Simon Rattle: The American Way
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 11/16/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In this DVD release of the fifth of the hourly programs in the 1996 British television series, 'Orchestral Music in the 20th Century,' Simon Rattle examines the contributions of American composers. Using archival film interspersed with shots of him leading the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra he explores music by George Gershwin ('Rhapsody in Blue,' with Wayne Marshall, piano); Charles Ives ('Decoration Day' from 'Holidays'); Elliott Carter ('A Celebration Of 100 x 150 Notes'); Aaron Copland ('Appalachian Spring,' featuring footage of the Martha Graham company dancing to the score); Kurt Weill ('Lonely House' from 'Street Scene,' sung beautifully by Anthony Rolfe Johnson); Leonard Bernstein ('Symphony Dances,' from 'West Side Story'); John Cage ('First Construction in Metal'); Morton Feldman ('Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety'); Terry Riley ('In C'); and John Adams ('Harmonium' with the CBSO Chorus).
The narrative is spoken by Rattle, whose well-known enthusiasm for American music is communicated almost breathlessly. The music is played expertly and we get long uninterrupted passages from the works mentioned, as well as footage of such things as street scenes in New York -- footage showing the World Trade Center twin towers comes as a bit of a shock, as well as a couple of clips of Duke Ellington's orchestra and Bessie Smith singing. This is all lovingly and expertly done.
This is a wonderful chapter in this ongoing series which is being released one at a time up to a total of seven chapters. These are 1990s analogs, in their way, of Bernstein's 'Young People's Concerts' from the 50s and 60s. One can imagine them being snapped up by libraries and schools for their educational uses.