For One Night, a Feeling of Caramoor on the Seine
REVIEW | 06.23.08 | The New York Times
Almost as soon as American music was weaned of its early dependency on German models it developed an adolescent crush on France. George Gershwin, of course, celebrated the allure of Paris. The relationship was consummated by the influential pedagogue Nadia Boulanger and her distinguished line of American students, chief among them Aaron Copland.
Inspired by this historical connection, pieces by Gershwin, Copland, Leonard Bernstein and the French composer Gabriel Fauré – grandfathered in for having taught Boulanger – were strung together for the opening concert of the Caramoor International Music Festival on Saturday night. The title of the program, “Americans in Paris,” was something of a stretch given the pieces included.
There was a more significant theme lurking in this performance by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, though admittedly one not as readily adapted for a gala dinner and post-concert party. Of the three soloists, two – the cellist Alisa Weilerstein and the clarinetist Igor Begelman – were students in Rising Stars, Caramoor’s mentor program, founded in 1992 as a way for promising young players to work with seasoned professionals. The third, the pianist Jon Kimura Parker, was a Rising Stars mentor.
Caramoor is abundantly blessed with immediate charms, not the least being its verdant setting and comfortable evening climate. The Orchestra of St. Luke’s plays reliably well and sounds remarkably good in the festival’s open-air Venetian Theater. But the excellence of the Rising Stars program provides a reminder that creature comforts don’t overshadow artistic ideals.
The concert opened with Bernstein’s “Paris Waltz” from “Candide,” after which Ms. Weilerstein was featured in Fauré’s “Élégie” and Bernstein’s “Three Meditations from ‘Mass.’ ” Watching Ms. Weilerstein can feel a bit like spying on someone’s most intimate moments, so unguarded and impassioned are her expressions. Her sound in both works was rich and throaty, her phrasing gracious and singing. She thundered impressively in the agitated threnody that erupts midway through the Fauré, and was appropriately spidery and brittle in the third “Meditation.”
Mr. Begelman too is an emphatically physical player. In the gentle opening section of Copland’s Clarinet Concerto he swung his horn in curls that matched the shape of his phrases. A busy cadenza with an ascending lick borrowed from Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” led to a bouncy second movement colored with slurs and growls.
Boulanger declined to take Gershwin as a student, despite Ravel’s advocacy. Who knows what effect her drilling might have had? There’s no covering the structural awkwardness in Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F, but his melodic generosity and rhythmic verve more than compensate. Mr. Parker was an insightful, energetic soloist; Michael Barrett conducted ably, and the second movement included stylish contributions from Krista Bennion Feeney, the concertmaster, and the principal winds and trumpeter.
The audience roared in approval after the first movement and again at the conclusion. For an encore Mr. Parker recalled Ms. Weilerstein and Mr. Begelman for a gently jazzy arrangement of Gershwin’s “Summertime.”