American Omissions

Last night we attended a concert by the excellent Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under its charismatic conductor, Marin Alsop in an all-American programme. I have made tangential references to South American Spanish connections in these articles, but not to the important North American scene. A neglect which as this musical journey continues I must try to remedy.

Last night we heard some idiomatically performed Gershwin – ‘An American in Paris’ and the ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ given a flamboyant performance by the Macedonian pianist Simon Trpceski. After the interval the rarely played 2nd ‘Shorter’ Symphony by Aaron Copland was given a taut, precise performance and the warm rather than enthusiastic applause at its end suggested that the audience understood its lack of popularity. An interesting, but at least for us, not an engaging work. However this was followed by a sumptuous suite based on Leonard Bernstein’s score for the 1950’s film ‘On the Waterfront’, which brought the house down.

It was an excellent climax to an enjoyable evening. ( The same artists have recorded the suite together with other Bernstein works on a Naxos disc.)

But then we were treated to an encore. Sir Thomas Beecham in the far away days when he conducted his two Philharmonic Orchestras – Royal and London – could always be depended on in this respect. He called his encores, ‘Lollipops’. Last night’s was a very luscious one! With the help of the B.S.O.’s Concerts Administrator, Marion Aston, I gather that the piece is called ‘Victory Stride’ by the American-African composer James Price Johnson, a contemporary of Gershwin’s.

With the invaluable help of Wikipaedia I discover Johnson composed the popular ‘Charleston’, arguably the defining dance number of the Roaring Twenties and invented a new form of popular music called ‘stride’ which is full of changes of rhythm and key, the music doubling back on itself in a fury of constant energy.

That’s just how this piece sounded in a brilliant version that had sections of the orchestra standing up for their contributions to the feigned surprise of the conductor, who in response to the enthusiasm of the audience had to lead her players off the platform as we pleaded for more. On this hearing Johnson’s music deserves a revival of the sort that Scott Joplin’s comparable style enjoyed some years ago.