Little did I know, as I sat in Verizon Hall back on March 7th waiting for the concert to begin, that it would be the last Philadelphia Orchestra concert of the season performed before an audience.
WRTI's re-broadcast of that concert is on Sunday, August 30th at 1 PM on WRTI 90.1 FM, and Monday, August 31st at 7 PM on WRTI HD-2.
It features highlights of George Gershwin's great American opera, Porgy and Bess, and works by Gabriela Lena Frank and Jessie Montgomery.
That night, the novel coronavirus had not yet prompted the closings of restaurants, shops, and concert venues. And I was all set to bring you the March 15th LIVE concert broadcast of Beethoven's 5th and 6th Symphonies, along with a world premiere, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin the following week. But it was not to be.
The orchestra performed that concert to an empty concert hall on Thursday, March 12th; the music was recorded and played on WRTI 90.1 that Friday, March 13th and Sunday, March 15th, and on our HD-2 channel on Monday, March 16th.
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly changed our lives. But Philadelphia Orchestra concerts are still on WRTI, with regular broadcasts on Sundays and Mondays, and additional archival concerts on Thursdays and Fridays.
As for what turned out to be the last concert before an audience in Verizon Hall —what a concert it was! An all-American event, eclectic and electric, conducted by Marin Alsop, and ending in a stunning performance of extensive highlights from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. This was Angel Blue’s Philadelphia Orchestra debut, and in the role she sang this season at the Met, in their new production of Gershwin’s opera.
Ms. Blue was joined on the Verizon Hall stage by a trio of stars: baritone Lester Lynch, tenor Chauncey Packer, and bass-baritone Kevin Short. The Morgan State University Choir sang from the choir loft.
American conductor Marin Alsop assembled this all-American program, the first half of which featured two first-time Philadelphia Orchestra performances: Gabriela Lena Frank’s Escaramuza, and Jessie Mongomery’s Coincident Dances.
Frank’s Escaramuza is filled with pulsating rhythms and Latin American melodic structures. She has long been drawn to the traditions, legends, and mythology of Andean culture. Frank's father is of Lithuanian/Jewish heritage, but her mother is of Peruvian-Chinese descent, and this work is inspired by the kachampa music of Andean Peru.
Jessie Montgomery has achieved a multi-faceted career as composer, violinist, educator, and advocate. As a violinist, she collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma on his Silk Road Ensemble project. Ms. Montgomery grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and her work Coincident Dances captures the frenetic energy and multicultural aural palette that you’d hear even on a short walk through that neighborhood. As Montgomery describes it herself, it’s a fusion of several sound-worlds: English consort, samba, mbira dance music from Zimbabwe, swing, and techno. It’s how she puts them all together that’s fascinating.
This is the first time the Philadelphia Orchestra played anything by Jessie Montgomery.
During intermission, WRTI’s Susan Lewis meets backstage with both Marin Alsop and soprano Angel Blue.
This turned out to be the last, new Philadelphia Orchestra Concert broadcast of the season, and it was a lot of fun. Don’t miss it, on Sunday, April 26th from 1 to 3 PM on WRTI 90.1, and Monday, April 27th at 7 PM on our HD-2 channel. Both broadcasts are streamed worldwide at wrti.org.
Frank: Escaramuza (First Philadelphia Orchestra performance)
Traditional/arr. Williams: "Done Made My Vow to the Lord"
Montgomery: Coincident Dances (First Philadelphia Orchestra performance)
Gershwin: Highlights from Porgy and Bess
- Scene 1: Catfish Row, a summer evening
- Scene 2: Serena’s Room, the following night
- Act II Scene 1: Catfish Row, a month later
- Scene 2: Kittwah Island, evening, the same day
- Scene 3: Catfish Row, before dawn, a week later
- Act III Scene 1: Catfish Row, the next night
- Scene 2: Catfish Row, the next afternoon
- Scene 3: Catfish Row, a week later
Angel Blue, soprano
Lester Lynch, baritone
Chauncey Packer, tenor
Kevin Short, bass-baritone
The Morgan State University Choir
Eric Conway Director
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Marin Alsop, conductor
Gregg Whiteside is producer and host of The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts on WRTI 90.1 FM in Philadelphia and streaming online at WRTI.org, every Sunday from 1 to 3 pm, and re-broadcast Monday nights at 7 pm on WRTI HD-2.