The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra | 02.15.09

dr_photocredit_jayfram.jpgThe concert opened with the Overture to Bernstein’s opera Candide, always a popular favorite and a great lead-in to the main work of the first half, Gershwin’s Concerto in F.

 

with Orli Shaham, Rachel York and Hugh Panaro

It may have been the day after Valentine’s Day, but love was still the theme at the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra’s concert on February 15, appropriately titled a "Broadway Valentine." Led by conductor David Robertson, the Symphony, along with piano soloist Orli Shaham and vocalists Rachel York and Hugh Panaro, presented a selection of music showing the range of two of America’s most popular composers, Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin.
As Robertson commented to the audience, putting on a concert is a sort of matchmaking, bringing together composers, musicians and the audience, and music also served as a matchmaker for him, as he met his wife Orli Shaham when they appeared together at a concert.

The concert opened with the Overture to Bernstein’s opera Candide, always a popular favorite and a great lead-in to the main work of the first half, Gershwin’s Concerto in F. Commissioned by Walter Damrosch, who was favorably impressed by the famous Aeolian Hall concert of 1924 (which included the premiere of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue), Gershwin’s Concerto has to be one of the most unusual piano concertos ever written. It incorporates many familiar jazz idioms within a relatively conventional music structure, and alternates very lightly scored sections (with unusual orchestrations) with others, which use the full orchestra and have an almost cinematic feel.  Shaham was at her best in the quieter sections, showing off her delicate style to good advantage: in the full sections, the sound of the piano was sometimes lost (at least from where I was sitting).

The second half of the concert opened with the overture to Gershwin’s Lady Be Good, followed by three Gershwin vocal selections by Broadway veterans Rachel York and Hugh Panaro: "I Got Rhythm," "The Man I Love," and "Someone to Watch Over Me."

York and Panaro then sang two selections from Bernstein’s West Side Story: "Maria" and "Somewhere." Both are consummate professionals, but Panaro’s range and control of dynamics was particularly impressive in "Maria."
The concert concluded with Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, an orchestral suite prepared by the composer from his score for the musical. It incorporates the songs "Maria" and "Somewhere" (in a beautiful contrapuntal setting) as well as some of the more notable instrumental sections of the musical including the "Cool" Fugue.

For an encore members of the Symphony chorus sang "America" from West Side Story. Their sure command of Bernstein’s polyrhythms and Sondheim’s witty lyrics ("I’d like to go back to San Juan"/" I know a boat you can get on"/ "Everyone there will give big cheer"/"Everyone there will have moved here!") demonstrated both that they had fully recovered from the Verdi Requiem performed the previous evening, and that they can switch styles are confidently as the orchestra. | Sarah Boslaugh

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