flop.

Feuersnot, brief (one long act) but preachy, appeared in 1901, just as, thanks to his tone-poems, Strauss was ascending to the upper ranks of German composers, and at first it aroused interest. The Metropolitan Opera’s Board of Directors urged impresario Heinrich Conried to secure its American premiere, but the debacle of the Met’s Salome so outraged Strauss that he refused to have anything to do with the company for several years. Anyway, there was another game in town back then, Oscar Hammerstein’s Manhattan Opera. He was awarded Salome and Elektra (both in French)—but showed no interest in Feuersnot. And, after Rosenkavalier, everyone forgot about the early piece.

The story is rather pagan than Christian. On Summer Solstice, a feast of light (with a slight nod to “Holy Hans,” John the Baptist, whose day it is, as you recall from Die Meistersinger), the people of Munich gather wood for celebratory bonfires. A local student of sorcery, Kunrad (pupil of a forgotten and disdained wizard, “Meister Reichart,” complete with Wagner quotations), pursues Diemut, the Burgomaster’s lovely daughter. She invites him into a basket (an elevator to the gallows) to reach her upstairs bedroom, then leaves him suspended over the street so everyone can laugh at his rejection. Kunrad, humiliated, puts a spell on the town that has scorned his magic: Every fire and light in town goes out. No more grilled sauerbraten!

The people entreat Diemut to save them, and she receives Kunrad through her window. (Does she really love him or does she take him out of pity? A more experienced composer/librettist would not have left this question hanging in the air.) After a suitably orchestrated interval, the bonfires burst into flame. No one in the tale is very deep, but the admirer of Strauss will notice in Diemut an early example of the sensuously blazing sopranos of his later catalogue. Kunrad’s jejune but ardent baritone may be a preview of Barak, though his self-righteousness reminds one of Jochana’an (Holy Hans) in Strauss’s next opera.

Besides these two, the biggest role in the opera belongs to the chorus of children gathering wood, rejoicing in bright lights, teasing the lovers, bewailing the dark. Theirs is a long and arduous part, one reason the opera is seldom revived. At Carnegie Hall, the Manhattan Girls Chorus performed with bright sound, impressive diction and musicality, and intricately various dynamics.

Diemut was sung by Jacquelyn Wagner, a singer new to me, and I fell head over heels in love. Imagine the soaring line called for by any Strauss heroine, but, unlike so many aspirants, rooted with no audible break in a deep, stirring middle voice seemingly capable of Fricka tones. She displayed a cool, alluring sound, a natural richness of timbre, a witty way with Diemut’s bitchy jokes. (This is a very sexist opera.) Withal, she is a tall, slim, fair-haired young woman. She sings a lot of Mozart around Europe and, quite lately, her first Arabella:

Kunrad is the opera’s principal role, and Strauss composed it with his usual lack of sympathy for male singers. This bass-baritone must range high and range low, make himself heard over a Strauss orchestra, woo and denounce with fervor and, at the opera’s climax, declaim an endless sermon while the rest of the cast—and all of us—listen, abashed and respectful, to his complaint. This ungrateful part was given toAlfred Walker, whose stardom I’ve been awaiting since he was in the Met Young Artists Program at the century’s turn. Nowadays he’s singing the Dutchman from Seattle to Luxembourg, plus many an Amfortas, Hoffmann villains, Don Quichotte, Telramund and Amonasro. The voice is supple and sizable, not enormous but effective and distinct, with personality. He was not shrill once when Strauss pushed him high, and his mid-voice was pure and resonant. His diction was crisp and the words had meaning; our attention did not stray.

Walker would make a likely Alberich. He sang a flirtatious quartet with three Munich maidens that made me think, This is how Rheingold might have gone, with plenty of canoodling and no reason for theft—but then the Ring would stop right there, eh? The ladies were Brenda PattersonCynthia Hanna and Micaëla Oeste, foreshadowing the delicious trios in Ariadne. The brief roles of the townsfolk were all of them well cast. Many of them had names and, no doubt, personalities, but Strauss gives them little of the epigrammatic individuality he would devise for quarreling Jews at Herod’s court, serving maids in Argos, attendees at the Marschallin’s levée. In a staged performance, perhaps costume would distinguish them, but I don’t recall them from the Manhattan School of Music production thirty years ago, either. (That may have been the New York premiere of the opera; if I’m wrong, I know which website to consult for apt and severe correction.)

The typical welter of a Strauss orchestra in full cry arose pleasurably from the ASO, and the score felt shorter than its clocked ninety minutes. The music seems to be working itself up, huffing and puffing, to a climax that Feuersnot does not achieve; the Solstice consummation sounds tame after Tristan (or if one thinks of the “consummation” that would open Rosenkavalier). This is an opera full of humanity but without humans other than Diemut and her didactic lover. Botstein, in his detailed notes, points out that Mozart, not Wagner, was Strauss’s favorite composer, but Strauss’s bumptious humor seems (as it does in Rosenkavalier andArabella) a lot closer to the beat-a-dead-horse-till-it-whimpers of Meistersingerthan the airy, humane wit of Figaro or Seraglio.

