Saturday, September 18, 2010

Saturday Evening in Midtown: The Brooklyn Philharmonic at the Bryant Park Fall Festival

After a quiet Yom Kippur spent reading and reflecting and walking around our neighborhood in Williamsburg, watching our neighbors wash their cars and kids tossing around a football and a young novelist selling some books from his stoop on Graham Avenue, we went over to Bryant Park at 6 p.m. to see the Brooklyn Philharmonic.

It was the sixth day of the third annual Bryant Park Fall Festival, which features performances or talks for eight evenings running from some of New York's cultural treasures: the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Jazz at Linclon Center, the new Five Boroughs Music Festival, the Orchestra of St. Luke's, Parsons Dance, and tonight, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, now in its 57th season.

The orchestra should be soon announcing its new artistic director after a well-publicized search. Devoted to bringing music to the entire Brooklyn community, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, presents programs such as Music Off the Walls and Music Off the Shelves in partnership with, respectively, the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Public Library.

The park was really crowded this evening as the sun came out towards the end of the day. Someone saved us a seat near the front by the back of the library. At our last event at Bryant Park, we were around this spot too, but that was for a movie and we were then all the way in the back.

Tonight's musicians were Deborah Buck, violin; Robin Bushman, violin; Deborah Wang, violin; Ah Ling Neu, viola; Chris Finckel, cello; Gregg August, bass; and Paul Garment, clarinet/bass clarinet.

As Sarah Stevens, the Brooklyn Philharmonic's director of operations pointed out in her short introduction, tonight's Bryant Park program featured, in addition to Mozart's Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581, work by four living composers, all of them younger than we are.

First, Buck, Finckel and August played two selections from Appalachia Waltz (the program mistakenly said "Appalachian"), composers/musicians Mark O'Connor (fiddle) and Edgar Meyer's (double-bass) 1996 best-selling crossover album in collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma (cello, as if you didn't know), a pleasant blend of folk, bluegrass and European classical music that sounds kind of Irishy and medieval and which spawned a fast-moving neoclassical ballet by Miriam Mahdaviani; the musicians played O'Connor's title piece and Chief Sitting in the Rain, a reworking of a traditional bluegrass standard. It was really lovely.

The very smart Evan Ziporyn's Be-In, performed by Garment on bass-clarinet and the string quartet of Bushman, Wong, Neu and Finckel, was really enjoyable; reviewing the Ethel debut CD in The Guardian in 2004, John L. Walters called Be-In "a hypnotic, spiralling nine-minute journey with a tender conclusion that's both intellectually demanding and emotionally satisfying."

The Mozart Quintet for Clarinet and Strings (for this, Buck replaced Bushman on one of the violins) is always a crowd-pleaser (Benny Goodman played it right here in Bryant Park in 1952, and it's famous for being the piece Charles teaches the Chinese POW's just before they're blown up in the last episode of M*A*S*H), and tonight's performance of the first movement was expansive and subtle, the fourth movement enchanting - just as night began to fall.

Finally, the string sextet performed Weather One by Michael Gordon, who like Evan Ziporyn, is connected with "Bang on a Can" (back in 1987, we were at the MacDowell Colony with Bang on a Can's brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning [for the superb Little Match Girl Passion] co-founder David Lang, who was really funny at the dinner table). Weather One has some gorgeously dizzy swirling where the melody played by one instrument is then quickly taken up by another; it had the force of Thursday's Brooklyn tornado but we're happy to say all the trees in Bryant Park were still standing at its conclusion.

It was wonderful to be out in the park to listen to such terrific music played by the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Autumn is here, and there won't be many park performances soon, so we will try to savor this one for a long time. The Bryant Park Fall Festival's main sponsor is Bank of America, whose Tower at One Bryant Park made us look back and up several times during the performances; for our money, it's Manhattan's most beautiful skyscraper.

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