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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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The one place where you could really tell that you weren't listening to professionals was the double-bass solo at the opening of the third movement, which was pretty seriously out of tune. But you know, that's OK; yeah, it would be better if it were in tune, but that solo is not supposed to be beautiful.

The horns were amazing. Mahler really gives his horn players a workout, and these folks sounded really good. There were a couple of bloops, but I don't think I've ever heard a live performance of a Mahler symphony, by any level of orchestra, where there weren't a few horn bloops.

Another amusing fact about West Side Story that I learned from the program notes: when Bernstein heard the orchestra at the Winter Garden Theater (where the first run was booked), he was so appalled by the playing of the violas that he told his orchestrators to leave them out.

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