Tanglewood on Parade: Music prevails on stormy night
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LENOX -- "It was a dark and stormy night, the rain fell in torrents." With apologies to English novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who began his obscure 1830 novel "Paul Clifford" with what became a cliche purloined by Charles Schultz's Snoopy, there's no other way to describe the prelude to Tuesday night's 64th annual Tanglewood on Parade extravaganza.
Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, introducing his segment of the three-orchestra gala, called it "the soggiest Tanglewood on Parade on record." As Tanglewood audiences and performers are intrepid, the show went on with a 20-minute storm delay and a minor abbreviation of the scheduled program.
Lockhart presided over an intriguing, red, white and blue novelty -- a performance of "The Difficult Song: The Star-Spangled Banner at 200," a melange of poetry, narration and music leading into the National Anthem.
Opening with an essay written by lyricist Lynn Ahrens, the 5-minute work was arranged by composer Randol Bass for the bicentennial of Francis Scott Key's notoriously tough-to-sing commemoration of the flag's survival following a British attack on Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812.
Guest narrator was Gov. Deval Patrick, whose soaring, dramatic flair was appropriate for the occasion. The audience participated lustily in the anthem singalong, but any comparisons to Copland's "A Lincoln Portrait" would be quite a stretch.
Lockhart delivered a punchy run-through of Chris Brubeck's new orchestral arrangement of his late father Dave's classic "Blue Rondo a la Turk." As Lockhart stated, the son was initially reluctant to adapt the 1959 standard from the Dave Brubeck Quartet's million-selling "Time Out" album. Indeed, the piece sounds out of character when played by 80-plus musicians, despite Lockhart's affinity with the jazz idiom.
The evening's curtain-raiser, Shostakovich's "Festive Overture," is a brassy showpiece for large orchestra and the Boston Symphony, led by assistant conductor Andris Poga, played it for all it was worth.
"TOP" is a benefit for the students of the Tanglewood Music Center, and the TMC Orchestra demonstrated its prowess in a captivating, jazz-inflected performance of Robert Russell Bennett's arrangement of "Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture."
Conducted by Leonard Slatkin, who turns 70 on Sept. 1, the 23-minute out-of-sequence synthesis of 11 scenes and songs from Gershwin's great opera is an effective showpiece, despite the arranger's occasional embellishments and alterations. Overall, Bennett is faithful to the original score, though he alters the musical question mark that ends the final scene with an upbeat exclamation point.
From his most recent Oscar-nominated score for the film adaptation of "The Book Thief," John Williams led the Pops in a haunting, lyrical theme depicting how Liesel, a young girl living with foster parents in Germany during the Holocaust, "borrowed" books to share with a Jewish refugee being sheltered by the family. The eight-minute segment represents the composer at his non-blockbuster best.
He followed up not with the scheduled themes from "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" but with the March from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Naturally, the 9,511-strong crowd was pleased.
Stephane Deneve, a most-welcome guest conductor, tried to find some musical value in Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," described by the composer as "very loud and noisy, but lacking artistic merit, because I wrote it without warmth and without love." Deneve, leading the nearly 200-strong combined BSO and TMC orchestras, found a bit of warmth and love, the simulated canon fired on cue, and victory was declared over the elements as another Tanglewood tradition was dispatched honorably, and with gusto.