August 1, 2009 performance reviewed by Dave Conlin Read.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s celebration of Sir James Galway’s 70th birthday was way more than an ordinary Saturday night at Tanglewood; it was a mini-festival of flute-centric music with an international flair.
The program opened with Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Leonard Slatkin conducting the B.S.O., Elizabeth Rowe, flute solo. Debussy originally planned a larger work as a score of incidental music to accompany a reading or staged dramatization of Stephen Malarme’s eclogue, Afternoon of a Faun, but didn’t complete more than the Prelude.
This is one of those pieces of music where your enjoyment of the performance can scarcely be embellished by knowing much of the story behind its composition; better to affect a tabla rasa state and allow the conjuring of fresh images. Slatkin, Rowe, and the orchestra (for this piece, with a 3rd flute and Englsih horn, but without trumpets, trombones, and timpani) produced a lush, intriguing soundscape, on a moonlit night of perfect summer weather.
Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Ballet for Martha, followed, a stunning work written for his friend Martha Graham, with the title of a Hart Crane poem. Copland is a quintessentially American composer, and this piece features the Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts, which serves as the ballet’s unifying theme. The performance readily cast us into a reverie of spring in the Northeast, with the recurring Simple Gifts motif evoking feelings of delight and surprise. This invitation to consider the wonders of Spring, in the midst of a summer of miserable weather, was especially welcome, and beneficial.
After intermission, the Galway celebration got underway with the world premiere performance of Swing Song, composed by Derek Bermel and commissioned by the B.S.O. for this occassion. Bermel said the short piece (five minutes) “is inspired by the cavorting of small monkeys through the trees of Bahai (Brazil)….The harmonica and rhythm is based on a fusion of Bulgarian and Latin dance forms.”
And why wouldn’t that be the basis for a work written in honor of Ireland’s preeminent musician and at-large musical ambassador! Celtic/Irish music is provincial only at inception and Galway, too has found musical homes far away from his native island. Witness his recent collaboration with Tiempo Libre, the Cuban-trained Latin jazz band who were his special guests tonight, along with contrymen Anthony Kearns, piano, and Michael McHale, tenor, and wife Lady Jeanne Galway.
In between the Bermel piece and the guest spots was the celebrant’s glistening performance of Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 2 with the B.S.O. and Slatkin.
It was quite a party, carrying on past 11:30, including an American jazzified version of Londonderry Air (Danny Boy) by Kearns, plus an Emerald Isle version from the Galways, and ended with the 10,000+ audience singing Happy Birthday.
Recent Tanglewood reviews/videos:
- Brahms’ A German Requiem at Tanglewood July 28th, 2009
- video: Stroll around Tanglewood before Diana Krall’s July 4 concert
- Tanglewood 2009 season opens with Tchaikovsky July 4th, 2009
- A Prairie Home Companion at Tanglewood June 29th, 2009
- video: Arlo Guthrie plays City of New Orleans and duets w/ Garrison Keillor on Deep Blue Sea
- video: Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers play The Orange Blossom Special