NY Philharmonic: New York Fourth
How often do you hear a New York July 4th concert that’s one part Texas chili and one part tea and crumpets?
Yet that was what the New York Philharmonic served up Tuesday night with its "A New York Fourth."
Led by British conductor Bramwell Tovey, the orchestra snuck into an American-themed concert Edward Elgar’s "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1," the source for the hymn "Land of Hope and Glory." This piece is a rival to "Rule Britannia" for the status of Britain’s national anthem. Whether or not it had any proper place on the program, it was certainly gorgeously played by the Philharmonic’s extraordinary string section.
Surely, though, it was strange.
Yet it was not the only unexpected thing about the evening.
For the Philharmonic also first alternated and then joined up with a pair of Army bands, the Jazz Knights and the Hellcats. The Army bands had come up from their base at West Point, and they played in uniforms and with their boots spit polished and their brass buckles shining. Nor did they come to play sweet nothings.
Thus, in the second half of the concert, the audience listened to the Knight’s performances of the theme songs for the different service academies and to their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Keene, addressing the audience to unabashedly praise the work done by our armed forces to protect and preserve our freedom.
How did the heavily left wing, pacifistic New York audience respond to these unrepentant appeals to "brave soldiers", words which might seem more in tune with the attitudes of a Dallas church social? To its credit, the crowd applauded the Army musicians lustily and clapped rhythmically in harmony with their rendition of John Philip Sousa’s "Stars and Stripes Forever."
This was one of the high points of an evening with more than a few of them.
A number of the others came during the evening’s more predictable first half. Here soprano Tracy Dahl offered a series of enthusiastic yet far from unrestrained performances of such Bernstein and Gershwin standards as "Glitter and Be Gay" and "The Man I Love." The Gershwin melodies were ably accompanied not only by the Philharmonic as a whole but also by a jazzy Tovey on piano and a silky Sheryl Staples on violin.
Another high point came when the Jazz Knights’ sax player, Sergeant-Major Xavier Perez, riffed on Glenn Miller’s "In The Mood." It seems that the Army not only trains skilled artillerymen but some very fine musicians.
Indeed, if there was one real fault to the night, it was in the concert program. It failed to list the Army bands’ players.
The New York Philahramonic’s Summertime Classic runs through July 10 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. For more information visit the The New York Philharmonic’s website.