Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A Capitol Fourth on the Mall fights off the thunderstorms



Practically every year for the past ten years or so, I have gone to the Mall in Washington on July 4 for the Capitol Fourth. A couple of exceptions: in 1999, and again in 2002, I watched the celebration from the East Bank of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. In 2000, I started filtering to the South Capitol Metro as Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture crashed to a close, because the next morning I would get up to fly back to Minneapolis.

Today I went in to town, and after a burger dinner of 17th Street, I heard rumors that they had cleared the Mall because severe thunderstorms and maybe tornados were coming. So I went back home and watched this years on PBS. It was similar to the celebration of previous years.

Tony Danza (who starred in the Best Film “Crash”) was the MC, and he rather stumbled a couple times, once clutching his chest as if he could have a coronary. But the rest of the evening went off beautifully. Little Richard (wasn’t he at “The Boys’” Di concert in London?) got everybody going – his wig is obvious, but I remember “Long Tall Sally” and “Oh Baby” in the 50s. Driks Bentley sung some country and western. Elliott Yamin (American Idol) actually started things off. Hayden Panettiere sung “Try” from “Bridge to Terabithia”.

Erich Kunzel conducted the National Symphony Orchestra. The main classic was a medley from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (aka “Romeo and Juliet” between NYC street gangs). There is a concert dance suite, which, I believe, ends loudly as did this medley. The actual “opera” ends ambiguously, with the nearly dodecaphonic “Maria” theme dying away in a cartwheel, leading to a final tritone (an ending that reminds one of Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde”).. Bernstein combined popular theater with the extreme postromanticism of Mahler (and Strauss, Zemlinsky) leading into the atonal expressionism of Schoenberg and Berg, as comes out in some of his more formal symphonic and choral works like the “Kaddish” Symphony and “Age of Anxiety” symphony-concerto for piano and orchestra. Bernstein reworked his light sattirical opera “Candide” (Voltaire) in a version with the London Symphony in which the final choral is drawn out to Mahlerian effect.

These concerts used to play the entire 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky, but no more. The pick up with the recapitulation, as this time the fireworks over the Washington Monument had already started. Of course, the guns (near the Reflecting Pool, I think) go off as the final chorus plays, but, with the singing of the Choral Arts Society of Washington, the effect is rather like that of the movie “Reds.”

I worked a few weeks at the end of 2003 selling subscriptions for the National Symphony, for a Canadian intermediary company called Arts Marketing. I could sell the music, but it was difficult to sell entire subscriptions (when they can be bought on the Internet) and (with complaints about our calling after 9 PM) I quit. (The company brought in a music school graduate from Toronto to help us sell; but it seems odd for a conservatory graduate -- an artist and performer -- to make a living by selling other people's work (without performing it, that is).) But in Minnesota I had worked for the Minnesota Orchestra for fourteen months from 2002-2003, calling for contributions to the Guaranty Fund and Young Peoples Concerts, and that worked out fairly well. Although non-profits were largely exempted from the “crackdown” on telemarketing, the mood was certainly negative, even for "telefunding." (There is a discussion here.)

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