Theodore Thomas [see also Thomas Orchestra]
Price: $2 reserved and unreserved
16 July 2019
“Amid the deluge of musical trash which opera bouffe and burlesque brought to our shores it is a source of pleasure and gratification to the true musician to find that the divine art has found powerful protectors in the Philharmonic Society and Theodore Thomas, and that the works of the great masters receive from them all the homage and attention due to such ennobling inspirations. Mr. Thomas has labored long and faithfully in the cause of good music, and has successfully combated obstacles which would appear to others insurmountable. He has organized an orchestra which is only equalled [sic] in this country by the Philharmonic Society and which cannot be surpassed in Europe. On every programme of his symphony soirées may be found novelties, some of which are brought out here before they are heard in Europe. Even the wild vagaries of Liszt and Wagner, which few conductors in France, Germany or England will attempt, are tamed into harmony by Thomas’ orchestra. One distinguishing trait in the career of this musician is that under no circumstances has he ever descended to introduce trash on his programmes, although every effort has been made to induce him to do so. We are happy to find that his symphony soirées and Sunday concerts at Steinway Hall this season have been so far remarkably successful.”
[Second review of this concert in this paper on 04/04/69.] "Mr. Theodore Thomas brought his season of symphony soirees to a brilliant close last night. The hall looked brighter and more beautiful than ever, with a thoroughly fashionable and appreciative audience on whose ears fell gratefully the strains of the well trained orchestra. The programme contained three novelties and two standard works, the 114th Psalm, by Mendelssohn, and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. The novelties were, a test overture by Volkmann—a rather heavy, severe, elaborately worked piece, which seemed of too somber a character for a festival—a fantasia for orchestra and piano obligato by Otto Singer, and a symphonic poem, ‘Prometheus,’ by Liszt. The fantasia is a large, bold work, well orchestrated, and abounding in striking effects. Although rather long and, we might say, unnecessarily so, there is a unity of idea about it which stamps it as the work of a good composer. The only fault that might be found with it by a pianist is that the individuality of the piano is not sufficiently preserved in it. It becomes a mere adjunct to the orchestra. Mr. Singer is a remarkable player. To the crisp, clear touch of Mills he adds a spirit, fire, expression and sympathy entirely his own. Even in the fortissimo passages the notes of the superb grand rang out distinct and brilliant as diamond points. The changes from forte to piano were given with a niceness and just degree of progression as with the swell of an organ. We have seldom heard a pianist who united clearness of touch with such soul and expression. We did not think much of the rendering of Mendelssohn’s work by the Mendelssohn Union. The composer, were he alive, would disown his namesakes. There was a want of promptness, and we may term it intelligibility, about some of the parts which completely destroyed the sense of the composer. Besides, it seemed to us as if not half of the number of singers on the stage made themselves heard, for the body of the sound was very weak. The distribution of voices was also uneven, the ladies complete overbalancing the tenors and basses. Liszt is never himself expect when he gets all the instruments of the orchestra at loggerheads. There is method in his madness, to be sure, but that method entirely ignores such a thing as melody. In ‘Prometheus’ he indulges in that programme music which has made the reputation and fortune of Hector Berlioz in Europe. There are certainly some very remarkable effects in it. The wailing of the unhappy man chained to the rock and torn by the vulture’s claws and beak and his frantic struggles for freedom are lifelike and startling. A cleverly worked fugue occurs in the middle of the symphony, followed by a remarkable passage in double octaves for the brass instruments alone. We pitied the poor trombone players, for theirs was no easy task. The ‘poem’ wound up with the inevitable march with which Liszt closes all his works. Of an entirely different character was the lovely ‘Pastoral Symphony,’ one of the most beautiful creations of the king of orchestral music. There is an air of simplicity about Beethoven’s works, even in producing the grandest effects, which contrasts strikingly with the mad efforts of Liszt, Wagner and other apostles of the ‘music of the future.’ The Pastoral Symphony, however, by the very simplicity of the materials used in it, is extremely difficult, and few orchestras can do it justice. It was splendidly played throughout last night, and the lovely andante, in which melody after melody is poured forth with no niggard hand, the dance of the peasants, the wonderful description of the storm and the prayer following it, were, limned as if by the hand of a painter. There was no mistaking the character of the work and the rural scenes portrayed in it. Thus closes the season of symphony soirees, which, like its twin brother, the Philharmonic concerts, has borne through prosperity and adversity the banner of true music, with the motto ‘Excelsior’ inscribed upon it.”
