Over his long career in Boston, conductor Richard Pittman presided not only over Boston Musica Viva, with its concerts of his chosen new music played by professional musicians, but also over the Concord Orchestra, composed mostly of volunteers. His role with this latter orchestra proves that classical music can be well served by small local orchestras, furthering interest in and promotion of this supposedly arcane genre.
Dick Pittman suffered a major stroke three years ago, so Boston Musica Viva no longer exists, but the Concord Orchestra survives, greatly improved over the more than 50 years that he led it. Last Sunday afternoon’s concert with conductor Eric Culver in his farewell performance with the orchestra, honored Pittman. The four works, two by his long-time friend Bernard Hoffer, along with Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Charles Ives’s Symphony no. 2, referred to Pittman in various ways.
The concert at 51 Walden began with Bernard Hoffer’s short but spirited Fanfare for Dick from 2009. The enthusiasm of players and audience made for a heart-warming start to the evening.
An American in Paris (1928) commemorated Dick’s well-known love of the city. The strings of the Concord Orchestra amply proved their musical competence, as did the flutes. The horns and timpani, however, occasionally sounded too loud, seeming to miss Culver’s two very clear directions for diminuendos.
Ives composed his second symphony in 1900-1902, more than 20 years before the better-known music of Aaron Copland used American folk idioms. Some musicologists consider the Ives the first “American” symphony, given that Dvořák merely referenced the American tunes in his “New World,” Symphony (1893) rather than employing them directly. The Ives symphony, with its discernible quotations from blues, gospel, and folk music, provides a number of good solos for the trombone, which Nicole Brellenthin handled very well. Culver noted after the concert that Ives, “has an ear for Bruckner-style chorale writing: a very affectionate parody, set against the ‘Pig Town Fling’ and ‘Turkey in the Straw’.” He also noted that the trombone section did the subtle Bruckner reference very nicely.
The single published edition of Ives’s Symphony No. 2 gives no indication for bowing. From the archives of the New York Philharmonic, which contain many of the pieces performed by the orchestra over the years and include markings for the concertmaster (and principals), the Concord players could not only mark their scores appropriately, but it helped with their interpretation. Again, no complaints about the competent playing. The flutes performed a wonderful duet in the last section, with its prime motif “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.” The basses, however, could have achieved greater richness of tone through more vibrato.
Pittman and Bernard Hoffer have been friends since Dick played the trombone in the U.S. Army and Hoffer worked as the arranger. Their collaboration for the Kurt Weill Songbook started several years ago, but Covid prevented the earlier planned premiere. Unfortunately, Hoffer had to miss both the rehearsals and the concert. The eight texts, ranging from humorous to poignant, come from Ira Gershwin (My Ship, The Saga of Jenny, Tchaikovsky) Maxwell Anderson (The Little Gray House, Lost in the Stars), Ogden Nash (Speak Low), and Langston Hughes (The Lonely House). The orchestra did a great job of conveying Weill’s changing emotions. Baritone Jeffrey Korn projected stellar empathy with the texts and score through crystal-clear enunciation and mellifluous tone. The amusing patter-song “Tchaikovsky,” a laundry list of Russian composers, earned two encores. Over instrumental interludes, Korn spoke of what each song evoked about the composer, Dick, and the power of music.
Dick Pittman deserved every bit of this tribute.