Composer Jennifer Higdon and Conductor Marin Alsop.

Pride Concert ’23 w/Philadelphia Orchestra

Written by:
Lewis Whittington
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The Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2nd annual Pride Concert on June 3 was a triumphal event Saturday June 3 at the Kimmel Ce on the eve of the city’s Pride March and Festival. Out conductor Marin Alsop led the Fabulous Philadelphians and promising the packed house that the concert “had something for everyone.”

Marin opened the concert with the blazing heralds of Aaron Copland ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ followed by composer Joan Tower’s ‘Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman,’ a surging orchestral with Copland-esque drama, but Tower staking her own symphonic terrain.

After those rousing fanfares Alsop welcomed the audience with the inspiring words “We’re here to celebrate …the sometimes-painful progress that we’ve made toward equality. And a reminder to remain strong and vigilant against hatred in all forms,” and indeed, what followed was a musically rich and all together joyous program of music by a range of queer composers, past and present.

Alsop then introduced the premiere of multi-award-winning composer Lauren Hartman, ‘The Marvels Suite ‘Hartman came onstage to address the audience saying in part that watching the crown enter the venue “I saw superheroes…‘I saw such pride, and many people who have lived years and years out loud. So, this is for you.” Hartman’s opening with bars of a lyrical piano and harp duet, and amassing strings, backed by heroic brass and percussion, is cinematic in its effect, and laced with a chorale of rhythmic chants ala Orff’s Carmina Burana Alsop commenting afterward “Well, I’m looking forward to seeing that series.”  

Next Alsop led the combined voices of the Anna Cruses Feminist Choir, The Philadelphia Men’s Gay Chorus, and the Philadelphia Voices of filling the entire two tiers of Verizon’s choir loft sang three numbers Carly Simon’s ‘Let the River Run’ (from the film Working Girl) then David Brunner’s “Phoenix Song” a moving elegy in memoriam of the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando Florida in June 2016.

The surprise was the orchestral and choir dynamically rocking out in their performance of Lady Gaga’s anthem ‘Born This Way’ which inspired the truly rare occurrence of everyone in the hall clapping on the beat. Yes, We got the Pride Beat down when it counts.

Jennifer Higdon, the Pulitzer Prize winning composer, introduced the Fourth Movement of her “Concerto for Orchestra” a tribute, she said, to her marching band roots. The orchestral opens up to a fantasia of percussive sinfonia, with a forest of instruments including mini gongs, a lush blocs, rain sticks, vibes, rachets, chimes, polished off with timpanist Don Luizzi’s fuselage of kettle drums and all together entrancement of Elizabeth Hainen’s most lyrical harp.

Next, Broadway star DeAnne Stewart came onstage in a dazzling Met worthy red gown/diamond-raindrop necklace ensemble sang a house down version of Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ from Moulin Rouge, The Musical. Stewart is one of the stars of the 1st national tour of the show which swings into Philly next month.

From the opera world, Paolo Szot, currently from Broadway’s Tony Nominated ‘&Juliet’ commanded a lusty full-on bass- baritone on Bizet’s Toreador aria from Carmen. Few opera singers can dial back there full force on Broadway belters, but Sotz was the soul of a caressing balladeer in his radiant performance of Rogers and Hammerstein “Some enchanted Evening.” Then he sang the ‘Liberte’ anthem ‘Stars’ from Schoenberg’s ‘ Les Miserable’ that brought the full house to its feet.

The Philadelphia Orchestra and Alsop are on thunderously familiar ground with the Russian classical canon and they chose the Final movement of Tchaikovsky’s of his Fourth Symphony as their concert closer. Is the showcase for Alsop’s quicksilver tempos and off the cliff arrests and full. Depth of sound. In the  woodwinds, the sonic strings. The cathartic crescendi.“He lived in a time when he had to hide the fact that he was a gay man. Let’s hope that we never have those times again.”

It was hard to take your eyes off of Maestro Alsop, who is very animated and in the musical moment with. The musician, with dancey pivoting on the podium,  arm reaching out expressively to the choirs, and always in the moment with the musicians.

Philadelphia Orchestra musical director Yannick Nezet-Seguin inaugurated the Pride Concert last year, as good as it was, this year musically was even more of a musical happening, especially on the eve of Philly Pride Parade, proved a queer rallying cry to sing out loud, defiant, and proud against this national season of hate.

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