Explaining his British accent, Bramwell Tovey, conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, welcomed the Avery Fisher Hall audience at its July 4th Summertime Classic Star-Spangled Celebration with: “I am here to apologize for 1776…bad decision by the King. Happy Birthday America!”
As he raised his baton, someone sneezed! Without missing a beat, Tovey brushed the back of his sparkling white jacket with his hand then led the orchestra and a 2,700-strong audience in a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Marine Band member, Bramwell Tovey and Major Dix // Photo by Karen Leon
Leading off with Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” (1942), the program included George Gershwin’s 1927 “Strike Up The Band.”
Mark Nuccio, NYPhil associate principal clarinetist, accompanied by the orchestra thrilled with a memorable performance of Aaron Copland’s (1947/48) “Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra with Harp and Piano.”
When the “Commandant’s Own” 80-strong United States Marine Drum & Bugle Corps [red jackets, white pants and blinding polished brass instruments] marched on stage, there was a momentary hush followed by explosive applause. Perhaps it was an optical illusion, but from where I sat, the edges of the Marines’ red jackets —irrespective of the wearer’s height — seemed to line up evenly!
Under the baton of Major Brian Dix, director and commanding officer of “The Commandant’s Own,” the Marines led off with Elmer Bernstein’s (1922-2004) theme from the Oscar-nominated film “The Magnificent Seven.” A drums only “Xylophonia” [two xylophones were wheeled on stage] adapted by Nathan Morris and Briana Dix and performed by the entire assemblage was followed by Durham Prince’s 1941 “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” which had audience members — myself included — dancing in their seats.
The Commandant’s Own play at Avery Fisher Hall // Photo by Karen Leon
“The band travels 50,000 miles each year giving concerts,” Major Dix said. He invited members of the audience who had served in various wars to stand up and be recognized. As each military branch of service theme was played, veterans stood up to explosive applause. An a capella rendition of “I’m Proud To Be An American” was accompanied by a kishke-churning drumline tattoo. After John Philips Sousa’s “Semper Fidelis” the Marine Band joined the NY Phil in a medley of Dix’s “Ellis Island” (1999). Maj. Dix explained that this work was based on his grandmother’s favorite American folk songs that she and other immigrants learned on their journey to America.”
“We really need America in the world today,” were Tovey’s parting words to the audience.
During the post-performance reception in the Green Room, I mentioned to Major Dix that my husband had served in the U.S. Navy, that a relative recently joined the Marines, that I was a columnist for The Jewish Daily Forward and that I was a Holocaust survivor. He looked down at me (he is tall!) then kissed the top of my head!
Is there a more sunny and less ego-driven violinist than Israeli-born Gil Shaham? He makes even the most virtuosic music seem so effortless and natural, it’s easy to forget how rare and difficult an achievement that is.
This year he has devoted himself to reviving a handful of under-played 20th-century violin concertos. In mid-March, abetted by David Zinman guest-conducting the New York Philharmonic, Shaham put his whole being into performing the Concerto Funèbre for violin and string orchestra by Karl Amadeus Hartmann. Most violinists would be daunted by this work’s technical demands and try to make the audience see how much sweat is required to play it. Shaham, in contrast, made it sing.
There were not many German composers who behaved honorably in the Nazi period, but Hartmann was one. He chose to maintain public silence so as not to be co-opted by the Nazis. This rarely played violin concerto is an outstanding example of his work.
On March 26, a day after the premiere of the new season of “Mad Men,” a group of New Yorkers packed into Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher hall to soak up another dose of mid-century nostalgia: the New York Philharmonic’s spring gala program “Anywhere I Wander: The Frank Loesser Songbook,” featuring the works of the Jewish composer and lyricist who reigned during the glitzy heyday of the American musical comedy.
It was Marvin Hamlisch who wrote that “everyone is beautiful at the ballet” — no one, to my knowledge, has ever claimed the same about the philharmonic — and yet on this chilly spring evening an air of old-fashioned glamour wafted through the hall. Women wore furs; champagne was sipped. As the orchestra noodled onstage, the trumpeter practicing not a tough lick from Tchaikovsky but rather the swelling, love-struck strains of Loesser’s “Rosemary,” something like titillation rippled through the crowd.
I suspect that certain people like hearing the Philharmonic — in this case led by Ted Sterling with a lineup of Broadway veterans and opera superstar Bryn Terfel — play this sort of thing more than they care to admit. Broadway tunes are what orchestras trot out for outdoor picnics and the pops concerts that make classical music purists wince, and yet it’s significant that the Philharmonic has chosen to feature musical theater composers (Loesser this year, Stephen Sondheim the past two) when the goal is to delight its most generous patrons, who are ostensibly devotees of more serious fare.
Composer Jack Gottlieb, who passed away February 23 at the age of 80, was often asked to speak and write about Leonard Bernstein, the maestro whom he served in his youth as an assistant at the New York Philharmonic. But Gottlieb was one of the finest musicians around in his own right, and in a complete and studied way that is rare among modern prodigies. Jack was a consummate scholar, author, thinker, and composer of artistic, high-level sacred music for the synagogue; he also wrote songs, chamber music, orchestral, choral, and theater pieces, and he could entertain an audience from the piano like no one I have ever seen.
Though Gottlieb’s works were performed and lauded throughout the United States, he felt that he struggled as a composer, always in the shadow of his mentor. In the end, however, his prolific body of work stands on its own, and will no doubt be kept alive by the conductors and musicians who will continue to perform it.
After listening to and viewing a rehearsal for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s presentation of “In Seven Days,” the 2008 concerto for piano and moving image by Thomas Adès and Tal Rosner being performed January 7 and 8 at Avery Fisher Hall, I was ready to become a creationist.
Not that the piece works to persuade the audience of anything more than to pay attention to its rich array of sounds and imagery. Swept up from the tohu-bohu of unruly waves, the audience is buffeted by the composer’s rich reverberations and the videographer’s eye-popping visuals, uncertain whether the aural propels the visual or vice versa. And therein lies the piece’s power, and the audience’s uncanny feeling of participating in the act of creation.
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