Brooklyn Philharmonic continues to go Off the Walls

Amid numerous layoffs, a plunge in donations and the cancellation of their 2009--2010 subscription series, it was heartening to see the Brooklyn Philharmonic—in the form of concertmaster Deborah Buck and guest pianist Molly Morkoski—take the stage at the Brooklyn Museum on Sunday (November 15). Anticipation ran high for the first of four concerts in the Phil's Off the Walls series, which explored the phenomenon of synesthesia (when one sense stimulus excites an involuntary response in another sense) under the apt title "Hear Color, See Sound." Unsurprisingly, many synesthetes have been musicians, including Leonard Bernstein, Tori Amos, Jean Sibelius and Stevie Wonder.

The afternoon got off to a rocky start when it was announced that the bright lighting of the museum's Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium would prevent the audience from being able to fully see the projections that were set to run during the concert. However, Ms. Buck had chosen paintings within the Brooklyn Museum's collection so that they could be viewed in all their glory postconcert. It also allowed the focus to be on the music, which is clearly what most people came to hear.

After a slow warm-up, the concert's final three pieces truly shone. Ysae's Violin Sonata No. 3, a solo piece for Buck, was virtuosic and compelling; sublimely evoking all five senses, it may well have been the highlight of the afternoon. In synesthete Messiaen's "Praise to the immortality of Jesus" from Quartet for the End of Time, it was Morkoski who stood out: Though playing a constant ostinato that gave a heartbeat to the violin's dreamy, ascending lines for most of the piece, Morkoski's warmth and grace increased to a fever pitch as she played keys at the ends of the piano, culminating in a subtle, breathtaking finale. Perhaps the most perfect union between Buck and Morkoski was Debussy's Sonata for Violin and Piano. A showcase for both players' warm, autumnal tones, the suite was strikingly similar to the opening suite from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, and neatly bookended the concert.

It's a treat to hear musicians talk about the music they are playing; it would have been nice to hear more of Buck's and Morkoski's takes on each work rather than the dry, lecturelike introductions by Brooklyn Phil executive director Greg Pierson. But with three concerts left in Music off the Walls, and a sister series at the Brooklyn Public Library (Music off the Shelves) due in 2010, there's still plenty to hear of the orchestra during its radio-silent year.