Strauss’ Obscene Operatic Gesture Shines at Carnegie

By David Hurwitz

Feuersnot is Richard Strauss’ revenge opera, an attempt to give Munich the musical finger after the failure of his first opera, Guntram, several years previously. Taking place on midsummer’s eve, the townsfolk are out celebrating around a bonfire. Kunrad, a sorcerer in training and disciple of the master Reichhart Wagner (get the hint?), who was run out of town previously for his unconventional views, is in love with the mayor’s daughter Diemut. She loves him too, but propriety forbids her from admitting their love to the stuffy citizens. So when he embarrasses her by grabbing a kiss in public, she attempts to exact revenge by hauling him halfway up to her room in a basket and leaving him there to be publicly humiliated.

Kunrad, furious, curses the town by putting out all of the fires. Appearing on Diemut’s balcony, he sings a long monolog in which he castigates the citizens for their conservatism, and for treating him just as badly as they treated his mentor Reichhart. The fires will remain quenched, he claims, until a virgin will give herself to him. Terrified, the townspeople beg Diemut to consummate Kunrad’s passion, which she feels pretty much inclined to do anyway. Strauss’ musical sex scene is unashamedly graphic, and at its pictorial climax the fires shoot up again to general celebration.

Musically the piece is mature Strauss. It was his Op. 50, composed in 1901, after most of the tone poems and just before Salomé and the Symphonia Domestica. The work’s humor is obviously an acquired taste, and the politically incorrect handling of the relationship between Kunrad and Diemut seems to have insured that productions would be few and far between. The opera’s brevity, about 90 minutes, is also an issue, especially when you consider that it calls for 14 solo roles plus an extensive, really extensive, part for children’s choir. Opera-goers generally hate children’s choirs, and for good reason. They always hang around too long and nothing they sing has anything to do with the plot. Feuersnot offers a case in point, even though the Manhattan Girls Chorus sang excellently.

Finally, the title is practically untranslatable. “Not” in German means “need”, in the sense of a lack of something, but it can also mean “emergency”. So “Fire Shortage” might work, but the possessive construction, “Fire’s Need”, also suggests Kunrad’s unquenched passion, and it’s used both ways in the text, which is tough enough to understand given that it employs Bavarian dialect. I do also wish that the stupid German nonsense words sung by the ubiquitous children’s choir had not been translated into stupid English nonsense words (“Inky Dinky Do” and so forth) in the otherwise critically helpful English libretto that was thoughtfully supplied with the program. This was a very generous move; the only prior English translation was made in 1904 in connection with publication of the original piano/vocal score, and it is horrible in ways I can’t even begin to explain, starting with the title: “Beltane Fire”.

The piece works very well in concert, being consistently mellifluous, no longer than a Mahler symphony, and is actually quite fun to listen to. Leon Botstein’s performance was splendid. I have to confess that I had very low expectations, given that my last experience of Botstein and the ASO (Mahler’s Eighth and Ives’ Fourth) was an unmitigated catastrophe. Here he provided exemplary accompaniments, excellently paced and considerate of the singers. The orchestra played very well, and if the sex scene could have been perhaps a bit sexier, well, that’s Botstein. There was really nothing to quibble about.

The cast was also largely superb, especially principals Jacquelyn Wagner as Diemut and Alfred Walker as Kunrad. Wagner has a lovely soprano voice that rides easily over the orchestra without ever turning harsh or shrill. She’s a real Strauss singer. The role of Kunrad is Strauss’ first great essay for baritone (he hated tenors), and Walker has a dark timbre that lent an impressive gravity to the part, yet with an impressive upper extension that managed the high notes comfortably. The minor roles, including Diemut’s three girlfriends, the mayor, and the various townspeople, were almost all cast from strength, and where they weren’t it didn’t matter.

The audience went nuts at the end, and with good reason. It was a terrific concert of a work that does not deserve its neglect. Botstein has pulled off a triumph.

Concert Review: Getting Carter

By Paul J. Pelkonen

New York's own Elliott Carter was the dean of modern music in this country, an artist whose vast output spanned orchestral works, songs and even opera. His music always looked relentlessly forward, breaking new ground even in his last works. On Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra celebrated the memory of this great composer, who died on November 5 of last year at the age of 103. The carefully curated program offered six of Carter's pieces, spanning eight decades of his output and giving a glimpse at the wide variety of styles and music created over a long compositional career.

The first piece on the program was from Pocahontas, a ballet score written by Carter in 1939 and later revised by the composer as a four-part suite. With heavy slab-like chords and liberal use of Native American percussion, the score is a sort of North American answer to The Rite of Spring, steeped in vast sonic tableaux that depict the new American wilderness and the first, almost disastrous encounter between explorers from the Jamestown and the Powhatan tribe.

