When it comes to musically defining the spirit of New York City, few composers can match the contributions of George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein. Gershwin's tricky syncopations captured the erratic energy of a 1920's city that was establishing itself as the artistic capital of the country. Bernstein gave a symphonic maturity to everyday events like sailors gleefully exploring Manhattan or teenagers feeling the passion of first love.
This coming Sunday at Town Hall, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to hear over 60 musicians perform some of the greatest works of these two masters, as The One World Symphony performs Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue and An American in Paris, along with a vocal suite and a symphonic arrangement of selections from West Side Story.
Now in its fifth full season, The One World Symphony is an uncommonly youthful ensemble of accomplished musicians, with most members between the ages of 22 and 32, including Artistic Director and Conductor Sung Jin Hong. I asked Hong what we could expect from Sunday afternoon's program and he offered up the following tantalizing preview:
One World Symphony's Town Hall debut will feature two of America's most celebrated composers - Gershwin and Bernstein. One does not have to appreciate just jazz, pop, rock, classical, or music theater to enjoy An American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue and West Side Story. These American staples in both the classical, jazz and even popular film industries have been loved by all ages and various cultures from around the world. These works by Gershwin and Bernstein brought American music to life, found its youthful energy and its conviction, and began to embrace its potential.
First, One World Symphony consists of classically trained musicians from many of the prestigious conservatories around the world who are also active musicians in the jazz, pop, funk, rock scenes. Specifically, the audience members of Town Hall will experience a live orchestra of 60 musicians and vocal soloists. When I visited Town Hall a week ago to discuss some details with one of the stage workers, he asked me if we will use any sound equipment, speakers, microphones, or virtual orchestras. My answer was simple: "Our musicians are young, passionate professionals and unplugged" (speaking of which, we will perform U2 fully-orchestrated and unplugged later in June in Brooklyn Heights).
We will begin the program with Gershwin's An American in Paris. How are our musicians of 60 and I going to interpret and perform this hip, jazzy symphonic poem? Are we going to perform this work in a traditional American or New York style - incredibly rhythmic, driven, edgy, and relentlessly syncopated? We can also perform it relating to the French style - dreamy and subtle (similar to many French Impressionists), blended, lightly articulated, poetic. Gershwin did compose part of An American in Paris when he walked the streets of Paris and drank with Ravel. Our decision may come down to how are the taxi horns, which is part of the enormous percussion section, going to function. Are the taxi horns going to play as loudly and obnoxiously as possible, resembling our very own New York City cab drivers, or are they going to blend with the rest of the orchestra in a more polite manner? We may demonstrate both ways of playing the taxi horns and have our audience members at Town Hall decide. In the spirit of American idealism, you can say One World Symphony encourages Democratic practice.
Then, we will continue with Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, a thirty minute work that includes most of the main themes from Bernstein's extraordinary and ground-breaking musical theatre or musical opera. Our audiences will be in for a surprise treat during our performance of Symphonic Dances. The only clue I can share is that our audience members will participate in the music-making. How? One will discover at the concert.
After the intermission, we will focus on our soloists performing the two celebrated composers who lived in our very own city. Elizabeth Eiel as Maria and Colm Fitzmaurice as Tony will be our vocalists performing a concert suite from West Side Story. How are these fine young vocalists going to perform West Side Story? Are they going to resemble the original and youthful Broadway cast, Bernstein's recording with Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carreras, or find their own unique voice? On a side note, our vocal soloists were the winners of a highly competitive audition process held last November, where there were more than 300 vocal applicants and 3 call-back rounds.
Lloyd Arriola, our piano soloist will join the symphony to celebrate and embrace the infinite styles of music with Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
As an audience member, I've wondered why do the performers only relax and perform freely and enjoy themselves when they are performing an encore? One of the many delights of One World Symphony's Town Hall debut program will be similar to an "encore". There will exist a constant spontaneity throughout the program - the surprise factor for audience as it gives the musicians the opportunity to share another facet of our music-making, that may be more intimate, impulsive, and improvisational - simultaneously.
I would like to dedicate One World Symphony's Town Hall Debut concert to Michael "The General" and Kathleen Rosenberg. We first met when they attended One World Symphony's tsunami benefit concert January 2005, in which we raised thousands of dollars for our Asian neighbors. They were inspired by the concert and invited us to perform at The Town Hall. The One World Symphony staff and artists are honored and thrilled to be sharing our love of music with The Town Hall.
Photos: Top: Sung Jin Hong in Town Hall
Bottom: Vocal Soloists Colm Fitzmaurice and Elizabeth Eiel, Conductor Sung Jin Hong and Piano Soloist Lloyd Arriola