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Classical 101

Opening Night for the Columbus Symphony Broadcast Series

We're back! This year from not one but two theaters. This season's first live Columbus Symphony broadcast is this Saturday October 22 at 8 PM. We'll be at the Southern Theater for this 'String Summit' with violinist Rachel Barton Pine. Jean-Marie Zeitouni conducts a program of "The Three Bs". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krvJH98E8l4   Wonderful, you say. Bach-Beethoven-Brahms with the glamorous Ms. Pine. You'd almost be right. The program is Bartok-Barber-Bernstein. Three works written in the 20th century, arranged for a smaller orchestra and a dazzling violinist. Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta was written in Budapest in 1936 and premiered the following January in Basel. Not only is the instrumentation intriguing, the form goes away from the romanticism of A-B-A and takes us back to the mathematical perfection of  Mozart and Bach. The first movement begins with a fugue, opening deep in the violas and adding layer upon layer. Bartok uses the Fibonacci sequence of mathematics in structuring this fugue. I wouldn't know Fibonacci if s/he bought me a pepperoni pizza with extra cheese. 0 1 2 3 5 8 11 19 30...a number is the sum of  two preceding numbers. Thus is the movement layout in part one. Bartok is interested in form but he's more interested in sound. The second movement is a duel between string bands. They question and answer, the mock and they jeer. The piano laughs at them. 'Night Music' is the title given to the final adagio. The glistening celesta and  strings reflect the ambiguous tonality of this piece. Bartok seldom rests in any key. He doesn't need to. The ear is constantly refreshed by changes in rhythm and that ever present fugue lurking in the background. Lenard Bernstein's Serenade After Plato's Symposium was written for Isaac Stern and the Symphony of the Air in 1954.  Bernstein was beginning his ascent to fame as a composer, with On the Waterfront, Candide and West Side Story around the corner. There was no better evangelist for music in the 20th century than Leonard Bernstein. He was made for TV-he was clear, brilliant and charming. His passion for life, and his unrequited passions in private life-often followed him to the stage. He could be cool and formal with Haydn-never missing that composer's irony-and near hysterical with Mahler.  Love him or hate him, nobody was indifferent to Leonard Bernstein. A performance of the Mahler 2nd symphony in New York 25 year ago will follow me to my grave. Leonard Bernstein the evangelist and conductor, the pianist and author wasn't satisfied. He wanted Mahler's career. World renowned conductor, world-renowned composer. The latter eluded him. Not surprisingly, the most loved of his own music was written for the theater.  The symphonies I find overly personal-like overhearing somebody's analysis.  But I was surprised by the Serenade. The solo violin is prominent certainly, but this work is in love with the orchestra. Listen especially to the ensemble under the solo violin in the adagio-"Agathon".  There's plenty for everyone to do. We're advised that this is not "program music" despite the title. It's fun to know that symposium meant "drinking party" to the ancient Greeks. Plato's symposium is a record of an all night kegger circa 383 BC. All aspects of love are discussed (all aspects-I'll say no more).  Socrates praises the love of nature and thought. Phadros sings of erotic love and so does the violin solo in the first movement. Agathon expands on the eroticism of love and the love of man for.... Bernstein gives us waltzes, angry slashes of syncopation, a teasing solo violin and at the end, the dances ready for Broadway. Don't be fooled into thinking this is some dull depiction of the dull ancient Greeks. They had fun, boy did they ever.  So will you, with Bernstein's Serenade.