“The closing of Theodore Thomas’s Symphonic Soirees is worthy of special notice. During the series of five Saturday evenings at Steinway Hall, Mr. Thomas has produced a great deal of very good orchestral and vocal music. Novelty has been a decided feature of the series, over a dozen important works having been produced for the first time in this country—the felicitous result of Mr. Thomas’s recent foreign tour. This gentleman is the director of the Mendelssohn Society of this city, the members of which have given efficient choral aid, though at the last soiree they did not do themselves justice, owing, as we are informed, to some injudicious change in the seats allotted to the singers, quite different form the system of seating pursued at the rehearsals. At these symphonic soirees have been heard the best selections of the highest class of orchestral music, and the performances have been only excelled by those of the Philharmonic Society. We presume that the symphonic soirees will be resumed again next season.”
“Mr. Theodore Thomas brought the fifth season of his symphony soirées to a successful close on Saturday evening. It has required no little energy, tact and talent to confront the difficulties of the enterprise. To Mr. Thomas we owe the introduction of much orchestral music that would have otherwise remained unknown. The force of so good an example has not been without its effect on the ancient and respectable parent society—the Philharmonic Society. Competition in art, as in commerce, is a practical gain to the community. It was certainly a bold idea to compete single-handed with a wealthy and independent corporation. Mr. Thomas’ professional knowledge, however, enabled him to see the requisite opening for his venture. The success, perhaps, has been more of reputation than profit, but it has not been any the less gratifying on that account. Mr. Theodore Thomas has succeeded in establishing an orchestra which has no superior in America, and he has introduced many important works which otherwise would have remained perdu. The programme on Saturday was an extremely good one; curious for its novelties, yet well balanced and substantial. The opening number was a Festival Overture (opus 50,) by Volkmann—a work which displays a steady hand and a coherent mind. We did not discover anything particularly festive about it, on the contrary, it impressed us as being singularly sedate. It is, nevertheless, a well knit, musician-like effort. Mendelssohn’s 114th Psalm of (‘When Israel out of Egypt came’) is one of the finest compositions extant. The balance of the vocal and instrumental effect is almost perfect, and the motion of both parts is irresistible. The Mendelssohn Union turned out in good force, and was, as usual, especially brilliant in female voices. The tenors and bassos are always less efficient, for what reason we know not. The performance on Saturday was disturbed by inequalities of this character. The orchestra pulled well together, and averted what at one time seemed likely to terminate in a confused catastrophe. We are aware of the difficulty of the work, but its difficulty is an additional reason why it should not rashly be undertaken. The third number on the programme was an original fantasie for orchestra and piano by Mr. Otto Singer, a local musicians, who himself presided at the piano, and, in fact, seem to preside altogether too much, inasmuch as nothing escaped his supervision. Mr. Singer is a student of Schumann, and his devotion to the master is clearly discernible. His melodies are frequent and fresh; but they are discursive and lack breadth. This to a certain extent is the fault of the form, but Liszt has shown us that largeness is not incompatible with the use of the piano in the orchestra. Mr. Singer is never satisfied with a good subject, and never allows it to remain in an assured position. He worries it on the piano and shifts it into every approximate key of the orchestra. Properly utilized there is material for half-a-dozen fantasies in this one score; and material, too, of a very beautiful sort. The invention is plentiful, and the fancy poetic, but the mind is restless, and utterly lacks the best quality of genius—repose. The piano partition amply illustrates this. It is a succession of passages, all more or less brilliant, and all bearing a family likeness to a cadenza. They are inserted in the interstices of the score, sometimes ingeniously, but often with effort. There is hardly any direct connection, save in the finale, where all the instruments are well kept in hand. Repetition would undoubtedly accustom the ear to many of these eccentricities, and we are sure that it would lead to a higher appreciation of Mr. Singer’s fertility. The fantasie is orchestrated skillfully, and with delicate and pleasing effects for the various instruments. Mr. Otto Singer is an excellent pianist, and rendered full justice to the obligato. The work was heartily applauded, and deserves to be put on record as one of the most creditable productions of our resident talent and cultivation. To our mind it is more important in every way than Liszt’s symphonic poem called ‘Prometheus’—a piece of mere workmanship, and with less of the ring of the hammer and mark of the file than usual. In dealing with the well-known myth, Liszt has omitted every spark of that famous fire which Prometheus stole for the benefit of mortals. He has confined himself to the bodily grievances of the son of Iapetus, and they must be sore indeed if they are at all represented in his music. The concert was brought to a happy and beautiful termination by the performance of Beethoven’s ‘Pastorale’ Symphony—admirably rendered by the orchestra. Thus the fifth year of Mr. Thomas’ meritorious enterprise came to a close. We are creeping toward the Summer season, when a breezier style of music will have the vogue, but it is not without pleasure that we look forward past the pleasant season of flowers to the sixth season of the symphony soirées.”
“Mr. Theodore Thomas gave the fifth and last of his season’s Symphony Soirees on Saturday evening, to an audience rather larger than usual. The programme was as follows: [lists program].
