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The Sound of America New York Philharmonic: Summertime Classics

- Music Performance Reviews

New York Philharmonic
Summertime Classics
The Sound of America

Lorin Maazel, Music Director

Bramwell Tovey, Conductor
Jon Kimura Parker, Piano

Performed at Avery Fisher Hall
Lincoln Center
(Lincoln Center Website)

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 3, 2004

John Adams (b. 1947): Short Ride in a Fast Machine (1986). The premiere was in 1986 in Massachusetts, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. The NY Philharmonic premiere was in 1991, Kurt Masur conducting. Included in instrumentation are two woodblocks, two synthesizers, snare drum, and glockenspiel. (Program Notes). Maestro Bramwell Tovey was again in rare form tonight, with his quintessential British humor and style, bringing Tony Blair’s apologies for the Revolutionary War.

Did you ever imagine you’re on a roller-coaster or racing train and then add appropriate music? Mr. Adams’ piece had just that effect, with woodblocks taking on the sound of trains hitting the tracks or a carnival ride on wheels. This was the first upbeat piece of a very upbeat evening, with repetitive chords building momentum amongst crashing cymbals. Maestro Tovey’s praise of New York Philharmonic was appreciated by musicians and audience at once.

Bernstein (1918-1990): America from West Side Story (1955-57, arr. Ramin 1999). The musical West Side Story premiered in 1957 in Washington, DC. The NY Philharmonic premiere of Mr. Ramin’s arrangement was tonight. Included in instrumentation are timpani, piano, claves, guiro, and cowbell. (Program Notes). I recently reviewed NYC Ballet’s West Side Story Suite, with Jenifer Ringer in the song and dance lead as Anita, in America, ruffled skirt and sexy attitude. Tonight was the premiere of Sid Ramin’s orchestral arrangement, and the clave, Latin beat was evident, early on.

The Philharmonic performed this work in raging and riveting fashion, replete with vibraphone, xylophone, castanets, tambourine, cowbell, glockenspiel, maracas, and timbales. One can only imagine the excitement in the Hall tonight to hear this orchestral premiere. I certainly hope to hear it performed at least for Holidays and special events, as the multiculturalism of this American dream of a song is so relevant and requisite.

Grofé (1892-1972): Grand Canyon Suite (1931); Sunrise, Painted Desert, On the Trail, Sunset, Cloudburst. Grand Canyon Suite premiered in 1931in Chicago by the Paul Whiteman Band. The NY Philharmonic premiere was in 1954, Andre Kostelanetz conducting. Included in instrumentation are snare drum, piano, chimes, and coconut shells. (Program Notes). Many years ago I stood in the Grand Canyon before dawn and waited and watched the sun rise. It was a miraculous event, with a sliver of light becoming larger and more glorious, as the Canyon became dimly purple, then orange, then gold. I remember the mules and the backpacks, small creatures and dry brush.

New York Philharmonic had not performed this work since 1958, almost one half century ago, and this event was long overdue. Sunrise was developed from silence to softly sweeping sounds, with the triangle heralding the dawn. Painted Desert was mysterious, with tiny blasts of brass, like crawling creatures. On the Trail created clomping mules and horses from clacking coconut shells, plus comedic moments mixed with magical elements. Sunset included undulating, mystical sounds, with an effect of a tingling triangle. Cloudburst began in romantic rapture, with a scintillating cello solo, followed by the wind machine and crashing cymbals.

Gershwin (1898-1937): Rhapsody in Blue (1924; orch. Grofé 1926). Jon Kimura Parker, Piano. The premiere was in 1924 in NY’s Aeolian Hall, Paul Whiteman conducting his orchestra, the composer as soloist. The NY Philharmonic premiere was in 1929, Ernest Schelling conducting, the composer as soloist. Included in instrumentation are tamburin, guiro, two clarinets, and strings. (Program Notes). I cannot imagine a sexier interpretation of Rhapsody in Blue than that delivered tonight by Maestro Tovey and Jon Kimura Parker. Mr. Parker dangled notes en air like frozen raindrops. This was an exciting and engaging performance that brought the audience to its feet. We were tantalized and mesmerized, and I did not want this Rhapsody to end.

The percussive section, with snare drum and gong, plus the inclusion of three saxophones (rare in classical orchestral repertoire) gave the orchestra a jazzy and textured nuance. Kudos to Mr. Parker and to the New York Philharmonic for this virtuosic performance of Rhapsody in Blue.

Copland (1900-1990): Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo (1942-43); Buckaroo Holiday, Corral Nocturne, Saturday Night Waltz, Hoe-Down. The ballet Rodeo premiered in 1942 at the Metropolitan Opera House. The NY Philharmonic world premiere of the Four Episodes was in 1943, Alexander Smallens conducting. Included in instrumentation are crash cymbals, suspended cymbals, slap stick, glockenspiel, and harp. (Program Notes). Agnes de Mille commanded a central role in the history of ballet, and this very American and lyrical work, with cowgirls succumbing to cowboys, was very in keeping with this World War II era work. In her final years, she used to frequently attend ballet performances at Lincoln Center, as I recall.

Copland is the quintessential American Composer (Billy the Kid, Appalachian Spring), and Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo was a fitting final work on a Fourth of July Weekend in NYC. Buckaroo Holiday included the claps of long, wooden slap sticks, and the audience was drawn into a real live rodeo ambiance through rhythm, sound-effects, and music. Corral Nocturne was melancholy and romantic. Saturday Night Waltz, opening with bass and celli, was reminiscent of Ms. de Mille’s choreographed leg lifts in ruffled, long skirts and colorful, cotton neck scarves. Hoe-Down exuded the most humor with the musical effect of bucking broncos and buoyant ballet.

An endless standing ovation was awarded with an encore, Stars and Stripes Forever. What a brilliant touch, lively and loveable.

Kudos to Maestro Bramwell Tovey, and kudos to New York Philharmonic’s Summertime Classics. A fourth program, A Little Light Opera, was not reviewed. For information on Concerts in the Parks, visit New York Philharmonic’s Summer Website.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at