Let’s now return to more hopeful times during the summer with further—and concluding—reports on PS21’s Modern Music Fest by Larry Wallach on concerts by violinist Miranda Cuckson and composer-piano virtuoso Conrad Tao and myself on a recital by another, no less virtuosic composer-pianist, Timo Andres. I am unaware of any other organization to have offered professionally presented, socially-distanced live music in the Hudson Valley or Berkshires during the summer season, and that in itself was most welcome. But, beyond that, the Modern Music Fest, organized by PS 21’s Artistic Director, Elena Siyanko, only weeks before it opened, to replace an ambitious program of visitors from abroad which was planned last year, long before anyone thought of Covid-19. Most impressive were the coherence and focus of the programming, as well as the level of musicianship among the performing artists, all of whom hailed from New York City. As we all know, New Yorkers were not entirely occupied with surviving a readily spread and often lethal microbial threat, but hostility from the federal executive, an equally dangerous disease threatening the basic rights of not just themselves but of all American citizens. Mr. Andres and Mr. Tao, as well as the leadership of PS21 were energetically participating in movements which, have, from this retrospective point in time, have preserved the right to vote and have reminded Americans of their duty to vote, so far. These urgent concerns brought them together while they were pursuing their daily lives under these radically altered circumstances, including the planning and rehearsal of the music that brought us all together in Chatham.
George Gershwin’s Piano Concerto overshadowed works by three other American composers in the opening Boston Symphony concert at Tanglewood on Friday night (July 3). Those included John Harbison, whose “Remembering Gatsby” began the program with its oxymoronic mixture of modern symphonic angst and ‘20’s pop enthusiasm; Aaron Copland represented by “Lincoln Portrait,” whose evocative score forms the background to a series of political utterances the contemporary signGeorge Gershwin’s Piano Concerto overshadowed works by three other American composers in the opening Boston Symphony concert at Tanglewood on Friday night (July 3). Those included John Harbison, whose “Remembering Gatsby” began the program with its oxymoronic mixture of modern symphonic angst and ‘20’s pop enthusiasm; Aaron Copland represented by “Lincoln Portrait,” whose evocative score forms the background to a series of political utterances the contemporary significance of which was underscored by the austere and effectively harsh delivery by John Douglas Thompson (replacing an indisposed Jessye Norman); and an overblown orchestral version of Duke Ellington’s tone poem “Harlem.”ificance of which was underscored by the austere and effectively harsh delivery by John Douglas Thompson (replacing an indisposed Jessye Norman); and an overblown orchestral version of Duke Ellington’s tone poem “Harlem.”
It’s silly season again at the San Francisco Symphony! A quick report from the front. And a debut teaser for later. Do we have a new Horowitz?
In perfect weather, with no need for a sylvan retreat, we San Franciscans simply shine a colored spotlight on the Davies Hall organ pipes in July, and Presto, music becomes festive! “My Classic Americana” is one of several programs containing well-known works Michael Francis has been leading this summer, with super zest and limited rehearsal. At times he’s got us clapping along in such good spirits, we might as well be at the Albert Hall Proms. The young Englishman has now conducted several summer seasons in San Francisco and is a great hit with our audience, bringing just the right touch of knowing wit, uncomplicated musicality, good spirits and schoolboy snark to the proceedings.
In this special version of the popular annual “Tanglewood on Parade” concert, the 75th anniversary of the festival as we know it (more or less) was duly celebrated. On August 5, 1937, the Boston Symphony Orchestra performed an all-Beethoven concert under Music Director Serge Koussevitzky. (I have already mentioned this in my review of the commemorative repreise of the same program on July 6.) This was the first concert of the Berkshire Symphonic Festival, as it was then known, both with the Boston Symphony and on the same property, Tanglewood, which has been the home of the orchestra ever since.
Tonu Kalam supervises an orchestra which has the advantage of being immense, but whose refinements over the many years invariably disappear with the awarding of a diploma. At least 65 of its members are not even music majors. And yet the quality of execution is astonishingly high. (Indeed, there were moments during his concert when one might have been forgiven for thinking oneself in the presence of Ashkenazy’s fully professional-sounding European Union Youth Orchestra.) Indeed, several members of Kalam’s orchestra were invited to play sitting in with the EUYO for its concert.
I’m sitting now in the late sunlight, looking at my cat’s ear. A translucent point it is with its hairs shining gold. It is sweet, and I am being sentimental. That which is sentimental is always ordinary in some way. Sentimentality is a kind of comfort. I once overheard the great Bernard Haitink say in a rehearsal “What is wrong with sentimentality anyway?” This from a conductor sometimes thought of as sober and straight-laced. There is nothing so remarkable about a cat’s ear, but a cat’s ear in the sunlight can seem something from a better world. I had a feeling like this when the bells started to play in The Knights’ recent performance of Copland’s Appalachian Spring in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. We had already heard the old tune several times, and then we heard it with bells. You know the place. The performance was so honest and utterly straight that I heard the jangling as new minted. The old tune was glowing. I never really noticed the bells before; I never really heard them. There is such risk in these few bars. But this is a piece which attains to simplicity and achieves it, and they simply were there. No big event-just the simple sublime, and no other composer hears this better than Aaron Copland. ‘Tis the gift to be simple.
Tanglewood mounts a big spectacular every year on July 4th, with James Taylor, the Boston Pops, and fireworks. An equally appropriate, and perhaps more nuanced, way to acknowledge the role music plays in our national consciousness is to offer a program such as the one which occurred two days later in Ozawa Hall. While each work on this program counts as a classic, and the first two have undoubtedly been played in more than one pops concert, the conjunction of the three offers a thoughtful way to experience and appraise the work of three defining figures of 20th century American music.
In a year that has seen several stellar productions of Thorton Wilder’s Our Town (for example, Walking the Dog Theater at PS21, and the Williamstown Theater), perhaps it is a necessary corrective to experience Copland’s subtle and discomfiting The Tender Land. Copland’s collaboration in the 1940 film version of the Wilder classic has helped to promulgate the myth of a gingham-and-apple-pie-innocence as the psycho-social basis of the Rural American Gothic. As beautifully Transcendentalist as Our Town is in depicting the ethos of a 1900s New England town, the darker, narrow-minded qualities of insularity should not be overlooked.