Review: Bernstein Brings Alan Gilbert Back to the Philharmonic

Mr. Roukens, who at 35 is around the same age Bernstein was when he composed the “Serenade,” both nods to Bernstein and stays true to his own voice in “Boundless.” As Bernstein did, Mr. Roukens has explored cross-currents between popular and classical styles. Stretches of his 15-minute, three-movement score come alive with jazzy energy. And he draws short motifs from two of Bernstein’s “Anniversaries” for piano, written in tribute to friends.

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The violinist Joshua Bell appeared with Mr. Gilbert and the Philharmonic. Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times

“Manically,” the first movement, whisks along, propelled by pulsing rhythmic riffs. Hints of skittish themes pop up, then fade out. The orchestration is glittering and brassy, without being blaring. During the slow movement, “Glacially,” strings provide a tremulous harmonic backdrop as chorale-like music subtly emerges, though the chords keep sliding up and down. Tinkling percussion suggests that the third movement, “Propulsively,” is going to be playful. Not so. It soon turns frenzied, though the overall mood is ebullient.

Though Bernstein’s “Serenade” was inspired by his reading of Plato’s Symposium, a dialogue in praise of love, he cautioned listeners not to read too much loftiness into the allusion. This winning performance emphasized the modesty, in the best sense, of the piece, which emerged as a lucidly structured score with intricate fugato episodes and inventive developments of melodic ideas. The music struck me here as beholden to the harmonically crunchy style of Neo-Classical Stravinsky.

Mr. Bell brought glowing sound and a beautifully reflective quality to the monologue-like violin writing of the first movement, and fleet, articulate grace to the racing Presto. The fifth and final movement came across as a mercurial rondo that shifts from stretches of harmonically raw vehemence to subdued yet swinging passages that Mr. Bell, backed by Mr. Gilbert and the orchestra, played with an eerily spectral quality.

Bernstein was just 24 when he completed the “Jeremiah” Symphony. In the first movement, “Prophecy,” Mr. Gilbert drew out all the cinematic colorings and weighty fervor of the music, which builds to bold, brassy climaxes, without ever letting it seem overblown.

In “Profanation,” the second movement, Mr. Gilbert teased out touches of sputtering Hebraic chant in music that on the surface seems buoyant and jazzy. The mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor’s mellow sound and restrained mournfulness were ideal for the anguished last movement, Bernstein’s setting of passages from the Book of Lamentations.

During the ovation, Mr. Gilbert held up the score to the symphony: Bernstein, he was making clear, was the real star.

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