Wednesday, October 29, 2008

PBS broadcasts Carnegie Hall Gala of Leonard Bernstein's music, with San Francisco Symphony

Tonight some PBS stations rebroadcast the opening night concert for the 2008 season at Carnegie Hall in New York City, given by the visiting San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. The program was called “A Celebration of Leonard Bernstein” and consisted entirely of his music. Appearing are opera singers Dawn Upshaw and Thomas Hampson, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Broadway's Christine Ebersole. Also performing is an Ensemble selected from the Vocal Arts Department and the Drama Division of The Juilliard School

The main link for the program is here.

The opening Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story" have always struck me as more advanced than their popularity indicates, with its sweet rotating themes, interspersed among the dances, that almost suggest atonality. Thomas says that Bernstein likes to end many of his works quietly and ambiguously with questions (although not with the big “symphonies.” Later the “Officer Krupke” song is performed, with its lyrics referring to the “vices” of the 60s, including some reefer madness.

The most interesting work was probably the suite from the 1983 opera “A Quiet Place,” giving work to both vocalists (“You’re Late”, “Morning, Good Morning”), and a Postlude from Act I than reminds one of late Mahler and a touch of Britten, with some linear iconoclasm. The opera is a sequel to “Trouble in Tahiti”, of which I once had an old budget record and which sounded rather trivial.

The cellist played a Meditation from the "Mass", which I remember taking a girl friend to on a date in the fall of 1971 at the Kennedy Center, in my brief attempt at heterosexual dating. (That’s a strange reason to remember a work. But what I remember more of it is the political rebellion of those great days following the Civil Rights movement and Stonewall, as Vietnam cratered and then so did Nixon.)

The cello soloist also performed “To What You Said” with baritone Hampsonm from the "Songfest: A Cycle of American Poems for Six Singers and Orchestra" (1977), which is an orchestral “symphonic song cycle” in 12 sections, in a lean yet enriching style again akin to late Mahler and Britten (or even Zemlinsky’s “Lyric Symphony”).

Carnegie Hall has apparently continued it’s “Bernstein: The Best of All Possible Worlds” events, with other performances, such as the film “On the Waterfront” at the Walter Reade Theater, link here.

I remember seeing Michael Tilson Thomas conduct a youth concert in 1973, when I was living in New Jersey and visiting the City a lot. At the time, Thomas was one of the youngest of conductors (like Gustavo Dudamel today). Thomas has is own article on Bernstein in the Sept. 19, 2008 New York Times, “Performance of his Life: He Composed Himself,” link here. I would also see Mahler’s Second Symphony performed in Carnegie Hall in 1975, when I was living in the City.

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