On September 29 at 8:00 PM in the Terrace Theater of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, the Long Beach Symphony begins its 84th Classical season. Music Director Eckart Preu explains his rationale for the season, “I wanted to present an exciting variety of composers, styles, and experiences, from pivotal masterpieces of the repertoire to exciting new works, including a bit of the unorthodox, so that our audiences can hear what’s happening now in the world of classical music.”
Opening night is an off-the-charts fusion of contemporary American music in celebration of the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein. In a 1966 documentary aired by CBS “Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution,” Bernstein expressed his fascination with Pop Music, extolling its “eclecticism” and “new sounds”, as well as its focus on universal love rather than on personal love between two individuals. In tribute to Bernstein’s early adoption of Pop, the Symphony will present G-Spot Tornado by Frank Zappa, who began his career in classical music, but found acceptance only in pop/rock music, in part due to his often-irreverent song titles. The piece was originally written for Synclavier, because Zappa thought the work was too difficult for humans to play, but the Long Beach Symphony is more than capable of executing its frenetic, rhythmic motifs!
From there, the program moves on to two jazz-infused works by Gershwin. The first, his Second Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra, is a one-movement work with a sense of improvisation and spontaneity. It will be interpreted by pianist Terrence Wilson, whose credentials include appearances with top symphonies across the U.S. and around the world, as well as a GRAMMY nomination in the category “Best Instrumental Soloist with an Orchestra.” Next up is Gershwin’s iconic Rhapsody in Blue, a work Bernstein had played and recorded early in his career. The work has been popularized by its prolific use in movies and commercials.
The second half of the program will showcase Mothership by Gen-X composer Mason Bates (born 1977), a Bernstein protégé counted among the “10 Young Composers Who Are Redefining Classical Music” (Helen Armitage, April 18, 2017, The Culture Trip). Perhaps best known for his expansion of the orchestra to include electronics, Bates “imagines the orchestra as a mothership that is ‘docked’ by several visiting soloists, who offer brief but virtuosic riffs on the work’s thematic materials over action-packed electro-acoustic orchestral figuration.” The underlying rhythmic foundation of the mothership builds to a climax as the solo instruments, notable among them the guzheng, a Chinese plucked-string instrument similar to the zither, electric guitar and bass, strut their stuff.
This explosive program ends with music by the honoree: Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Bernstein was instrumental in better educating and communicating with the public about classical music, thus democratizing the genre.
On his blog, http://www.masonbates.com/blog/putting-it-together-curating/, Mason Bates writes, “One of the great pleasures of a well-curated concert is how each piece shines light on the others, and often this happens when there is variety. That’s precisely what Maestro Preu has in store for Long Beach audiences during the 2018–2019 season!