The Brevard Music Center season is accelerating to its close, and the final two weeks are chock-a-block with wonderful concert offerings. Four concerts produced by Joseph Horowitz as a "festival within the festival" examine the influence of Antonín Dvořák on American composers. The third and fourth of these are orchestral concerts conducted by JoAnn Falletta, BMC's principal guest conductor, culminating, of course, with the Symphony "From the New World." The Dvořák orchestral works were still in the future, scheduled for the Saturday concert, when Friday's concert showcased two twentieth-century American composers influenced by Dvořák to seek a new American voice.
Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland are profoundly "New World" composers, knowledgeable about European trends but grounded in American sensibility. Falletta is an ideal conductor for this "Dvořák in America Festival" since she is famed as an interpreter of American music. And a dynamic one. As always with this fine conductor, you are impressed not by her short stature but by the broad swath of her arm motions and the graceful control of her baton. On the podium she looks to be in supreme control, and the orchestra responds with a similar assurance.
The concert began with Bernstein's Overture to Candide. This tour de force of wit elicited immediate smiles. As so often with Bernstein, it seems so effortless that it is possible to overlook its brilliance. From the downbeat, this was a crisp performance all the way.
The next work was Bernstein's "Serenade (after Plato's Symposium)" written in five movements for violin and orchestra. Great music can usually be analyzed at least two ways, and this work holds up when considered as a violin concerto or as a piece of program music. Bernstein said there was no literal program, but then he listed "guideposts" for each movement that in fact constitute a program based on the characters in Plato. Before performing, violin soloist Robert McDuffie discussed the motifs that Bernstein used to illustrate the several characters as they comment on the "meaning of love." McDuffie and various orchestra members gave us a preview of what to look for. Bernstein gives us elegance with the first movement "Phaedrus. Pausanias." There is raucous abandon in "Aristophanes," rapid-fire passionless literalness in "Eryximachus," and prayer-like elegance and quiet beauty in "Agathon." In the fifth movement, he concludes by representing deep Socratic philosophic thought interrupted by drunken revelers led by Alcibiades. This is vintage Bernstein, with hints of both "Maria" and the rivalry of the Sharks and the Jets. (He was writing both On the Town and West Side Story in the same time period.)
Concertmaster Jonathan Carney and principal cellist Jonathan Spitz played big roles in the performance, often being in dialogue with McDuffie as if they were playing chamber music. McDuffie was the headliner, while Falletta marshaled the full orchestra, keeping discipline even among the raucous moments. The percussion players should be commended for their excellence. But hey – in this performance, the whole gang was cool, man!
Following intermission, we heard Copland's most important work – his Symphony No. 3. One of the hallmarks of truly American composers is that they did not follow the twelve-tone Second Viennese School's lead or other European trends. They mastered modernism, absorbed European moves, but followed their own path, often being labeled as neoclassical. I think of David Diamond, Howard Hanson, and Roy Harris as well as Copland. Frequently these composers incorporated American folk music (as did Dvořák). Copland's third symphony starts with a Molto moderato that invokes the enormous breadth of the continent. The second movement Allegro molto uses brass and tympani to demonstrate American optimism. The Andantino quasi allegretto has prominent but subtle woodwind parts. (Unfortunately, the Brevard frogs were croaking during some of the quieter moments.) Then comes the spectacular fourth movement, which incorporates Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," allusions to the first notes of "Yankee Doodle," syncopation, and a sensibility as wide as the Great Plains.
Leaving the Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium following the concert, I heard someone say "And that tiny girl produced all that sound!" Falletta certainly did, with verve and assurance.
For information on the rest of the BMC schedule see our calendar.