Better late than never: last Saturday, I made my way up to the Gilman Opera House at BAM to see the Brooklyn Philharmonic, in a concert of English and American music. First was a robust performance of Vaughn Williams' Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, preceded by a dramatic candlelit performance of Tallis' original psalm.
The centerpiece of the program was the New York premiere of Julia Wolfe's My Beautiful Scream, featuring all four members of the Kronos Quartet. The work was written in the aftermath of 9/11, which Wolfe says was a wonderful time for her and her family, despite the disruption to her downtown Manhattan home. Wolfe, who is a founding member of Bang on a Can, calls for the quartet to be amplified, which is the only way they could be heard above the din of the full orchestra, as they replicated the sounds of police sirens and people screaming. The overall effect was evocative and disturbing, fully deserving of a place in the repertoire alongside John Adams' Pulitzer Prize-winning On the Transmigration of Souls.
The concert concluded with Gustav Holst's The Planets, which, from the looks of the many "University of Mars" T-shirts, was the main draw for a large percentage of the sold-out house. The live perform ace was accompanied by close-up video projections of the planets, courtesy of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Personally, I felt the images, while engaging, distracted from the performance. Holst didn't write this music as a literal representation of the planets; rather, he sought to invoke the gods for whom they were named. Still, the crowd clearly was into it, and gave a big ovation afterwards.
In a panel discussion after the concert, conductor Stefan Asbury remarked that he didn't see any difference between the various selection on the program. It's all a matter of perspective. "Holst was also a living composer," he said. "All music was new at one point."
The final subscription concert of the Brooklyn Philharmonic's season is on May 12, and features a dramatic staging of Henryk Gorecki's Symphony No. 3 (1976), which became hugely popular after the hit 1992 recording with Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta. The Bklyn Phil will also be presenting a series of free outdoor concerts this July, including a performance at the Prospect Park Bandshell on July 14 featuring composer/violinist Mark O'Connor and cellist Maya Beiser.