Bernstein’s America at Blossom

This past Saturday, we went to Blossom again, using our last two upgrades where we traded in lawn tickets for pavillion seats. Blossom was relatively empty that evening: it had been raining all day, though the sun had come out a couple of hours before nightfall. At the beginning of the concert, the conductor thanked us all for braving the weather. From our reckoning, this actually was a perfect time to use the upgrades, as there would be less competition for pavillion seats and the grass would have been wet. As it was, our seats were more central than what we got the first time, though perhaps a bit further back. No photos, though.

The evening’s program was “Bernstein’s America”: a few famous works by Bernstein, mixed in with some by his contemporaries as they were creating “serious” music for America. “Serious” music, in this case, is a bit hard to pin down, as the conductor noted: Bernstein moved between genres and media, and the evening featured his songs from movies and Broadway, Wonderful Town, On the Town and West Side Story in particular.

Here’s the Plain Dealer’s review of the concert: “Delicate touches highlight ‘Bernstein’s America’ night“. It was a very participatory time, starting off with the Star Spangled Banner and later featuring rythmic clapping for various other songs. (Coincidentally, I had just started Gaddis’s Surprise, Security, and the American Experience, which briefly touches on our long-forgotten moment of national humilation in the War of 1812 by noting that the anthem’s third stanza recalling the event is almost never sung. Arguably, Americans only know the first stanza, anyway, which ends with the words, “Play ball!”) In one moment, the conductor turned to face the audience and gave timing directions to his with his baton. To round out a festive night, in a moment that recalls rock concerts more than classical music performances, the orchestra followed up the printed program with a number of encores, and finished with an unfurled flag behind the stage and a burst of colored confetti that resembled fireworks, but without the danger.

There were frequent diversions from the printed program, and an elderly man in a tuxedo would wander in from stage left holding up a placard in his spotlight with the title and composer printed on it, like the girls in between rounds at a boxing match but without the high heels and pirouette, before placing the placard on an easel. This actually was useful, as they played a number of familiar tunes that I didn’t know the names of. “Semper Fidelis” by Sousa (which I’m, bizarrely, most familiar with as something used on an old Jetsons episode, words provided by Space Scouts Troop 54), “Field Artillery” also by Sousa, and “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” by John Bratton. William Schuman’s “Chester” oveture was supposed to have been familiar, but I didn’t recognize it at all.

As a last note, this actually wasn’t the Cleveland Orchestra, who are on a European tour right now, but the Cleveland Pops. I noticed that the Pops were heavy with wind and brass instruments, and apparently had a lone cello as its string section. Is that the definition of a “Pops” compared to a “Symphony” or “Orchestra”? Or is the mix of instruments geared to what they typically play.

For Labor Day weekend, the Cincinatti Pops will be at Blossom, for a Star Wars extravaganza, hosted by Anthony Daniels. We have our last two lawn tickets from the ten pack, and the weather should be wonderful with the remnants of hurricane Katrina passing through mid-week. Can’t wait.

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