It was a fine musical evening for Detroiters: Detroit’s best vocal ensemble, “Audivi” was singing at Blessed Sacrament; a full house at the large hall in Orchestra Hall wowed to the music and acrobatics of DSO’s “Cirque de la Symphonie”, while in “The Cube”, Pro Musica Detroit was hugely entertained by Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann, duo-pianists. Music aside, our enjoyment was enhanced by their excellent spoken introductions before each piece they performed, and by overhead cameras projecting on a split-screen the two keyboards, thus offering the audience every angle. An air of informality pervaded the entire evening. It is a pity that not more people showed up for such a fine event. But a large group of students saw and heard them at the Detroit School of the Arts earlier in the day. We thank all who participated.
Francis Poulenc (PMD Nov. 26, 1948), bon-vivant boulevardier, ‘naughty’ early in his life, composed his “Capriccio d’apres le Bal Masque” full of tongue-in-cheek, a sparkling way to begin our concert. In his later life, even when composing devoutly-religious masterpieces, he couldn’t resist inserting an occasional “cheeky” chord, so prevalent in his “Capriccio”.
Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” has eventually found its way into the classical repertoire. The Bergmanns gave us a generous menu of the great songs, arranged for two pianos by Marcel Bergmann: a wonderful mix of rhythms (e.g. “America”, “Mambo” and beautiful melodies, such as “Maria”, “Tonight”, “One Hand, One Heart”, ‘There’s a Place for Us”. To me, the final segment: “A Boy Like That”/”I Love Him”/ morphing into the Finale was overwhelmingly powerful. Oh, The Cube should have been packed for that one!
Bernstein, in turn, arranged the orchestral showpiece “El Salon Mexico”, by Aaron Copland (PMD Jan. 12, 1940 and Mar. 19, 1954) It was fun to hear pianos imitating the piercing sounds of the violin and the trumpet. Two pianos have the ability to focus on the intricate Latin rhythms that a single one simply can’t. I cannot say that I’ve ever enjoyed “El Salon” as much as this performance!
After Intermission, the Bergmanns sat together at one piano, and deftly zipped through, by now, a standard orchestral chestnut: Bernstein’s effervescent Overture to “Candide”. It was a delight, not only to hear, but to watch: lots of cross-hand work. (Have they ever banged their hands together during practice? Ouch!!)
Back to two pianos: the pastoral Sinfonia from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio was a beautiful reflective moment in the program. Marcus commented that Bach’s music has the unique quality of sounding good no matter which instrument is performing it. The gently-rocking “Sicilienne” in 6/8 time (de rigeur in “Pastoral Symphonies”) was in serene contrast to the showy pieces heard on Friday. To me, it was one of the evening’s highlights. It has a similar effect on the Oratorio itself: a respite from the excitement that pervades much of that glorious work.
Darius Milhaud (PMD Dec. 10, 1954) was one of numerous European composers who were fascinated by American jazz. His “Le Creation du Monde” is especially noteworthy in that it starts, and ends, in the neo-Baroque style, but in between and by far the longer time, it is in the jazz element. This composition works especially well in both the orchestral and pianistic version. Interesting to contemplate that until the early 20th Century, American orchestras and composers favored European music, but then , Europeans accepted American jazz and blues eagerly. The Bergmanns gave us the blues! Yeah! Terrific!
Marcus’s arrangement of “Porgy and Bess” songs made one wish for more than just three (“Summertime”, “Can’t Sit Down”, and “There’s a Boat dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York”). Played with lots of pizzazz. Excellent!
This concert was a tribute to Leonard Bernstein and the 100th anniversary of his birth. It was thus mostly American or American-influenced music. A more traditional program could have been possible (two-piano versions of Brahms or Dvorak dances, or even a piano concerto, or operatic excerpts arranged in two-piano form. But this concert worked, and we thank Elizabeth and Marcus for their artistry and conviviality. They are magnificent pianists. Something out of the ordinary.
It was truly a worthwhile Friday evening!