Showcase Sommerfest 2014 - page 39

july 25
Gershwin and Bernstein
eonard Bernstein’s life was inextricably linked
with that of the Boston Symphony: he grew up
hearing it and appeared with it many times as
conductor, soloist and composer. So when the
Boston Symphony asked Bernstein for a piece to
help celebrate its centennial season in 1980-81, he
responded with a work evoking the orchestra’s past as
well as his own. His Divertimento for Orchestra was
premiered at Symphony Hall on September 25, 1980,
with Seiji Ozawa conducting. It is much in the manner
of Mozart’s works with that name: it is music written
purely for enjoyment, for diversion. Brief, witty and
nostalgic, it has become one of the most frequently
performed of Bernstein’s late works. Throughout, one
feels the composer looking back, remembering and
thoroughly enjoying himself.
Sennets and Tuckets
explodes to life with the brass
fanfare that will reappear in many forms throughout
the Divertimento; the movement title recalls the stage
directions of Elizabethan plays, when trumpet calls
signaled an actor’s entrance or exit. The graceful little
is scored only for strings, and Bernstein gives it a
rhythmic piquancy by setting it in 7/8 rather than 3/4. In
the course of the
, Bernstein quotes the famous
oboe cadenza from the first movement of Beethoven’s
Fifth Symphony. The
opens with three quick
recalls of the opening movement’s fanfare theme, and
alert listeners will catch a whiff of music from Bernstein’s
Fancy Free
. The saucy
Turkey Trot
Bernstein’s song “America” from
West Side Story
, given the title Robert Schumann used for
the mysterious theme in his
, begins with a
mystery of Bernstein’s making—three rising 12-tone
themes, derived from the opening fanfare—and then
atonal music is banished for good.
is scored only
n 1938, after Arthur Fiedler commissioned a ballet
for the Boston Pops from Walter Piston, they
worked with the dancer-choreographer Hans
Wiener to come up with a simple but appealing
scenario. A sleepy village gradually wakes up from its
midday nap. Vendors enter, then their customers, and
a circus marches into the town square. A flutist with
magical powers is part of that entourage, and he weaves
his spell, causing one of the merchant’s daughters to
fall in love with him and couples throughout the town
to succumb to his spell. The evening grows dark, and
as the bell tolls eight o’clock a sensuous spirit falls
across the town square. A rich widow succumbs to the
merchant who has long pursued her and grants him a
kiss. Discovered in that act, she faints into the arms of
her jealous boyfriend. Not to worry. The flutist plays,
all is forgiven, and suddenly the flutist and the circus
vanish as magically as they appeared.
Listeners will recognize similarities between Piston’s
The Incredible Flutist
and Stravinsky’s
: both
Leonard Bernstein
August 25, 1918, Lawrence, Massachussets
October 14, 1990, New York City
Divertimento for Orchestra
Walter Piston
January 20, 1894, Rockland, Maine
November 12, 1976, Belmont, Massachusetts
Suite from
The Incredible Flutist
for brass and percussion.
The concluding
is subtitled
The BSO Forever
, a
riff on Sousa’s title
The Stars and Stripes Forever
. The
music begins with a quiet canon for three flutes that
Bernstein said was meant to remember former players
in the Boston Symphony; its theme brings to mind
the opening of Bernstein’s youthful ballet
Then the music leaps ahead on the real march tune,
derived from Johann Strauss’ famous
and including quotations from Bernstein’s
. The
Divertimento drives to an ebullient conclusion, in all
ways worthy of the blazing energy that has gone before.
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