Two Conservatory Orchestras Meet Bernstein’s Friends

United StatesUnited States Chavez, Thompson, Diamond, Copland, Barber, Bernstein: CCM Philharmonia / Mark Gibson (conductor), CCM Concert Orchestra / Aik Khai Pung (conductor). Corbett Auditorium, College Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio. 15.9.2018. (RDA)

Concert Orchestra:
Chavez – Symphony No. 2 (Sinfonia India)
Randall Thompson – Excerpt from Symphony No. 2 (1932)
Diamond – Music to Romeo and Juliet (1947)
Copland –  El Salón México
BarberMedea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance
Bernstein – Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront

The College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati boasts two excellent orchestras: the CCM Philharmonia, led by Mark Gibson, and the CCM Concert Orchestra, led by Aik Khai Pung. On Friday they shared a craftily assembled program that paid homage to Leonard Bernstein and several of his friends—part of the Conservatory’s ongoing celebration of the composer’s centenary.

Randall Thompson, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein are all examples of mid-century composers who helped define American concert music for their time and beyond. Their compositions are anchored in tonality, but open to the occasional dash of bitonality and even brash dissonance, as is the case with Barber’s boldly theatrical tone poem, Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance.

To open the second half of the evening, Copland’s El Salón México received an earthy performance that found a wealth of possibilities in the quintessential sounds of North and Latin America. Copland and his colleagues were hard-working young composers, willing to write a symphony on spec and then pick up a check for a radio jingle, to survive at all costs without compromising their aesthetic ideals. Other composers, such as David Diamond, turned for inspiration to Renaissance ecclesiastical modes, such as in his Incidental Music to Romeo and Juliet.

It was an intriguing choice to open the Concert Orchestra’s program with Sinfonia India, the single-movement creation by composer Carlos Chavez, who explored the native sounds of Mexican folklore, and ended the symphony with a jarabe tapatio dance taken at warp speed.The 12-minute work premiered during a summer season of the New York Philharmonic with the composer conducting. Again led by Pung, the Concert Orchestra gave the rhythmic intricacies an inspired reading.

At first Randall Thompson worked outside the safety of academia, embracing a can-do mindset that allowed him to compose whatever for whoever would hire him. From his unjustly neglected Symphony no. 2, the pulsing opening movement received an emotional charge from Pung and the Concert Orchestra.

And finally, with Mark Gibson at the helm, the CCM Philharmonia raised the roof with Leonard Bernstein’s music for On the Waterfront, arguably one among his boldest compositions.

Each of these orchestras numbers over 100 players, hinting at the scope of the conservatory’s student talent. But size is not what matters here, but the youthful, robust, cohesive, disciplined, committed results that these two ensembles consistently deliver in a city chock full of musical surprises.

Rafael de Acha

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