Conductor Bob Bernhardt

Nightlites Series presents “Born in the USA”

The Louisville Orchestra
Conducted by Bob Bernhardt

Review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

When the Louisville Orchestra announced their line-up for the 2013-2014 season imagine my excitement when I saw “Born in the USA” as a headlining program. No, it was not me thinking that Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen was going to perform with our group but that I was going to hear some of my favorite composers’ works all in the same night. When I was in college I learned more about and became even more enamored with the composers that became the embodiment of Americana: Bernstein, Rodgers, Gould, Williams, Gershwin and Copland.

The evening began with Leonard Bernstein’s Candide Overture. If you are unfamiliar with Candide, it is a comic operetta based on a novella written by Voltaire that tells the story of Candide and how he copes with love and loss. It has had several Broadway revivals and is a favorite among high school and college theater/musical arts programs too. The Overture itself has become part of many orchestral repertoires. I dare say that our devoted Orchestra could probably play Candide from memory. Their performance was bright and cheery and a wonderful start to a fun evening.

Next up, a selection of Richard Rodgers’ (of Rodgers and Hammerstein acclaim) Oklahoma! I will be honest, this is not my favorite Broadway show but through the Orchestra’s great timing with sounds that one does not normally hear in orchestral music (i.e. a horse clopping) and the unexpected serenading that I was receiving from the audience when familiar tunes would fill the Brown Theater (and a recent performance from Hugh Jackman) I may have to be a bit more open to the Oklahoma! experience.

Of the six composers on the bill this evening I was not too familiar with Morton Gould and his American Salute. Lucky for me and the audience we have a great conductor in Bob Bernhardt who often shares great tidbits of information before and after selections. Through Maestro Bernhardt we learned that Mr. Gould was rather busy in that he had works commissioned not only by orchestras throughout the US but also The Library of Congress and New York City Ballet as well as having pieces in the United States Bicentennial celebrations. In Mr. Gould’s American Salute, a piece imbued American patriotism through and through, the Orchestra played with verve and reverence for what the piece represented.

One of the valuable facets of the Nightlites series with Mo. Bernhardt, he usually shares insightful background for the evening’s selections, and this performance was no exception. The conductor shared with the audience a little known fact about one of the most prolific of composers in the 20th-21st centuries, John Williams. Did you know that he is an EGGGO? What that means is that Mr. Williams has received at least one Emmy, Golden Globe, Grammy and Oscar award. I won’t bore you with the actual numbers but he can add another jewel to that crown: he has also won a National Medal of Arts too. Quick trivia, there is one other composer that has done the same, do you know who? Don’t look it up. I’ll tell you at the end of the review.

Next on the program was With Malice Toward None from Mr. William’s score for the Steven Speilberg film Lincoln. Let me tell you, the LO was able to bring me back to the first time that I had heard this piece in the movie and how it moved me then. Sweeping strings and deep resonance prove just how powerful music can enhance one’s surroundings. This particular composition is played during Lincoln’s acceptance speech and as Lincoln was a great orator, the orchestra certainly allowed the piece to rise to the occasion.

The Selections from Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin was a great follow-up. The familiar themes of the story of Porgy and Bess and their hardships and triumphs were heard throughout every instrument on stage that evening, especially as just a few weeks prior Louisville was entertained by one of Broadway’s most successful Bess’ – Audra McDonald. I dare say that some of that concert was still bright and clear in the Orchestra’s ears and fingers. This particular arrangement was of R. R. Bennett’s creation and if you know anything about this particular musician he is the go-to guy on Broadway for arranging such compositions.

The evening ended with Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland, written for ballet dancer Martha Graham, I get swept up in the sounds of nature that are imitated by the orchestra throughout the piece and envision dancers creating beautiful moves that accompany such sumptuous music. The piece is born of pure Americana, employing the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts as a theme scattered throughout. The Louisville Orchestra understood the simplicity and attention to the subtle nuances of what this piece calls for, calling upon light flutes and strings, startling brass to portray quick passages that make your heart beat faster.

A very enjoyable evening of orchestral entertainment, if only it hadn’t been so short. I could have sat there for another hour. So many more American artists that could have been explored, so I am guessing that might happen next year?

And my trivia question answer: Marvin Hamlisch.

Nightlites: Born in the U.S.A.

November 21 & 22, 2013 at 8pm

Louisville Orchestra
W.L. Lyons Brown Theatre
315 West Broadway
Louisville, KY 40202