Arts » Classical Music

ISO plays an all-American program

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Guest conductor Jeffrey Kahane
  • Guest conductor Jeffrey Kahane

An audience packing the Circle to nearly filled delighted in the ISO's salute to Americana in Friday's program (repeated Saturday). Pianist Jeffery Kahane returned to Indy following many past appearances here--this time to conduct as well as play George Gershwin's highly-charged-with-energy jazz piece in full classical format, his Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra.   It was done well enough that I want to save it for last.  The other three American composers Kahane represented from the podium were John Adams (b. 1947), Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) and Aaron Copland (1900-1990).

Adams' eight-minute piece Lollapalooza was heard here four years ago; I then panned it as "a short piece with a skanky, repetitive rhythm which doesn't leave us alone."  I must say I took better to it this time.  The rhythm is based on the word la-la-pah-LOOZ-ah.  Still it is dominated with low-register trombone figures that never end. And still, the entire string complement, visibly sawing away, were completely covered by the din of brass and percussion; they might as well not have been there.  Those caveats aside, Lollapalooza was a good curtain raiser for the ensuing works.

Three dance episodes followed from Bernstein's ballet music to On the Town (1961): "The Great Lover," "Lonely Town" (Pas de deux) and "Times Square: 1944."  Lasting about ten minutes, On the Town was given an excellent reading, with a nice saxophone solo in "Times Square."  Otherwise the pieces were roaring, rhythmic and riotous, with some allusions to being tuneful.

Next came Copland's well known suite from Appalachian Spring, with its famous Shaker tune "Simple Gifts" appearing near the end.  The eight-part suite is set in rural Pennsylvania from the early 19th century.  Copland's manner of evoking Americana from a 20th-century perspective beautifully captures the subliminal nostalgia of some of our forbearers, their mores and their folkways--for present-day audiences.  Once again Kahane had his players in lock-step with his desired nuances.

Pianist Jeffrey Kahane
  • Pianist Jeffrey Kahane

Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F appeared in 1926, just a year after his more famous Rhapsody in Blue, and was his most ambitious work, his only concerted "classical" piece lasting longer than half an hour.  Perhaps because they have more captivating tunes, both the Rhapsody and his all-orchestral An American in Paris (1928) are better known.  But the Concerto sparkles throughout its three movements with jazzy construction writ large and sweeping.  Its piano writing is difficult in the extreme--enough to make me wonder how Kahane was going to both play and conduct it successfully. 

Almost astonishingly he did, with the piano's lid removed and the keyboard facing the audience.  Kahane's ploy was simple: When he played, the orchestra followed the piano; when he didn't play, he stood and waved his arms.  He managed the rapid "johnny-one-note" figure dominating the third movement as well as anyone I've heard, with other instruments (e.g. the xylophone) chiming in.  I would close by surmising that Kahane has had plenty of practice and experience in preparing this work.  Feb. 26; Hilbert Circle Theatre           

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