Fort Worth — Day two of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s three-day Bernstein Centennial Festival opened Saturday night at Bass Performance Hall with an orchestral evocation of mid-town Manhattan traffic noise, as the orchestra and music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya launched into Bernstein’s Three Dance Episodes from On the Town. Created while Bernstein was still in his 20s, and in the first bloom of fame, the Broadway musical On the Town captures the energy and comedy of impatient youth—with a touch of poignancy, in that the central characters are three sailors on a one-day leave in the city, in the midst of a deadly war. The orchestra, barely back from its annual summer hiatus, performed with admirable precision and bravado, with conductor Harth-Bedoya leading the required impetus and pacing.
The traffic noise of the opening measures quickly transforms into Bernstein’s signature jazzy lyricism; in the second movement, “Lonely Town,” principal trumpet Kyle Sherman took the spotlight with a beautifully muted rendition of the movement’s heart-rending main theme. Bernstein was a brilliant and innovative orchestrator, and orchestra and conductor navigated neatly through final, gloriously busy final movement, built around the song “New York, New York (It’s a Hell of a Town).”
Clarinetist David Shifrin, one of the leading clarinetists of our time, is no stranger to the north Texas region: he was a member of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra early in his career, and performed the premiere of Ezra Laderman’s Clarinet Concerto in 1995. For this concert, he joined the orchestra for Bernstein’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano of 1942, in the version of 1995 with the piano part orchestrated for percussion, piano, and strings by Sid Ramin. Even in this early and adamantly “classical” formal work, one can easily hear hints of Bernstein’s gift for melody, as well as an admirable dose of his remarkable contrapuntal skills. Shifrin here displayed his characteristically crystalline tone and razor-sharp technique, while conductor Harth-Bedoya demonstrated a sure instinct for Bernstein’s ever-present momentum.
Shifrin remained onstage for Lucas Foss’s version for orchestra of Bernstein’s “Prelude, Fugue and Riffs,” originally written for clarinet and jazz band. A complex but appealing work lurks behind that flippant title, suggesting a whole world of stylistic possibilities, with Shifrin and orchestra neatly meeting both the spirit and the huge technical demands of the work.
On the Waterfront, director Elia Kazan’s cinematic masterpiece of 1954 (and the origin of Marlon Brandon’s iconic line, “I coulda been a contender”), derives a substantial portion of its power from Bernstein’s score; Bernstein later reworked much of the musical material into the Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront which closed the evening. Although the conflicts, character development, and sense of time and place of the movie are present in the concert suite, the music itself is so powerful that it requires no extra-musical association to produce its effect. Principal horn Molly Norcross performed the hugely demanding horn obbligatto with show-stopping beauty of tone and emotional communication; the evening came to a powerful conclusion with the overwhelming extended final cadence, with its unsettling tension of tonalities.
» Read our appreciation of Bernstein and a look at some of the DFW concerts planned in the centenary celebration; and read our interview with mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor here. Look for reviews of Saturday and Sunday's concerts on TheaterJones.
» Read our recent review of a recording featuring David Shifrin on works by Carl Nielsen.
» The Lenny at 100: Bernstein Centennial Festival continues Sunday:
- 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26 The festival concludes with an afternoon of vocal music. Enjoy selections from Candide, Trouble in Tahiti, Arias and Barcarolles, and more with vocalists Kelley O’Connor and Michael Adams. Plus, the FWSO is joined by a chorus for a performance of the hopeful and life-affirming, jazzy and contemporary Chichester Psalms.