“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
That’s what Leonard Bernstein said three days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and those are the words Ransom Wilson repeated at Saturday night’s Redlands Symphony Orchestra concert, one day after terrorist attacks in Paris.
Wilson, one of three candidates to succeed Jon Robertson as conductor and music director of the Redlands Symphony, conducted Saturday’s concert in the University of Redlands Memorial Chapel. He and the orchestra certainly made music intensely and beautifully in a program of music originally for ballet.
This was not the conventional symphony program of Beethoven, Brahms or Tchaikovsky.
Instead, the concert danced through music by Amilcare Ponchielli, Leonard Bernstein and Igor Stravinsky — and swept the audience off its feet with musical excitement and orchestral colors.
Wondering who Amilcare Ponchielli is? Think hippos in Disney’s “Fantasia,” dancing to Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” from his 1876 opera “La Gioconda.”
That’s the musical appetizer that opened the concert, and there’s more to it than the tune of the “Fantasia” hippo dance, which is also the tune of Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.”
In his preconcert remarks, Wilson said “Dance of the Hours” is a ballet in the midst of the opera “La Gioconda” and is the only happy moment in the opera’s dark, violent story.
But the music itself — representing the hours of dawn, day, dusk, night and morning — is not just a two-dimensional cartoon. Forget the hippos and Camp Granada, and “Dance of the Hours” stands on its own as a pleasant musical experience.
Following “Dance of the Hours,” the “meat” of the concert was Bernstein’s “Fancy Free” and Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” Suite.
The 1944 ballet “Fancy Free” tells the story of three sailors on shore leave in New York City, the same story that became “On the Town” with completely different music.
Bernstein was in his 20s when he wrote “Fancy Free,” which is mostly in the 1940s swing jazz style. Wilson said the music also has echoes of Stravinsky, Kurt Weill and others and that it is very difficult to play.
It may be difficult to play, but it was a delight to listen to Saturday night, evoking 1940s New York with many moods from boisterous to sultry and beyond.
Before the concert, Wilson told the audience that Bernstein had been one of his conducting teachers — and that this was the first time he had conducted Bernstein’s music.
First or 51st time, Wilson seemed very much at home with “Fancy Free,” and he and the orchestra made the music practically dance off the stage.
Wilson was equally at home with “The Firebird” Suite, which he said was one of his favorite pieces when he was a boy in Alabama.
“The Firebird” Suite is a compilation of music from “The Firebird” ballet of 1910, which combines the stories of two Russian fairy tales.
Wilson said it still sounds modern after all these years and that the suite ends with one of the most thrilling climaxes in all of music.
From the beginning, the Redlands Symphony made musical magic with “The Firebird,” with all its mystery, drama and range or orchestral colors.
I had forgotten how much of “The Firebird” is in my head, and I enjoyed being reminded.
And if “Fancy Free” danced off the stage, “The Firebird” spread its musical wings and soared through the building, taking the audience with it on.
After the final glorious chords, the applause — with many people standing — brought Wilson back on stage more than once.
I’d say Wilson’s program of ballet music made a fitting musical reply to violence.