REVIEW: New York Philharmonic – Young People’s Concert

Word was out: The New York Philharmonic was set to make its debut to the University for their second major residency in honor of Leonard Bernstein. Upon their arrival, the NY Philharmonic had more than twenty various educational and community engagement activities planned for both students on campus and those of the larger community as well. Before attending the Young People’s Concert, I had the opportunity of attending the lecture held by the University Musical Society’s current president, Matthew VanBesien and Deborah Borda, President and CEO of NY Philharmonic. This discussion was driven by the topic of Leadership, Innovation, and the Business of Running an Orchestra. It was a packed room full of faculty, students, and UMS affiliates. With the energy and excitement elicited from those in the room, I could not wait to finally attend one of their mainstage performances!

Come the big day (Saturday), the weather was dreary and raining vigorously…not an ideal day for attending a world-renowned concert, as one may imagine. Though, my enthusiasm was not shot down a single bit! Upon arriving, I was thoroughly pleased with the sight of so many young faces and people of color. This was something that I could truly appreciate, as it is of mutual understanding (and a prominent goal mentioned by Ms. Borda) to shift the majority orchestra concert goers from older individuals to a more diverse audience.

Moving along, the concert’s primary purpose was to celebrate Leonard Bernstein. In a roundabout way, the show itself was a rendition of episodes performed by Bernstein himself. It was set up like an interactive lesson, rather, somewhat like a game show with a host and commentary/history of selected pieces in between each performance. We were even presented with a special guest: one of Leonard Bernstein’s daughters! In conjunction with testaments to her own stories of childhood, there were also members of the orchestra that accounted for early memories of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts.

We are told that Bernstein was a man of many roles: a father, conductor, composer, and so forth. The program was composed of excerpts from Bernstein’s Candide, Three Dance Episodes from On the Town, “The Age of Anxiety,” Symphony No. 2, “Jeremiah,” Symphony No. 1, and West Side Story. The most audience participation came from the very last piece, Mambo. Throughout the performances, the host and conductor, Leonard Slatkin, took various efforts to involve the audience. During Mambo, we were given the exclusive role of synchronously shouting “Mambo!” when given our cue.

I found the excerpts from West Side Story to be a special treat. In addition to hearing more upbeat tunes and jazzy compositions, we were given pieces from the Broadway musical! With two special guests, U-M alumni were welcomed to the stage to aide in performing “Maria,” “I Feel Pretty,” and the “Balcony Scene.” Surprisingly enough, it felt as though I was watching the musical itself while simultaneously viewing what would be the orchestra pit during the show. All in all, the New York Philharmonic’s residency this year was an unforgettable experience, with much recognition given to the University Musical Society for hosting them.

REVIEW: San Fran Symphony

Photo Courtesy of UMS
Photo Courtesy of University Musical Society

The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra took a residency in Ann Arbor this weekend, with two performances at Hill Auditorium and numerous master classes being given around town (Gil Shaham’s violin master class being one of them). This artistic residency would not be possible without the help of the University Musical Society, which coordinates functions such as these several times a season.

Michael Tilson Thomas received great applause as he first stepped on the stage at Hill this Thursday, raising his baton before a close-to-capacity crowd. With no hesitation, he gave a downbeat to start the nocturnal stroll in the park that is Mahler’s seventh. The SFSO played at a very high level, albeit with some faults that only the musically inclined would have caught. Michael Tilson Thomas, however, put on a show. From stomping his foot at the apex of the fourth movement to his fluid body movements in the andante portion of the work, MTT was definitely a sight to see. It must be noted, as well, that MTT is known for playing Mahler well, and Thursday’s performance was a testament to that notion.

Something must also be said about the choice to play Mahler’s seventh in a college town such as Ann Arbor. Mahler was the product of the late German romantic period, meaning that his works (along with Bruckner and late Brahms) involved some form of intricacy and musical abstractionism that only veterans of the symphony could appreciate. Now, the brand of the SFSO definitely attracted a lot of patrons to Hill, but the ambient-nocturnal nature of the particular piece was not captivating enough for much of the student body. The students that were in attendance, however, were either symphony fans or die-hard Mahler fans. Fortunately, the author is both.

Discrepancies aside, the SFSO played a wonderful show Thursday night. From what I heard, Friday night was also a spectacular performance (they played Mephisto Waltz!). The SFSO received grand standing ovations both nights, and have been very well received throughout their residency here in Ann Arbor.