“This was a fair programme, the second part redeeming amply the dryness of the first. Volkmann’s overture, played on this occasion for the first time in New-York, is a solid and well-written composition, and the finale rises almost to magnificence, but it is very far from festive, and, though abounding in marks of scholarship, lacks the true inspiration of genius. We may say almost the same thing of Mr. Singer’s fantasia. It is evenly compounded, and has at least one very happy melodic thought, but the treatment is not compact; the thought gets away, and wanders vaguely about, it is caught again for a moment, and finally is lost in a mist. The fantasia, however, was very well received, and Mr. Singer had the honor of a recall. The Mendelssohn Union did scant justice to the 114th Psalm, which consequently dragged—this being a work which needs especial spirit and accuracy in the singers to be interested, because it is long and the melody is not very clearly marked. Liszt’s Symphonic Poem of ‘Prometheus’ was performed for the first time, and we should not grieve if it were also for the last. It is one of the craziest and most repulsive of all that master’s bizarre works, bearing the same relation to genuine music which the ravings of an insane man bear to the inspired song of the poet. It was a great mercy that the Pastoral Symphony came after it. In the calm and sunshine of that beautiful creation we forgot the nightmares, and visions of bedlam, and wild struggles to express the incomprehensible, and went home blessing the kind of Providence which sent Beethoven into the world as a compensation for the musicians of the future.
“The execution of the various instrumental works we have mentioned was generally good, and in some particulars excellent. Mr. Thomas has a hard working company; and their work is of necessity rough times; so that they are apt to miss little delicacies of the score which require both a nice ear and a nice hand. They have played so much together, however, that the different members of the orchestra have acquired a remarkable sympathy with one another, and they are always kept well together. At any rate, in view of the service which Mr. Thomas has rendered to art in New-York, it would be ungenerous to dwell upon his little shortcomings. Whatever we get new in the way of orchestral music we get from him. During the season just closed he has been especially active. He has introduced to America in the course of these five concerts no fewer than thirteen hitherto unknown works, seven of which were for chorus and orchestra combined. He gave us for the first time Catel’s overture to ‘Semiramis,’ three motets of Mozart’s, and one of Bach’s, Schubert’s Psalm XXIII for finale [sic], chorus and orchestra, Gade’s ‘Spring Fantasia,’ Rubinstein’s ‘Faust,’ Schumann’s ‘Gypsy Life,’ and Max Bruch’s Symphony in E flat, beside the three new works produced on Saturday evening. He has developed also in an unexpected manner the capabilities of the chorus in connection with the works of a symphonic character; and perhaps it will not be too much to add that whatever enterprise is exhibited by the Philharmonic Society is due to his rivalry and example. To an active sprit and extensive musical knowledge he joins a true reverence for his art and a refined and classical taste; and his labors ought therefore to receive a generous appreciation.”
“New York. April 5—On Saturday evening Mr. Thomas gave us his 5th and last Symphony Soiree with the assistance of the Mendelssohn Union and Mr. Otto Singer (pianist):
114th Psalm, Chorus and Orchestra….Mendelssohn
Fantaisie, Piano and Orchestra……Singer (Mr. Otto Singer, piano)
Symphonic Poem, ‘Prometheus’…Liszt
6th Symphony, (Pastorale)….Beethoven
“The opening Overture is strong and full or purpose, possessing many of the marked characteristics of the advanced German school. The Mendelssohn Psalm lost much of its effect from the fact that its execution greatly lacked finish and completeness; the tenors howled and seemed unable to tone down their superabundant energies. Furthermore, there seemed to be too much orchestra for the voices. I was glad to observe that the Choral Society staid only during the performance of the work, and then decorously left the stage; usually the vocalists remain until the end of the programme and are neither useful nor ornamental.
“Mr. Singer’s Fantasia pleased me greatly. Constructed in a free style and well instrumented, it impressed the audience very favorably. The opening theme and the episodical melodies introduced afterward are firm and shapely, and many passages are extremely neat and attractive. Mr. Singer—in the piano part—displayed much dexterity of finger, a firm and precise touch, and a good command of the instrument. He seemed deficient only in delicacy of sentiment and feeling.
“‘Prometheus’ really has something like coherence and persistency of design, and the instrumentation is of course good. Liszt’s weak point is always the uncouth harmonic transitions, which disfigure nearly all his symphonic works.
“Mr. Thomas’s efficient orchestra has never displayed its capabilities to better advantage than in the Pastoral Symphony.
“The audience was a large and seriously attentive one, and I trust that Mr. Thomas has met, this season, with sufficient pecuniary encouragement to induce him in the season of 1867-70 to give us another series of these delightful entertainments. He has brought out many new works of interest and ability which, but for his untiring energy, we should probably not have heard, and he has visibly elevated the standard of musical taste among us.”