Leonard Bernstein

Review: We Love Lennie | Dallas Winds | Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center

Whole Lotta Lennie

Dallas Winds presents an interesting program devoted to the music of Leonard Bernstein at the Meyerson Symphony Center.

published Friday, April 24, 2015

Photo: WikiMedia Commons
Leonard Bernstein

Dallas — The Meyerson Symphony Center was packed with a widely varied audience of young and old on Tuesday evening for the Dallas Winds performance. Although the repertoire consisted of music by one composer, it was no less varied than the audience. The music of Leonard Bernstein is interesting in that it consistently defies an easy categorization. Certainly, it weaves together elements of classical, pop, jazz, latin, folk, and Broadway, but the world of this composer is more than a mix of these styles; his mind was constantly crafting musical ideas to suite specific needs. The great speed with which he composed allowed him to act and react with great sensitivity to a particular audience.

The collection of works performed tonight ensured that had something to enjoy. Opening with the overture to Candide (transcribed by Glare Grundman), Dallas Winds conductor and artistic director Jerry Junkin immediately stole attention with his emotive and exaggerated style. Many of his gestures were reminiscent of Bernstein’s confident and occasionally flamboyant style. In this overture, however, the ensemble was often left to its own devices as the jolting, frantic demeanor requires a precision not present in Junkin’s lead.

David Lesser played a beautiful horn solo at the beginning of the suite from the film score On the Waterfront (arranged by Jay Bocook). The brooding, dark nature of this score was treated effectively as Junkin shaped the work into a cohesive whole. It is here that the strength of the ensemble could shine. Nothing was over-the-top or forced. What a shame that Lesser was not among the many musicians acknowledged at the conclusion of the work.

This same structured approach continued into the two performed movements of the Symphony No. 1, “Jeremiah,” which concluded the first half. The two movements heard were expertly transcribed by Frank Bencriscutto. Much of the drama in this piece depends on rapidly changing timbre. This arrangement took full advantage of a wind band’s sonic resources. Junkin brought each of these subtitles to the listener’s attention.

Bernstein’s first large-scale work, “Jeremiah” follows the biblical story of the prophet foretelling the destruction of Solomon's temple and the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. A mezzo-soprano solo in the final movement sets off a chain of anguish so beautiful it penetrates what insensitivities are built up in the first two movements. The work is devastating when well performed. Although it was written as a student, it shows much of the talent that would make Bernstein one of the most important musical thinkers of the 20th century.

Performing the final movement before the scherzo middle movement was a mistake in that the words of the Hebrew text are a structurally significant reaction to the emotional content of the preceding material. It was also a mistake in that the scherzo was again difficult for Junkin to manage as he refused to reduce his large and exaggerated conducting. Still expertly performed, it was the ensemble who conducted the conductor. The dynamic pacing still continued to make sense, which made a bit of the rhythmic sloppiness forgivable.

Virginia Dupuy was haunting in her presentation of the lamenting words of the prophet. Difficult and strenuous as the movement is, her pacing allowed her to maintain momentum into the especially demanding sections late in the movement. When can she perform in DFW in a full performance of the Symphony? The sooner the better.

Better suited to Junkin’s style was the music in the second half of the performance which included the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (arranged by Paul Lavender). Here many of the familiar tunes pulled from a few older members of the audience noticeable sighs and noises of approval. Again taking advantage of the coloristic possibilities of the ensemble, the performance was completely satisfying.

Concert ended at the conclusion of the Dances. As 10 p.m. passed, the concert suddenly became much too long. Concluding with “Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide, the performance came to a mixed conclusion. While all of the music was great, too big a dose meant that the overall impact was diminished. But bringing somewhat unfamiliar yet important music to the many students in the audience should be commended.

The quality of the arrangements was remarkable. Being that much of the music originally used heavy portions of percussion and winds, it was never a stretch to imagine the original intent of the composer. In some cases, it was accentuated. Had just a bit more precision unified the rhythmically complex passages, one would scarcely miss the orchestra sound. Thanks For Reading

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Whole Lotta Lennie
Dallas Winds presents an interesting program devoted to the music of Leonard Bernstein at the Meyerson Symphony Center.
by Zachariah Stoughton

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