Free music in NYC. What’s not to love? As usual, I set rather lofty goals for myself that I did not actually achieve. My plans for Marcus Garvey Park were thwarted by missed scheduling on my part. My attendance at the Apollo theater worked, but wasn’t all that interesting to me—hip-hop/rap, mostly recordings mixed by DJs. But it was under the iconic marquee of the Apollo! Now I just have to get inside somehow. OK, that’s what didn’t work. Here’s what did.
Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns was the first work I heard,
after some speechifying praising MMNY and its predecessor Fête de la Musique, begun
40 years ago in Paris. MMNY is a paltry 16 years old. But oh, the music. I have
heard many recordings and iterations/scorings of the Saint-Saëns. This was my
first live hearing, and it was scored for two pianos, with a few soloists.
Interestingly, each of the miniature 15 movements was preceded with the reading
of a poem, some of which were in French. I took notes, and was darned close to
nailing the movements. I confirmed that by requesting a printed program after
the performance. Jennifer Undercofler and Mina Kim (pianos), Johannes Pfannkuch
(tuba), Nicolas Duchamp, (flute), and Yves Dhar (cello).
Here are the 15 movements, in order: Introduction, Roosters, Marche Royale du Lion, Horses, Tortoises (a slo-mo version of Offenbach’s Can-Can), Elephant (with tuba soloist), Kangaroos, Aquarium, Mules (including hee-haw sounds, which make a reappearance in the Finale), Cuckoo (with a two-note motif in the piano), Volière (with solo flutist), Pianistes (slightly at odds with each other (on purpose)), Fossils, The Swan (famous as a cello solo with the duo pianos), and Finale. I thoroughly enjoyed this.
The readers included French Ambassador Philippe Étienne as well as Philippe Petit (of high wire fame—I recognized him but didn’t realize who he actually was until I requested the printed program). How cool was this?
The Saint-Saëns was followed by a three-movement Sonata for Flute and Piano by Francis Poulenc. Both this and Carnival of the Animals suffered slightly because of their outdoors/touristy location in Battery Park—think ship horns and helicopters—but the whole experience was still great.
My last entertainment of the day was Sousapalooza, a fun grouping of pick-up musicians (who had to register in advance) playing Sousa marches. Because it was not a planned group, the balance was not exactly perfect. Four flutes and one piccolo (with one flutist also doubling on piccolo), three (I think) clarinets, two trumpets, two saxophones, two trombones, one tuba, and (oddly) one string bass. But it worked! I realized toward the end of the first march on the program that a bass drum and cymbals would have been perfect additions. Alas, you only get the folks who signed up to play.
Once again, there was no printed program, so I listened as hard as I could as the conductor, Oscar Wiley Thorp (I gleaned this from a website), set up each four-piece set. I did not get all of the names of the pieces. Here’s what I got: 1. [ ], 2. [ ], 3. Hands Across the Sea, 4. Liberty Bell.
5. Washington Post March, 6. Manhattan Beach, 7. Thunderer, 8. [This one was slower, in a minor key, chorale-like, and altogether lovely].
The finale was—and why not?—The Stars and Stripes Forever.
OK, they were Sousa marches, played by well-intentioned amateurs. And that was great. I was reminded of (and heard someone else compare it to) the onstage musicians in The Music Man. Was everything perfectly in tune? No. Was everything perfectly balanced? No. Was everything perfectly fun? A resounding yes!
Because I was so taken with #8 on the program, I asked the conductor about it after the concert. It’s called In Memoriam, and was composed in 1881 to honor the death of President Garfield. I love learning more about, and hearing, new-to-me music. And all of this was for free in NYC.