Sunday, Nov. 4, was the long awaited date for the storm-delayed beginning of the Long Bay Symphony Orchestra’s 31st season.
Conductor Charles Evans and the LBS were joined by Timothy Koch and a large concert choir which combined the Carolina Master Chorale and Coastal Carolina University’s Concert Choir. And, introduced for the first time was the LBS’s new assistant conductor, Nyamka Odsuren.
Evans called the concert “Bernstein and the American Experience,” because of course it featured music by Bernstein but also music by other composers who both influenced Bernstein and whose music he supported and conducted.
In her biography of Bernstein, Joan Peyser tells us that “What Bernstein did above everything else was prove to the world that an American, and one who had not studied abroad, could be not only well trained but also a remarkable and exciting musician.” And remarkable and exciting he was, from his conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic at the age of 25, in 1943, to the stream of compositions which have become part of Americana.
The afternoon began with “Overture to the operetta Candide” from 1956. Evans, as he always does, chose the right tempo for this deservedly familiar work, and the LBS gave a wonderful performance, moving confidently from full orchestra passages to sparkling solo interludes with no uncertainty.
Following this was “Buckaroo Holiday” by Aaron Copland, arguably the strongest influence on Bernstein. This work was composed in 1942, during the early World War II years, but it transports listeners back to a cowboy world with its punchy ensemble work, contrast of solo lines with the full orchestra, and absolutely hair raising section and solo work, especially from brasses and percussion, with Evans recognizing the trombone and trumpet solos.
Strings and harp were featured in Gustav Mahler’s “Adagietto” from his 5th Symphony, from 1902. This was the oldest work on the program, but there is nothing aged about this beautiful work. With no brass, percussion or winds, the LBS enveloped the audience in the beautifully shaped and serenely moving phrases.
The first half of the concert ended with “Chichester Psalms” for chorus and orchestra, from 1965. The texts were from the psalms, all sung in Hebrew, including the beloved and familiar 23rd psalm. The work blends the orchestra with the full chorus, a combination of the Carolina Master Chorale and the Coastal Carolina University concert Choir, both conducted by Timothy Koch, and with the unusual feature of the male alto voice of Alan Studebaker.
Evans offered this performance as a memorial to the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh, and the contrasts of mood and tone were superbly performed and spellbinding. The concluding words, “For brethren to dwell together in unity,” should be a guide for all of us.
The second half of the program began with “The Unanswered Question” by Charles Ives, from 1906, and it was certainly the most unusual work of the afternoon.
Composed for solo trumpet, strings, and four woodwinds, this unusual work is not performed very often, and Evans gave it a well deserved mystical quality by having the strings in the balcony, the solo trumpet back stage, and only the winds on stage in front of him. Bernstein’s promotion of Ives included premiering Ives’s Second Symphony quite a few years after it was composed, and also performing “Question” while on tour with the NY Philharmonic in Russia in 1959.
Bernstein’s music concluded the afternoon, with “Three Dance Episodes” from On The Town , dating from 1944, and then “Symphonic Dances” from West Side Story, from 1957.
On The Town was conducted by the LBS assistant conductor, Nyamka Odsuren, who perfectly captured the punchy, 1940s jazz influenced feeling of the music, which includes the musical’s best known tune, “New York New York.”
Charles Evans took the podium again for the West Side Story Dances, pointing out that this work has become so embedded in American culture that he heard it while recently getting his car repaired.
The famous opening gesture is immediately recognizable , and the LBS was completely at home with the variety of the music, including finger snapping, shouts of “mamba,” ‘Cool’ Fugue, and the emotionally stunning finale, based on the unforgettable “Somewhere.”
Stay alert for the rest of the hurricane-interrupted Master Works series concerts, which will continue in 2019.
William Hamilton taught music for 28 years in the music department of Coastal Carolina University. He composed the music for CCU’s Alma Mater, wrote incidental music for several plays, and still actively plays jazz with the group U ‘n I.