Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Alondra de la Parra 2: America
The Grand Finale of the San Francisco Symphony's summer pops season was conducted by Alondra de la Parra (above) again in an all-American music program that contained a few interesting musical wrinkles you wouldn't expect to hear at a pops concert. For instance, the curtain raiser was John Adams' 1986 "Short Ride in a Fast Machine," followed by Copland's final 1971 orchestral work "Three Latin-American Sketches," which was succeeded by that mysterious standby of the musical avant-garde, Ives' 1906 "The Unanswered Question."
Though it probably needed more rehearsal, the Adams was lots of fun and sounded exactly like the composer's description: "You know how it is when someone asks you to ride in a terrific sports car, and then you wish you hadn't?" The Copland sounded like charming plagiarism, and the Ives was soft and strange with the audience holding its collective breath.
The first half ended with Copland's "Lincoln Portrait," a piece of patriotic propaganda from 1942 that surrounds spoken excerpts from Lincoln speeches about war with banal musical claptrap. It's not aging well.
The Lincoln narrator was none other than Chris Noth from "Law and Order" and "Sex and the City." Alondra de la Parra, who lives in New York, confessed to having watched the latter religiously, and was obviously thrilled to be sharing the stage with Mr. Big himself.
The second half of the concert started with a wildly loony set of variations on "America" by Charles Ives which had been orchestrated by William Schuman. This was the first time I had ever even heard of it which is a surprise because it's one of the most amusing pieces Ives ever wrote. According to the program notes, "Ives said that his father would not let him play the two [organ] interludes in concert "as they made the boys laugh out loud."
Then it was on to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" in its original small jazz orchestration in a great performance from the symphony and a so-so rendition by pianist Sara Davis Buechner (above left).
The finale was a gorgeously orchestrated version of Gershwin's "Strike Up The Band," followed by "76 Trombones" from "The Music Man," complete with members of the UC Berkeley Marching Band strutting down the aisle.
To complete the effect, there was a balloon drop while the orchestra played "San Francisco." De la Parra looked radiant and I hope she gets invited back soon.