Getting some culture

I mentioned the other day that I was going to be "getting me some culture" on Thursday night. And, did I ever.

There's a beautiful local music center called Strathmore that hosts the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. This summer, they held a "Summernights" program on Thursday evenings, for very reasonably-priced tickets ($25).

A couple weeks ago, my friend Mark and I went to see a performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, which is one of my favorite classical pieces. The show was wonderful. The conductor and lead violinist, Jonathan Carney, was very expressive and dynamic--he seemed to be having a wonderful time on stage. The orchestra also performed Astor Piazzolla's The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, which is a tango interspersed with Vivaldi's piece. I liked the tango pieces just as much.

I noticed in the program that night that the BSO would be performing a tribute to Gershwin & Bernstein on July 31. I enlisted my parents and my friends Laura & Don to go with me, and we had a marvelous time.

For this performance we had seats that were behind and above the orchestra, and that was fantastic. We were facing the conductor and got to see his facial expressions and movements as he directed the orchestra. We also had a great view of each musician, and it was fascinating. It was a great vantage point, and I can't imagine sitting anywhere else for future performances.

The orchestra first performed a piece composed by the conductor, Bramwell Tovey, called Urban Runway. Mr. Tovey said he was inspired by busy shoppers on the street in New York or L.A., and you could definitely hear that influence in the music. I could just imagine people running in and out of stores, in and out of traffic.

Next they performed Gershwin's An American in Paris, which was lovely. I looked over at my dad at one point and he looked like a little kid in front of a candy store. I was so pleased that he was enjoying himself, because when I first talked to him about coming, he didn't seem all that interested or enthused.

My favorite part of the night was the performance of Rhapsody in Blue, another favorite of mine. Beautiful. Interesting info: A band leader at New York's Aeolian Hall talked vaguely to Gershwin about composing a concerto for a concert on February 12, 1924, but Gershwin didn't find out that he was actually on the program until January 3 that year. He wrote the piece in just a few weeks and it was an instant hit. Also, the original sound of the clarinet opener is not what we know today--that wailing bluesy sound. The clarinet player improvised that himself, and Gershwin insisted he keep it and wail as much as possible. Kinda cool.

After intermission, the orchestra performed the West Side Story suite. It was wonderful! The suite includes highlights from the dance songs of the show. I loved watching the percussionists during this piece. I was talking with Don about one part during "Mambo" where the percussionist hit a wooden block one time. It seems so insignificant, yet, the song wouldn't be the same without that one beat. I can't imagine how a composer puts all that together--very impressive.

The orchestra also performed an encore: Sousa's Stars & Stripes Forever. Now that's a great song to sit and watch the percussionists do their work. The cymbals and the bass drum, especially. It was fun.

As we were leaving, we couldn't stop talking about what a great time we had. My parents thanked me for letting them know about it--I'm glad they came and enjoyed themselves. A good time was had by all.

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