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July 2007

NYP @ Prospect Park

Dsc03560I vaguely remember the Berlioz Le Corsaire overture and Mendelssohn Violin Concerto from last night's New York Philharmonic concert in Prospect Park (I was being social), but I sat up and took notice of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony, which closed the program. Tchaikovsky conducted the premiere of the Pathetique, as the symphony has become known, a mere nine days before his mysterious death in St. Petersburg in 1893, and it is a world apart from his earlier, more bombastic works for orchestra.

Dsc03566Conductor Ludovic Morlot kept the orchestra in check until the 3rd movement, where he finally let the reins go and the playing got wild and woolly. In the tragic final Dsc03585movement - marked Adagio lamentoso - you could feel the wail of the violins, almost sounding like an audible cry at times. Credit the Philharmonic with providing a thoroughly satisfying musical experience - though for most it was likely soon forgotten with the traditional explosion of fireworks afterwards.

But, as good as the orchestra sounded last night, they still left me cold, playing the same old warhorses,  none of which were less than 110 years old. Not so the LA Philharmonic, who for the past two seasons have invited an indie rock band to perform with them at the Hollywood Bowl, the orchestra's summer home for the past 85 years. This past Saturday, it was Portland's Decemberists, who - accompanied by the Philharmonic - sounded like the best film score you've ever heard. Brooklyn Vegan has the story; you can catch portions of the performance here. Or, if you have connections, you can try to score a ticket to their benefit show next Monday at Central Park Summerstage, where they'll be playing with Grizzly Bear and Land of Talk. As for when we can expect to hear them with the Philharmonic...


Philharmonic al Fresco

Picture1_2The New York Philharmonic returns for its annual free parks concerts this week, with tonight's appearance in Prospect Park featuring Ludovic Morlot conducting a Berlioz overture, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto (with Stefan Jackiw), and Tchiakovsky's 6th Symphony. Which wouldn't be strange, except for the fact that there will be fireworks immediately following the "Pathetique's" decidedly morose ending. Hey, it's still a party, right?

Later this week, Brooklyn's own Philharmonic will be performing two outdoor shows: a Friday concert at Brooklyn Bridge Park featuring Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" (with violinist Lara St. John) and Astor Piazzola's  tango-tinged "Four Seasons of Buenos Aires," and an all-American concert at Celebrate Brooklyn on Saturday, featuring the NY premiere of Mark O'Connor's "For The Heroes," a double concerto for violin and cello, with O'Connor being joined by the exciting young cellist Maya Beiser. Both are free.


The King of Polka

Dsc03491_2Trivia Question: how many acts playing the city this past weekend can claim 16 Grammys? No, not Dave Matthews, not Roger Waters, not even The Police. Only one man can boast that track record: the Polka King himself, Jimmy Sturr and His Orchestra, who played the Liberty House Restaurant in Liberty State Park yesterday.

Dsc03510OK, now that you've stopped chuckling: Polka is some of the world's greatest dance music, first heard in Europe in the middle of the 19th Century and popularized by composers such as Johann Strauss and Bederich Smetana, each of whom wrote dozens of polkas. It arrived in this country along with the waves of Czech, Slovenian and Polish immigrants in the late 19th Century, and evolved over the 20th Century into a hybrid of folk, bluegrass, blues, and even rock.

Dsc03538As for Jimmy and the band, they've cut over 100 albums over the past 35 years, including five with Willie Nelson, with whom they'll be appearing this September at the big Farm Aid concert on Randall's Island. (Apparently, they had them dancing in the aisles at last summer's Farm Aid in Chicago.) They eke out a living playing around 170 gigs a year, mostly in casinos and Holiday Inns, along with the summer festival circuit. (Hunter Mountain, anyone?) Jimmy kept the cocktail lounge banter lively between songs, occasionally joining in on clarinet. When he's not on the road, Jimmy lives in the house he grew up in, in rural Florida, NY (Population: 1,700.)

Dsc03525The rest of the band - which features a full brass section, guitar, drums, keyboard, and accordion - played like a well-oiled machine. Most have played with the orchestra for at least 20 years, with several - including trumpeter Eric Parks and drummer Dennis Chapman - having been with Jimmy since the beginning. The newest member, singer Gennarose, joined the band three years ago after meeting them on a cruise. She was hired on the spot, and eventually married the band's pianist, Keith Slattery, a 9 year veteran.

Dsc03541Sure, there were cheesy moments, like the big introductory medley featuring Neil Diamond's "America" and Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra, and a synth-heavy version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water." But mostly, they stuck to the classics like "Roll Out the Barrel" and "Pennsylvania Polka," along with copious selections from Jimmy's own catalogue, including several cuts off their brand new release, Come Share the Wine. (Sadly, they didn't play anything off their 1979 release Polka Disco.) Despite the constant encouragement of the band, I didn't see a lot of dancing, but there was this one happy couple showing everyone how it's done.

Dsc03527Jimmy and the Orchestra were headed straight to Branson, MO after the show in their custom 45 foot luxury coach, where they are set to tape 20 episodes of The Jimmy Sturr Show, which airs weekly on RFD-TV, "Rural America's Most Important Network." Check your local listings.