It was a glorious summer evening at Bryant Park to hear and see The American Symphony Orchestra and the Roaring 20s. The weather was perfect, and the beautiful park was filled with music lovers. The marvelous ASO was founded in 1962 by the great conductor Leopold Stokowski. Botstein honors the ASO mission by making orchestral music accessible and affordable.
A large park presents technical challenges to an orchestra. However, thanks to a fantastic stage, lighting, and sound equipment, listeners engaged with the music and artists throughout the concert.
Brought the Music to Life
The conductor and music director of the ASO, Maestro Leon Botstein, came to the stage. Building anticipation for the concert, he explained that tonight’s program featured musical works of American composers from the Roaring 20s. Botstein delivered a mini musicology introduction for each work. His words thus inspired listeners and brought the music to life, making it relevant, tangible, and understandable.
The Jazz Symphony
The first selection was A Jazz Symphony (1925) by George Antheil, who, as Botstein explained, made a name for himself as a celebrated avant-garde composer in Paris. Like other American composers at the time, Antheil studied composition in Paris with the great Nadia Boulanger. Boulanger also taught other American composers like Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, and Quincy Jones.
As the orchestra next deftly performed Antheil’s work, its jaunty rhythms and tone colors seemed to invoke the imaginings of Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, or Leonard Bernstein. I wondered if, in this work, Antheil had incorporated mechanical sounds like airplane propellers. Antheil was, after all, fascinated with the modern industrial sounds of the early 20th century.
Music for Small Orchestra
Botstein introduced the next work by Ruth Crawford entitled Music for Small Orchestra (1926). The orchestra ably captured the work’s introspective, cinematic, and dissonant properties. The extended violin solo using harmonics was mesmerizing. In this four-movement work, we enjoyed a pensive introduction that built-in volume and intensity. The second movement featured a series of rhythmic patterns played simultaneously by different instruments. The third movement was lyrical and expressive and showcased the soloistic abilities of the performers. The final movement was more complex and dissonant and featured sharp contrasts of dynamics and rhythm.
Music for the Theater
Aaron Copland was sure to enter the musical mix this evening, and we were not disappointed. Botstein introduced Copland’s Music for the Theater (1925). The opening trumpet fanfare was exuberant and celebratory. The fanfare began with the trumpets, which were soon joined by the rest of the brass section in a richly harmonized statement of the theme.
The orchestra fueled a sense of forward propulsion that propelled listeners into the work. Clarinet solo work was thrilling and “Gershwinesque.” The English Horn touched hearts in the Interlude movement of the work, akin to the pathos of the “Goin’ Home” theme from the Largo from Dvorak’s New World Symphony. The orchestra’s performance was refreshing, energetic, and sophisticated.
Symphony No. 1
Symphony No. 1 by Florence Price is a delightful work of enduring relevance. Botstein noted that it features expressive musical language drawing on the rich heritage of African-American spirituals and folk music. A departure from the avant-garde presented so far, the music is influenced by Romantic traditions from the 19th century. Thus, it featured lush harmonies and soaring melodies, conveying yearning and emotional intensity.
Botstein introduced tonight’s final work, Krazy Kat (1921), by John Alden Carpenter. He explained that the music portrays the misadventures of Krazy Kat, a curious and adventurous feline who longs for the affection of Ignatz Mouse. The Orchestra performed Carpenter’s lively and charming music, perfectly capturing the cartoon’s quirky, playful spirit. Syncopation and jazz elements were perfectly articulated to enhance the comedic timing of the music, ranging from playful jazz numbers to more sweeping and melodic pieces. Solo and ensemble work was fantastic. Of particular note in this work were harp, percussion, flute, piccolo, and oboe.
The American Symphony Orchestra and the Roaring 20s
1330 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10019
For tickets and information, go to https://americansymphony.org/current-season/
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of The Players Present the 2nd Annual Artists Exhibition, Musica Sacra at Carnegie Hall, The Orchestra Now at Symphony Space, and The New Jersey Ballet at the Mayo Arts Center.