Stravinsky's  Rite was a huge influence on Carter's stylistic development. (He attended a performance of the piece at Boston's Symphony Hall conducted by Pierre Monteux when he was just 15.) and he returns the favor by quoting the Procession from that work in the slow, solemn march of the the tribal chief. Violent tone clusters depict the torture of John Smith and John Rolfe, and a flute and harp suggest the sweeter ministrations of Pocahontas. The finale is a long Pavane, summing up the work's ideas in an Elizabethan dance filtered through Carter's 20th century sensibility.

The program jumped forward to 2007 for Sound Fields. This piece for string orchestra was one of the highlights of the evening--seven minutes of perfect musical stasis played by the strings alone. Mr. Botstein maintained an atmosphere of perfect surface tension for this immersive, almost ambient work, which was inspired by abstract expressionist art that consists solely of blocks of color.

The Clarinet Concerto, with featured soloist Anthony McGill (of the MET Orchestra) is from 1996, representing a peak of creativity from the composer. The central movements each featured a different section of the ensemble, with the composer demonstrating orchestral wizardry as he wrote accompaniment for percussion alone, small hushed squadrons of brass and wind and finally, the whole ensemble in tutti. Mr. McGill's thrilling high-wire performance was laced with grace and good humor. Unusually, there was a spatial effect as the clarinetist played his solo part from different positions around the orchestra.

The second half of the program featured two orchestral song settings from 1943.Warble for Lilac-Time recasts the Walt Whitman poem as a virtuoso aria, with soprano Mary Mackenzie taking virtuosic flight over a lush and melodic orchestration. This was followed by "Voyage", a setting of the Hart Crane poemInfinite Consanguinity. Sung by mezzo Theresa Bucholz. This song was almost ritualistic, with throbbing bells providing a stately rhythmic backdrop for Ms. Bucholz' firm, plush mezzo.

The genial song settings stood in stark contrast to the 1969 Concerto for Orchestra. Carter's most famous large-scale composition got a brilliant, virtuosic treatment from the skilled players of the ASO, from the charging parts for brass and woodwind to the long elegiac solo for double basses that is a central component of the Scherzando. Mr. Botstein was in his element here, leading a sparkling performance that was the perfect exclamation point to this celebration of the late composer's long musical legacy.

Serving a Challenging Meal by Starting Off Easy

By Steve Smith

When it comes to ambitious, fearless orchestral programming, there is Leon Botstein, the music director of the American Symphony Orchestra, and then there is everyone else. Say what you will about Mr. Botstein’s esoteric tastes, professorial inclinations or limitations as a conductor. It’s all been said before, endlessly, and it’s not indicative of the edifying experiences his concerts tend to be for anyone whose tastes extend past the safety zone in which most other orchestras huddle.

That said, in some ways the concert Mr. Botstein and the orchestra presented at Carnegie Hall on Sunday afternoon seemed more than usually quixotic. The program included music by Elliott Carter, the towering American modernist who died just over a year ago at 103 — and nothing but.

For all the rowdy ovations and newfound acceptance that Carter earned during the efflorescence of his final decades, for most concertgoers his name still causes unease. Serving up his music in the generous portions that Mr. Botstein favors is already a tall order for a Sunday matinee. And the orchestra, while undeniably fine, is a freelance ensemble with limited rehearsal time: not a condition that lends itself to the kind of precision needed to make Carter’s music sing.

Turned out Mr. Botstein could not have been more thoughtful in his planning. The program started with Carter’s 1960 suite from the ballet “Pocahontas,” written in 1936 and orchestrated in 1938-39. The music is brash and colorful, brimming with folksy melodies and vivacious rhythms. Opening with it showed where Carter started before he became the composer we know while also offering reassurance to an audience of respectable size, most of which remained in place throughout the afternoon.

“Sound Fields,” from 2007, showed a side to Carter that even his admirers might not have encountered before. Its near-motionless flickers and sighs for strings conjured a color-field canvas dominated by limited hues, with minute gradations.

Carter’s Clarinet Concerto (1996) is less a grandiloquent showpiece than a sequence of succinct conversations between the soloist and various small instrumental groups.Anthony McGill, a brilliant young principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, wandered the stage animatedly, pausing here and there to burble alongside drummers or melt into a muted-brass lullaby.

The concert’s second half brought two elegant vocal works from 1943. “Warble for Lilac-Time,” a vernal Walt Whitman setting, featured sweet, gracious singing by the soprano Mary Mackenzie; “Voyage,” based on Hart Crane, benefited from the mezzo-soprano Teresa Buchholz’s luscious tone. At times I wished for stronger projection from Ms. Mackenzie, firmer diction from Ms. Buchholz and a subtler touch from Mr. Botstein, but on the whole the works were admirably done.

The program ended with the Concerto for Orchestra (1969), a virtuosic piece in which Carter imposes order upon chaos with an architect’s rigor and a poet’s imagination. Whatever Mr. Botstein and his orchestra may have lacked in machine-tooled precision, they made up with commitment and heart, as well as a bravado that any orchestra might envy — and ought to.