Review by Judith Caldwell
The Brott Music Festival continued on Wednesday evening with a concert of North American music featuring Gershwin. The Festival is near the end for 2013 and this years National Academy Orchestra is playing at their best, having been together now in rehearsal and in concert since May. Each of the young musicians is very talented and together play as one of the best N.A.O. ensembles in recent years and they clearly enjoy it.
The evening opened with two short works by composer-in-residence Maxime Goulet. The first ‘Running’ was for an animated short about a stick figure having acupuncture and it was melodic, approachable and fun. The second was incidental music for the closing scene in the movie ‘Hidalgo’ where the rider Frank Hopkins releases his mustang Hidalgo to run with the wild horses. It was emotional and expansive, redolent of western wide open spaces and grand vistas. These two very different pieces demonstrated the range of this talented young composer.
After the wide open spaces of the western range, we were offered that most urban of composers; George Gershwin, in one of his cityscapes entitled Concerto in F. In his own words Gershwin said ‘it is quick and pulsating, representing the young and enthusiastic spirit of American life’. Ian Parker, a Canadian graduate of Juilliard, was our piano soloist and he was definitely young and enthusiastic, and wonderfully talented – the audience gave him a very spontaneous standing ovation.
After intermission we had the fully orchestrated (Maestro Brott said we’d have the kitchen sink and all) version of the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein. This includes many of the memorable tunes from the show in an edgy, jagged expanded form which also includes some swelling romantic sections and a mambo where the basses twirl their instruments and the Maestro yells ‘mambo’ at us. It was familiar and lively and at times over the top, and we loved it.
Finally – Gershwin’s iconic “Rhapsody in Blue”. Undoubtedly, 99% of the audience were familiar with Ferde Grofe’s orchestration and the famous wailing clarinet glissando which opens the piece, so the execution had to be perfect –it was. Afendi Yusuf got us off to a spine-tingling start and Ian Parker carried us forward with the syncopated rhythms and strange mix of Klezmer & Dixieland music that make this work so instantly recognizable and so American. The audience positively lapped it up and leapt to their feet when it finished.
After an extended standing-ovation Ian parker played a Chopin encore. This year’s Brott Festival has only three concerts to go and I will be very sad to see the end. This writer has really enjoyed this season and look forward to 2014.