Showcase Sommerfest 2014 - page 41

rank Proto trained at the Manhattan School
of Music and joined the Cincinnati Symphony
Orchestra in 1966 as a double bass player. He would
remain in the orchestra for 31 years, and during
that time he also served as the orchestra’s composer in
residence. Proto has composed prolifically: among his
works are the opera
(based on the life of
Joe Louis), numerous concertos for varied instruments,
a vast literature for the double bass, vocal settings and
music for jazz ensembles.
Casey at the Bat
, composed
in 1973, has become Proto’s
most popular work by far, having been performed more
than 800 times and recorded twice. Ernest L. Thayer’s
famous poem
Casey at the Bat
, which first appeared in
San Francisco Examiner
in 1888, has become a part
of our national mythology. It deals with a painful truth:
Casey is the hero who fails at the moment of crisis.
But the poem’s charm lies in its light touch and its
nostalgia. It opens a window on a more innocent time,
when baseball truly was the national pastime and had
not yet been tainted by astronomical salaries, drugs and
movable franchises.
Since every member of the
audience knows what’s
going to happen even before the poem begins, the com-
poser (and narrator) must make the telling of the tale
fun in itself. Proto does this with some imagination,
using a recording of crowd noises at a baseball game,
complete with the sound of vendors hawking beer and
a furious crowd berating the umpire. Also incorporated
are electronic sounds and a small jazz ensemble, and
alert listeners will catch hints of favorite American
music at moments along the way. Proto’s presentation
is fun, so sit back, enjoy once again Thayer’s quintes-
sentially American moment, and savor the pleasure of
hearing it come to life in an imaginative setting.
West Side Story
, one of the most popular
musicals ever, presented multiple challenges.
It involved adapting
Romeo and Juliet
to a
contemporary New York setting: the warring
Montague and Capulet families were transformed
into the rival street gangs, the Sharks and the Jets,
while Romeo and Juliet became Tony and Maria.
Shakespeare’s tragedy also had a conclusion seldom
experienced in a Broadway musical. Yet following its
premiere in Washington, D.C., on August 19, 1957,
it became a huge success, and it probably ranks as
Bernstein’s most memorable score. Dance was central
to the original conception of the work, and Jerome
Robbins served both as choreographer and director;
some members of the cast were chosen more for their
abilities as dancers than as singers.
Several years after the premiere, Bernstein made
an orchestral suite of dances from the musical, and
the Symphonic Dances from
West Side Story
first performed by Lukas Foss and the New York
Philharmonic on February 13, 1961. The dances follow
the action of
West Side Story
and incorporate bits of
the songs.
A brashly energetic
(which requires finger-
snapping from the orchestra) leads to a section based on
the song “Somewhere,” which envisions a more peaceful
world. A
leads to
, set at the high school
dance attended by both the Sharks and the Jets. In the
(which quotes the song “Maria”), Tony and
Maria dance together; their
Meeting Scene
is depicted
by a quartet of muted violins. Tensions rise in the eerie,
“Cool” Fugue
, and
accompanies the
fight in which the rival gang leaders Bernardo and Riff
are killed. A flute cadenza prefaces the
, which
incorporates Maria’s “I Have a Love,” and—after so
much vitality and violence—the Symphonic Dances
come to a subdued close.
Program notes by
Eric Bromberger
july 25
Gershwin and Bernstein
Frank Proto
July 18, 1941, Brooklyn; now living in Cincinnati
Casey at the Bat, An American Folk Tale
Leonard Bernstein
Symphonic Dances from
West Side Story
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