Celebrating America’s Birthday
Avery Fisher Hall
07/02/2011 - and July 4, 5, 2011
Instrumental pieces by Cole Porter, Richard Rogers, Frederick Loewe, George Gershwin, Brian Dix, Aaron Copland, Leroy Anderson, Jules Styne, and John Philip Sousa
United States Drum and Bugle Corps, Brian Dix (Director and Commanding Officer), New York Philharmonic, Bramwell Tovey (Conductor)
U.S. Drum and Bugle Corps (© Andrew Linden)
The stage of Avery Fisher Hall was awash in red light for the first half of this concert. After the intermission, blue and white were added to the color scheme – in keeping with the holiday spirit. As Commander Dix informed the audience, “The marines have landed.” And so they did, immaculately attired in red and white with brass instruments buffed to a gleaming shine. As were their shoes. Our host for the evening, the charming and witty Bramwell Tovey, confessed to a bit of embarrassment at the state of his own footwear. But as far as the music was concerned, Tovey could not have been more polished.
He was in his element in the first section of the evening’s program – a marvelous medley of songs from America’s gift to the world, the Broadway musical. The sweep, the ebullience, the charm, the vibrancy were all there, with particularly fine playing by the strings. I had been very curious about the second selection – George Gershwin’s Catfish Row: Symphonic Suite in Five Parts. After the premiere of his opera, Porgy and Bess, and while it was still being staged on Broadway, Gershwin assembled this suite, drawing upon the opera’s instrumental sections. The work acquired its title from Gershwin’s brother, Ira, almost 20 years after the composer’s death. It was fascinating to hear the familiar infectious jazz rhythms and beautiful melodic lines (featuring the splendid solo playing of violinist, Michelle Kim) divorced from the context of an operatic performance. Another highlight was the star turn on the “honky tonk piano” – an upright instrument which looked as if it had seen better days. Our pianist was Bramwell Tovey himself in an assured and richly idiomatic performance, both he and the audience clearly relished.
The second half of the concert featured the Drum and Bugle Corps in selections by Commander Dix and well as Copeland, Anderson and Styne. But the highlight was surely Sousa’s Semper Fidelis, played with precision and extraordinary verve. Tovey and the Philharmonic musicians returned to the stage – along with their chairs, music stands and music via a complex bit of logistics -- for an exciting version of Sousa’s The Washington Post. Then Commander Dix conducted a medley of songs of the various branches of the military service, asking those in the audience who had served their country or who had loved ones currently in service to stand. The audience acknowledged them with great applause and grateful thanks.
Arlene Judith Klotzko