American musicians, required to be versatile in the complete range of Western art music of the past 300 years, are also expected to specialize in the contrasting contemporaneities of 20th-Century music produced in their own country.
Some of them do it better than others. James DePreist and Leon Bates, for instance, the veteran American musicians who appeared on a George Gershwin program in Hollywood Bowl over the weekend, produced admirable performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Yet neither their reading of the Concerto in F nor their run-through of the "Rhapsody in Blue" lit any new fires.
Throughout this program, which also offered the "Catfish Row" Suite and "An American in Paris"--and was heard by 14,247 on Friday and 17,753 on Saturday--conductor DePreist led the Philharmonic with a relaxed air but pointed rhythms, qualities reflected in the orchestra's careful, clean playing.
Bonuses came in some really striking solos from within the orchestra. After clarinetist Michele Zukovsky's sterling contribution, at the very beginning of the Rhapsody, for instance, the audience on Friday burst into applause. That may not have been appropriate, but it was deserved.
Pianist Bates, soloist in both the big works, has mastered the Gershwin style, if not the idiom: he played these jazz-derived scores effortlessly and sensibly but with very little individuality and even less spontaneity. His playing seemed not square, but merely uninvolved. Sixty-five and more years after the fact, it is still possible to re-create the newness of Gershwin's original inspirations; in most summers, we hear other pianists do it.