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East Side Story

This afternoon we went to a concert by the Boston Youth Symphony in Symphony Hall. The feature of the concert was Mahler's First Symphony. It is a tour de force (it is called the Titan). I love that piece and they did it really quite well. There were a few bits of out-of-tune playing, but overall these 14-18 year olds were fine musicians and the ensemble playing was excellent. The conductor, Federico Cortese, who also leads grownup orchestras did a great job - I think we saw him at a Boston Lyric Opera production several years ago (I could leaf through the pile of programs, but...).

The first piece in the concert was the Dvorák Festival March performed by the Junior Repertory Orchestra - those kids were pretty young. The conductor, Adrian Slywotzky was absolutely beaming as he came in and then out at the end - clearly proud of how good these kids were.

It is quite irregular to see 11-17 year olds dressed neatly these days and we say several hundred of them.

One of the pieces that the Boston Youth Symphony did was an arrangement of music from West Side Story. In the Program notes I read that when Bernstein originally conceived this in 1949 (the debut of West Side Story was 1957) it was going to be called East Side Story. It was to take place on the east side of NYC about conflicts between Jews and Catholics with Juliet Jewish. Street brawls, double death, etc. all fit. Then Bernstein got busy doing other stuff and the next time he considered a modern Romeo and Juliet it was in LA based upon gang violence between Mexican and Anglo's. A bit later it moved back to NYC on the west side to take up the eventual theme.
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Mahler is one of those composers whose music is a very different experience live from recorded. The big percussion crescendo in the last movement of the Second is absolutely hair-raising in the concert hall.

For many years I tended to sneer at the last few minutes of the First as just being completely over-the-top vulgar and bombastic. But I've come to realize that over-the-top vulgarity and bombast have their place, and one of the places where they actually work pretty well is at the end of this symphony.

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