Mark Gresham | 23 JUN 2023
Despite dire warnings of a three-day flood watch from Wednesday through Friday, a benevolent change in weather pattern rolled back the storm clouds late Thursday afternoon in plenty of time to afford sunshine as well as reasonably cool temperatures for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s return to Piedmont Park to perform “A Latin Celebration” as part of its Concerts in The Park series.
The Oak Hill area of the park, where the free outdoor concert took place, was mostly dry except for a few low-lying puddles here and there outside of the seating areas by the time family-friendly pre-concert activities began at 6:30 p.m., hosted by the ASO Education and Community Engagement department, which included a half-hour performance by the ASO Community Brass Ensemble, led by ASO principal tuba Michael Moore, from 6:30 to 7:00 p.m.
The Community Brass Ensemble is a volunteer group providing an opportunity for Atlanta area brass players, both young and old, to refine their art and perform together in an ensemble of like-minded musicians.
Not attempting to match the ASO’s Latin theme for the evening, the Community Brass Ensemble performed seven works of American, English, and Italian origins, opening with the Double Quintet Fanfare by American composer Arthur Frackenpohl. Written for two standard brass quintets that play antiphonally, it was an excellent introduction to the ensemble with its interplay of parts.
The music then turned to the Baroque era with a seven-part Sonate by Giovanni Battista Buonamente and Jean-Joseph Mauret’s Rondeau (also known as Fanfare for the King’s Supper), the latter popularized on public television as the theme music for “Masterpiece Theatre.” Next came an arrangement of the British patriotic hymn tune “Thaxted,” taken from the “Jupiter” movement of Gustav Holst’s 1917 orchestra suite, The Planets, adding a bit of thoughtful nobility to the mix.
The Community Brass Ensemble stepped again into the Baroque era with Sonata XII by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, then to the late Renaissance with an arrangement of The Earle of Oxford’s Marche by William Byrd. They closed with the Magnificat by Charles Theodore Pachelbel (son of the far more famous Johann Pachelbel), who was born in Germany, probably lived in England for a while, then emigrated to the American colonies, first to Boston, then Newport, Rhode Island, and finally to Charleston, South Carolina where he wrote this choral Magnificat, played as a festive closer by the Community Brass in a transcription for two brass choirs.
A half-hour later, at 7:30 p.m., as the sun began to drop below the lush treeline, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra began playing their program under the direction of ASO resident conductor Jerry Hou.
This Piedmont Park concert was Hou’s final appearance as ASO Resident Conductor, as his contract with the orchestra expires this summer.
Hou joined the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in September 2020 as its new Associate Conductor and Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra. He was promoted to Resident conductor for this, his third season. On March 2 and 4 this year, Hou made his successful official subscription series debut with the ASO in a program of music by Joan Tower, Jessie Montgomery, and Béla Bartók, with pianist Awadagin Pratt as soloist. According to an ASO spokesperson, a replacement conductor with a similar role will be announced soon.
The program was a mix of classically composed works and arrangements of famous Latin tunes. It began with four classical works: the Spanish-inspired “Aragonaise” from French composer Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen, followed by five selections from Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s ballet El sombrero de tres picos (“The Three-Cornered Hat”); a severely cut version of Huapango by Mexican composer José Pablo Moncayo, and “Verano Porteño” (“Summer”) from Las Cuatro Estaciónes Porteñas (“The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”) by Astor Piazzolla, arranged for solo violin and string orchestra by the Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov.
Desyatnikov includes quotations from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” in his arrangement which reflect the inversion of the seasons in the southern hemisphere: “Verano Porteño” features quotes from Vivaldi’s “Winter.” ASO assistant concertmaster Jun-Ching Lin, acting concertmaster for this concert, played the featured violin solo with a lively, vibrant energy.
The program turned to somewhat less idiomatically potent arrangements of familiar Latin songs: Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández’ “Cachita,” influenced by Cuban musical idioms; and a pair of tangos, “El choclo” by Ángel Villoldo (Argentina) and “La cumparsita” by Gerardo Matos (Uruguay).
At this point, program presented a New Yorker’s perspective of Cuban music with George Gershwin’s Cuban Overture. A somewhat watered-down arrangement of the popular song “Brasil” by Brazilian composer Ary Barroso served as an interlude in advance of “Wheat Dance” & “Malambo—Final Dance” from Estancia by Alberto Ginastera, in which the Argentinian composer musically expressed nationalist sentiments.
The ASO then played a pair of encores: an arrangement of “Tico-Tico no fubá,” a Brazilian choro written by Zequinha de Abreu in 1917 which reached its peak popularity in the 1940s, followed by the only non-Latin piece played by the ASO that evening: John Phillip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” the traditional finale of all ASO Piedmont Parks concerts.
Given some of the acoustic challenges of playing outdoors, it is worth noting that there was a significant contingent of substitute musicians in the orchestra in this concert. But no matter, as under Hou’s able baton, they drew together as a rhythmically tight ensemble, which is essential under those circumstances. The skilled amplification engineers gave the strings a forward presence while providing a reasonably balanced sound from the orchestra, delivering it to the happy, expansive audience. Good fortune all around. Add to that the generous blessings of the improved weather, and the entire event proved a pleasant and enjoyable way to spend a summer evening. ■
- Atlanta Symphony Orchestra: aso.org
- Jerry Hou: nathaliestutzmann.com
- ASO Community Brass Ensemble: facebook.com/groups/986887001413332/