Miami Beach (New World Center)
Igor Stravinsky: Circus Polka – Petrushka (1947 version)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Opus 36
New World Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas (conductor)
M. Tilson Thomas (Courtesy of NWS)
Finally, the season begins. The summer in Miami can feel culturally barren when the New World Symphony is on vacation. So the opening concert is a relief for music lovers and this time the company gave the standard treat of a tremendous evening. It is fascinating to take a look at the programs for the last 25 years that this company has been in operation. Not only does the institution have an almost sacred reputation, it has become incredibly ambitious in offering repertoire that is not overly familiar. Sure the familiar masterworks are going to always pack a house but Michael Tilson Thomas has created an audience that not only is willing but also eager and proud to be adventuresome.
The program was kicked off with a curtain raiser, Stravinsky's Circus Polka. George Balanchine chose Stravinsky to score a ballet he was creating for Ringling Brothers that featured a cast of elephants and female dancers. That idea seems pretty impossible today so to give us
perhaps a clue of the 1942 ballet, Emily Eckstein designed a visual animation that accompanied the orchestra. At first it didn't make an impression on me as I was trying to concentrate on the music. But the next day I found the images going through my head repeatedly, so it achieved its intention for this viewer. The piece is so much fun, all the edgy rhythms eventually ending with a variation on Schubert's Marche militaire. What an opportunity for a group of brilliant musicians! And the perfect fanfare to a new season.
Next up, more Stravinsky with Petrushka. The music for this ballet is so descriptive that to see the dancers is almost unnecessary. Choreographers must have been thrilled to receive Stravinsky's scores realizing he had already done most of their work. And there are so many places throughout to allow soloists to demonstrate their gifts. Though it is not long, because it requires great expense, this work is seldom offered anymore by ballet companies. What an opportunity it would be for someone like Eckstein to create a full video in Disney Fantasia style. The sophisticated score is a playground for an audience's imagination. An endless parade of color and emotions. The youngish players of the New World enjoyed a veritable Christmas morning playing with gifts they must have once thought unimaginable.
New World had the simple yet effective idea of projecting the titles of various scenes on the surrounding screens making the plot quite easy to follow for anyone unfamiliar with the storyline.
It would be easy to think of something as lavish as Petrushka being the finale of a program. It is hard to follow something so vivid; so for a Russian evening, programming a big and important Tchaikovsky symphony is probably the best bet; Michael Tilson Thomas chose the fourth. When offering criticism of a piece like this it is easy to point out particular sections and performers who made significant contributions. But that almost seems derogatory with this performance's achievement. The troupe, with many new members, played as if it had performed this piece together before the public many times. The fourth symphony is quite a journey. It begins with a tremendous anxiety and finally ends with that anxiety remaining among triumphant happiness. Along the way we are taken to a very romantic place during the second movement then to a delightfully simple one in the third in which we may smile at the pizzicato communication among the string players who looked overjoyed by the symphony's conclusion. Not a look of exhaustion at all but one of complete satisfaction that their debut performance came off so effortlessly. Tchaikovsky is the star throughout and what greater compliment could be given to Mr. Tilson Thomas than his seemingly effortless contribution in ensuring that? New World as always, remains instrumental in its establishment and continuity of South Florida as one of America's cultural capitals.