So, tell me what you know about the Longwood Symphony. Have you ever been to one of their concerts? I’m guessing that a fair number of you aren’t familiar with this admirable local group, which is a pity. The LSO has been around since the early ’80s and consists of 120 performers who, for the most part, spend their days healing the sick. When listening to this well-honed organism create high-caliber music it’s sobering to realize that its members are actually medical professionals by day and musicians by night. (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Haydn??) They heal and are healed through music; ‘carers,’ as violinist, pediatrician, and LSO president Lisa Wong explained, for whom caring is multifaceted. Through its music-making, the Longwood Symphony is dedicated to community service and raising awareness for under-funded medically-related programs. Each concert is a benefit for one of these deserving causes. This particular performance benefited the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship.
A man of protean talents, the musician, theologian, physician, and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer made but a single trip to the United States. To commemorate the 60th anniversary of this visit, the LSO performed an appropriately all-American program at Jordan Hall Saturday evening. Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony, written at the close of World War II, got things off to an optimistic start. Quintessential Copland, quintessential Americana, this large-scale work is straightforward, unfettered, aggressively tonal, and features a plethora of perfect fourths. Had me soaring over broad fields of wheat with nary a cloud in the sky. Very Norman Rockwell. Very National Geographic. What’s not to like? And the “Common Man” theme in the final movement was the auditory cherry on top. Conductor Jonathan McPhee oversees the group with a fluid and attentive style; extremely capable and musical; no doubt a good aerobic workout. Strings and woodwinds were solid; brass section, unfortunately, was a bit shaky, with a fair number of clams that were quite jarring at times, especially in the ‘brassy’ final movement.
Lush and dramatic Copland was followed by lush and dramatic George Antheil. Actually, given Antheil’s notorious ‘bad boy’ reputation, I was expecting something antithetical to Copland. Turns out that George mellowed somewhat with age, however; his later works are actually quite mainstream. Essentially Mr. Hyde becomes Dr. Jekyll. Who knew? McKonkey’s Ferry, a musical portrayal of Washington’s surprise crossing of the Delaware, plays very much like a dramatic film score. Action-packed, with a dash of Khachaturian and a pinch of Ravel, this music was more evocative of Indiana Jones than George Washington. Highly entertaining.
Another man of protean talents, former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher was the recipient of the 2009 Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, presented in a brief ceremony following the Antheil. Appropriately enough, Dr. Satcher then served quite capably as the narrator for the world premiere of the evening’s final piece, the Albert Schweitzer Portrait, a collaborative effort by composer Gene Scheer, conductor Jonathan McPhee, arranger Gary Fry, and musician Thurston Moore, commissioned by the LSO for this special occasion. This inspirational and easily accessible work consists of Schweitzer’s quotes with musical accompaniment, very much à la Copland’s Lincoln Portrait. Thought-provoking and moving.
All in all, an extremely uplifting evening featuring optimistic music passionately performed by multitalented caregivers. Perfect antidote to these tempestuous times, leaving listeners buoyed and confident. Dr. Schweitzer no doubt would have been proud. Only regret was that there weren’t more folks in attendance to enjoy it. This sort of broad-appeal performance for a worthy cause certainly deserves a wider audience. PBS, are you listening? . . . .