For decades, New York City has been home to many pioneers of music, and has for generations been the setting for some of the most defining performances of the modern era. A hub of jazz, rock, blues, and classical music, the diverse and vibrant culture of the city engages its inhabitants in an unresting flourish of arts and music. That’s exactly what makes the city special—its numerous forms of artistic expression.
On the IHS music department’s recent trip to New York City, students experienced some of the most renowned music and art in the city. The trip commenced with a tribute performance to Ella Fitzgerald at Jazz at Lincoln Center. On the next day, we saw a spectacular production of The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, and that night ended with a an outstanding performance by the New York Philharmonic, featuring the rediscovered Stravinsky Funeral Song, along with a few other pieces. We hope to convey to you the pleasure and awe that everybody on the trip felt in each of the spectacular performances.
Jazz at Lincoln Center
Under the leadership of trumpet player Wynton Marsalis, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has quickly become one of the foremost names in jazz. Before the concert commenced, we were informed that Marsalis would regrettably not be performing with the band, but nonetheless, we were in for a treat. The theme of the concert was a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, and the emotion in the music was evident throughout the entire performance.
In addition to the usual personnel, three other performers joined the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to help bring the music of Ella Fitzgerald back to life. Of the additional performers, two were singers: Roberta Gambarini and Kenny Washington. Gambarini’s vocal skills paid a wonderful homage to the prowess of Ella Fitzgerald, particularly in a rousing performance of one of Fitzgerald’s classics, “I Hadn’t Anyone ‘Till You.” This particular arrangement of the tune was played and sung at a much faster tempo than the original, making for an extremely groovy and lively atmosphere. Contrastingly, Washington seemed to especially channel the energy of Louis Armstrong, Fitzgerald’s accomplice. The two vocalists collaborated in a performance of “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” which had previously been recorded by Fitzgerald and Armstrong together on the album Ella and Louis. The two worked very well together, trading phrases and ideas in an improvised “scat-singing” section. The other guest performer on the concert was saxophonist Joe Lovano, whose swinging solos and riffs kept the crowd thoroughly entertained.
In the background of all of these virtuosic solos, the brass and saxophone sections of the band provided wonderful accompaniments, as well as the occasional solo. Meanwhile, drummer Ali Jackson and bassist Carlos Henriquez kept the band in an impeccable groove, no matter what style or speed each tune was in. The show certainly succeeded in celebrating Ella Fitzgerald’s music in an authentic and delightful way.
The Phantom of the Opera
On a blazing hot day with the ceaseless traffic inches away, we stood next to the renowned doors of Broadway and waited for entrance into the longest-running musical work by Andrew Lloyd Webber: The Phantom of the Opera. Widely known for its strings of tales of love and murder that landed in a French opera house in the 19th century, it vividly represented elements from classical mythology and fairy tales.
Seated at a steep slope at the top level of the Majestic Theatre, we were treated with two and half hours of puzzling adventure. Immediately, we were shook with the thundering organ chords of the Phantom Theme and the raging orchestral accompaniment.
The story centers around the identity of “The Phantom,” the malicious ghost that continues to threaten the Paris Opera House, with his antics eventually resulting in a predictable love predicament. While the story might not be the most fascinating, the production and the superb soprano and tenor solos left the audience roaring and delivering standing ovations at the conclusion. From the dropping of the chandelier to the transition into the scene in the Phantom’s lair, everything went without blunder and left us mesmerized. In witnessing this performance, we found a new appreciation for musicals and for the intricacy of their production.
New York Philharmonic
As guest conductor Esa Pekka Salonen calmly swung his baton in steady and gentle motions, he cued a subdued chromatic rumble that moved up and down methodically, presenting just the start of a 106-measure work lost for 106 years. The rediscovered Funeral Song by Igor Stravinsky, originally composed as tribute to his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, was one of his best works before his well known ballet The Firebird. Since its re-“premiere” last year under the baton of Valery Gergiev, it has made its way to the U.S. with the New York Philharmonic.
Conducted with characteristic dignity and gusto, Funeral Song was followed by the U.S. premiere of “Forest” by British composer Tansy Davies, a four horn concerto with the motif of nature performed by four current and former principal horn players from the Philharmonia Orchestra of London. The piece is characterised by the obscurity of the orchestral texture that densely covered up lines from the solo horns, presenting a poetic depiction of a forest through the instruments of some of the world’s finest musicians.
The concert concluded with the all-time great Richard Strauss’s tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra, inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical novel of the same name. From initiating fiery brass outbursts in the introduction, presenting the nature motif through the intervals of a fifth (C-G-C), to the compassionate melodies of the wind section, the ensemble left the audience in suspense in the unsolved riddle with neither the C major (nature/universe motif) nor B major (human striving motif) established as tonic at the end of the composition. They perfectly portrayed Strauss’s ideas of humankind’s potential greatness being hindered by a lack of responsibility for our action, philosophically concluding a series of inspiring performances in three different mediums.