Boston Brass joins Binghamton Philharmonic for Valentine variety

Reviewed by David L. Schriber

Love was in the air Saturday night (Feb. 13) as the Boston Brass quintet joined the Binghamton Philharmonic for a Valentine’s Day concert at The Forum in Binghamton. The program was a mixture of classical and popular music, some distinctively American and some high-energy Latin tunes. 

The Philharmonic opened with Amilcare Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” from the opera La Gioconda. The music features a light, spring songbird-like opening with harp and flute, followed by sonorous strings. Our reverie was interrupted by the recognition of melodies adapted to non-classical uses, such as Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” and the Walt Disney animated feature “Fantasia.” Alas ,such is the fate of many a fine classical piece, the prime example probably being Rossini’s “Overture” to William Tell, which within two measures conjures up visions of a masked kemo sabe on a horse named Silver.

I will try hard not to comment on the propriety of Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Shakespearean farce) as the traditional recessional choice of countless bridal couples. Many have never heard the entire piece (unless the wedding was VERY large), but the BPO delivered a fine concert rendition.

The Boston Brass joined the Philharmonic for Argentinean-born Alberto Ginastera’s “Danza Final” from his ballet Estancia. It’s a highly energetic dance of gauchos of the pampas. Andrew Hitz later joked that tuba players don’t often get to show they can play as many notes and as fast as the other brass, so he chose this piece to prove the point. And prove it he did, both here and late in the concert in Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla’s “Tango Apasionado.” His fingers flew over the valves like a pianist’s over the keys.

The program offered some decidedly American fare with a Gershwin Porgy and Bess suite plus his Crazy for You overture (hints of “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Embraceable You”) and a medley of Louis Armstrong’s famous tunes. Rick DeJonge’s “Sounds of Cinema” flowed majestically, then blared like urban traffic, finally toyed with Looney Tunes.

The first movement of Boston Brass’ last number, the Piazzolla tango, paired BPO violinist Uli Speth with the Brass’ Lance LaDuke on euphonium. The remaining movements varied from somber to slow dance to Latin beat. During introductions, LaDuke commented that the euphonium, a relative of the tuba, isn’t seen often in orchestras because there isn’t much repertoire for it. Hence, he quipped, its name, from the Greek meaning “unemployable.” (Actually, it’s from the Greek meaning “good sounding.”) 

For the Philharmonic finale, Jose-Luis Novo introduced Mexican composer Arturo Marquez’s “Danzon No. 2.” It starts as a Cuban slow dance, with some warm violin and cello pizzicato, eventually accelerating into a martial ending.

Throughout their joint pieces, the Boston Brass and BPO were well balanced in volume and together in timing, which was a bit challenging, considering the Brass stood center stage front, behind conductor Novo.

It was an enjoyable and diverse program combining familiar tunes and modern Latin flavors.

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