Under the direction of director and conductor David Bernard, the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony today presented Tales and Transformations. What’s more is today’s series o two concerts featuring the music of Sergei Prokofiev at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music. In addition, the Symphony presented a special children’s program in the early afternoon concert.
Today’s concerts feature two works by Sergei Prokofiev, Peter and the Wolf Op. 67 (1936), and the Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 100 (1944).
Maestro Bernard welcomed everyone and asked audience members to take a selfie with a musician next to whom they were sitting. Hence, I was located in front of the conductor in the midst of the string section and in front of the woodwinds, brass, and percussion, with the piano and harp to my right.
InsideOut Concert Experience
What is an InsideOut concert experience? Imagine sitting in a symphony orchestra, surrounded by scores of accomplished musicians and diverse artists working as a unit to accurately articulate and express the creative product of a renowned, genius composer. Moreover, to make this notion a reality, director, and conductor David Bernard designed an exquisite, exceptional immersive InsideOut venue. Simply put, that is where audience members sit amongst the orchestra’s musicians during a live concert. Equally important, Bernard held a specially crafted concert earlier today for families with children to sit within the orchestra and try musical instruments provided by the Lucy Moses School. Furthermore, children ages two and a half to ten participated today in what Bernard calls an Instrument Zoo. Tales and Transformations par excellence!
Performed by the Symphony at today’s two concerts was Sergei Prokofiev’s delightful Peter and the Wolf featuring WQXR evening host and luminary Terrance McKnight. In this symphonic fairy tale for children, Prokofiev introduced storytelling, the instruments of the orchestra, and abstract thinking associated with how sound can represent images and ideas. Again, this delightful, imaginative experience was pedagogically exceptional for engaging cognitive functions related to symbolic representation, conceptualization, and metaphorical thinking. Most of all, it was engaging and fun.
Engaging, Enchanting Story
The story centers around a young boy Peter who lives with his grandfather in a forest. It is undoubtedly an engaging, enchanting story with a triumphant denouement. What’s more, each character is represented by a discrete musical motif played by one or more specific musical instruments. Hence, the oboe represents a duck, the flute is the bird, the clarinet is the cat, the French horns are the wolf, the bassoon is the grandfather, and the timpani drums represent hunters. Finally, stringed instruments play Peter’s playful, carefree motif.
Providing insights into Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, Maestro Bernard eloquently described the story and the instruments representing its cast of characters. Subsequently orchestra members took turns demonstrating their particular motifs before the full symphonic performance of the work with narration that structured tales and transformations.
The ensemble added Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 for the evening concert. Meanwhile, Maestro Bernard next introduced each movement, cluing the audience to its features and provenance. Next, we discovered that the work was composed by Prokofiev as Soviet soldiers entered Germany in pursuit of retreating German armies during the closing months of World War II. Conducted by the composer, it premiered in Moscow in 1945.
Bernard described the nationalism and social realism of Russian music and the sometimes complicated relationships between artists and Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet government. The Symphony No. 5 is not a 19th-century Romantic work crafted in the manner of Tchaikovsky or Anton Rubenstein; instead, it is an exciting, superb fusion of Prokofiev’s predilection for daring harmonies, rhythmic convolution, and comprehensible and emotionally meaningful melodies.
With Symphony No. 5, today’s concert experience included a celebration of a historically significant masterpiece of musical brilliance and evocative power. The ensemble’s performance of the work was stirring and ably reflected the tempestuous times of its provenance.
The orchestra radiated the work’s dramatic, contrasting moods, flashes of penetrating power, reflective contemplation, and moments of faith and victory. We experienced somber, brooding atmospheres contrasting with soaring, lyrical, and introspective refrains. We marveled at virtuosic scherzandi of energy and wit leading to ultimate triumph and majestic determination.
Artistic Virtual Paradigm
Sitting among the orchestra members enabled one to watch and hear the musicians as they maintained their focus and intellect in pursuing artistic excellence. Conductor Maestro Bernard prudently and precisely projected each musical nuance with his facial expressions, hands, and body. Hearing the commensurate and remarkable musical interplay of the musicians, instruments, and orchestra sections (strings, brass, woodwinds, and percussion) was insightful and delightful. Notably, as the music progressed, sounds emerged from all directions, and the audience became fully immersed in a complex, ephemeral, artistic virtual paradigm.
Bravo, Maestro David Bernard and the Park Avenue Symphony Orchestra! Today’s immersive experiences were jewels in the musical world of New York. Children and adults alike were inspired, informed, and uplifted.
Running time, including a reception to meet the artists, was about 150 minutes.
Tales and Transformations
Park Avenue Chamber Symphony David Bernard, Music Director, and Conductor 875 5th Ave, New York, NY 10065 (917) 740-7227
For information on the current season, go to https://chambersymphony.com/
For news about the exciting 2023-2024 season, go to: https://bit.ly/PACS202324Events
Today’s performances occurred at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, 450 West 37th Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues.
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of The American Classical Orchestra presents a Romantic Fantasy, Venice City of Light at St. John the Divine, and The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony performs Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.