Yesterday I went to the library to return a long-overdue book. While there, I went to the cookbook section to see if I could track down a reliable recipe for Thai curries, because, quite frankly, I just can’t get enough. There were a few Thai cookbooks that I flipped through, and one in particular seemed to have authentic looking curry recipes. In addition, there were several Indian food cookbooks, including 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. This behemoth contains absolutely zero pictures, but the recipes looked easy to follow and the ingredient list took into account North American availability, so it got added to my pile. Tonight I followed three recipes from the Indian cookbook and we had ourselves a feast. It was a fair amount of work, but the outcome was well worth it because that food was good.
But Indian cooking isn’t all that life is about. Going back to yesterday, after leaving the library with two cookbooks under my arm, I came home and got ready to go to the symphony. This week there was a Groupon for two very reasonably priced tickets to see the Las Vegas Philharmonic at the Smith Center. For all its beauty and spectacular line up of concerts, the Smith Center is just too expensive to attend very often, so this Groupon was fully embraced. We didn’t know it when we purchased the tickets, but we were in for an incredible night of music.
Last year David Itkins, the conductor of the Las Vegas Philharmonic, gave his official resignation on account of conflicts with the philharmonic board. When this type of thing happens it’s common for orchestras to take a year and try out as many different conductors as possible, usually inviting each prospect to conduct a single concert. Those who resonate well with the orchestra come back for a second look, and the process continues from there. Our guest conductor last night was Case Scaglione, whose resume indicates that he is a very accomplished musician, having conducted many prestigious orchestras during his career. I’m not sure if he, as the conductor, was able to put together the music selections, or if the pieces were chosen in advance, but the best thing about last night’s concert was the absolutely awesome program. Second to that was Scaglione’s interaction with the audience.
But back to this program. The concert started out with Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man which we all know from TV and movie scores. It’s a short piece written for brass and percussion, with a good amount of pomp. Last night’s performance wasn’t especially strong, but it was a good enough way to set the theme of the evening, “An American Landscape”, featuring all American composers (of which there are few). Copland came in for a second piece, Old American Songs, following the fanfare, this one written for full orchestra and two vocalists. The orchestra accompanies the singers-- soprano for the first five songs, then tenor for the last five. The final song is nothing short of delightful and Mark Thomsen (tenor) couldn’t have sang a better, more beautiful, or more animated performance. It was everything it should have been. The last piece before the intermission was Bernstein’s medley of WestSide Story dances, in which the orchestra turned into a 76-piece jazz ensemble. They were really feeling the music, complete with finger snaps and the occasional shout of “Mambo!”. It was an unbeatable first half.
When we all found our seats again and the lights in the concert hall dimmed, the conductor grabbed a mic and addressed all of us audience members. He explained that the next piece might be, at times, a little “cacophonous”, and because of that it didn’t quite fit in with the other pieces on the program. Then, he did the most incredible thing. He explained why the piece we were about to hear sounded the way it did by explaining the history of the composer. He also told us what melodies to listen for, and then had the orchestra briefly play examples of those melodies. In all, he probably only spoke for five minutes, but it was an incredible gift to the audience and made the piece so approachable and enjoyable. So, with rapt attention, we listened to Ives’s Variations on America. It was really great, and the orchestra played it like they meant it. Following that came Barber’s Adagio for Strings, a very soft and slow song that turns the orchestra into one big soft, slow moving cloud. As the title suggestions, it is written for strings, but the rest of the orchestra made their appearance in the finale of the evening with Copland’s Lincoln Portrait. It features several fragments from speeches Lincoln gave as president, while the heavy orchestra plays under the readings. Interesting piece, and well executed by our local symphony.
This concert just flew by; it was so enjoyable there was hardly any time to breath. I mentioned to Joe that this may have been my very favorite concert by the Las Vegas Philharmonic ever. He seemed a bit perplexed by that, these guys have given us some good concerts, but this one came together so well, and overall the orchestra performed the way a professional orchestra should. It sounded great and was exciting to watch. What a great way to spend an evening.