Friday night, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra POPS presented “New York Cityscapes,” a work in five parts composed by conductor Jeff Tyzik, accompanied by the original choreography of Jamey Leverett, artistic director, for the Rochester City Ballet. The performance will be repeated Saturday at 8 pm.
The performance was so exciting that all I can say is that it’s an experience you are going to have to go to hear -- and see -- for yourself.
In “New York Cityscapes,” Tyzik trumps Leonard Bernstein. The evening’s overall program included three dance episodes from Bernstein’s “On the Town,” providing a fresh reminder of all that’s great about the composer, from quirky rhythms to unresolved melodies to uncomfortable interval pairings. But where Bernstein’s music can grind one down into the grit of the gutter, Tyzik’s use of many of the same musical elements goes deeper into the heart and soul to portray what is persistent and enduring about city life. Tyzik finds the silver lining that eluded Bernstein.
“New York Cityscapes” breaks down into five parts, “Ragtime Redux,” “Tango,” “Traffic Jammin,” “African Dance,” and “Tarantella.” Each part was distinct, yet all captured the pulsing undercurrent of New York City. The stop-start of heavy traffic, punctuated by impatient drivers and yellow taxicabs. Pedestrians with different footfalls, ranging from harried businessmen to chatting window shoppers. Steam hissing up from grates. Just as when a person is in NYC, in “New York Cityscapes,” the listener hears all the singular rhythms that should, but somehow don’t, collide.
The brilliance of pairing Leverett’s choreography with Tyzik’s composition cannot be overstated. My fear going into the program was that the choreography might take the approach of working along the metronome meter of the compositions (I listened to them online at Tyzik’s website). Instead, Leverett took the far more complicated approach of using a troupe of dancers to express the complexities of rhythm, tone, and instrument solos so brilliantly captured by Tyzik.
Tyzik and Leverett’s approach was enhanced by the simple, elegant costumes. The unusual green color, the daring line of the bodice that appeared suspended upon the ballerinas’ chests, and the ever-fluid fabric, all of which evolved from one section to the next, enhanced all of the wildly divergent body movements of the dancers.
Credit should also be given to lighting. There was very effective use of focal lights, while the colors and hues of the rest of the stage further extended that undertone of around-the-edges-activity in a busy city.
And, I’m not telling you the whole story if I don’t emphasize the excellent execution of the musicians of the RPO POPS. At every staccato, accent, swell, and sforzando, the musicians worked hard for the kind of clear, clean, and difficult execution demanded by the pieces. As compared to my regular beat with the RPO “proper” for classical symphonies, I had to smile at how much fun the musicians were having on stage. I caught several unable to refrain from dancing in their seats, and, in particular, the brass section plus clarinet were hitting high notes and rifts with abandon. A gold star to the pure sounds of the trumpet, which soared.
The first half of the program was five familiar dance pieces plus variations on five movements from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite.” From Jacques Offenbach’s “Can Can” to Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance,” with each piece on the first half of the program, the audience contentedly murmured and applauded these favorites.
So here’s what I come down to: the entire concert was a not-to-be-missed experience. While the first half will give you familiar favorites by our outstanding RPO POPS musicians under the baton of Tyzik, it’s the second half through Tyzik’s “New York Cityscapes,” presented with the Rochester City Ballet, that gives you the future of this genre of music.
Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Rochester City Ballet will also perform this program Saturday, February 2, at 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St. Tickets cost $15-$82. For more information call 454-2100 or visit rpo.org.