Review: Debut with the Grant Park Orchestra

Chicago on the Aisle has published a review of Brett Mitchell's debut with the Grant Park Orchestra:

Brett Mitchell leads the Grant Park Orchestra on Wednesday, July 19 at the Pritzker Pavilion in downtown Chicago.

Brett Mitchell leads the Grant Park Orchestra on Wednesday, July 19 at the Pritzker Pavilion in downtown Chicago.

Americana and Romanticism, as well as a thoughtful view of America’s shadowed past, were on display at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion on July 19 when Brett Mitchell led the Grant Park Orchestra in works by Kenji Bunch and Copland as well as Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concerto No. 3 with soloist Angelo Xiang Yu....

The final work on the program was the suite Copland pulled from his 1947 score for the film “The Red Pony” (based on a Steinbeck novella). While audiences might not be familiar with this piece, it was still known territory: Copland used all his beloved tricks, and it was the perfect treat for a breezy summer evening in the middle of America....

As Copland was the defining master of Americana in program music, you didn’t need to have seen the movie to conjure up clear images. We all awoke, yawning and stretching, as the opening movement, “Morning on the Ranch,” illustrated twittering birds, drops of dew, and the lengthening lines of the western landscape at sunrise. Mitchell succeeded in evoking a sense of wonder, in part thanks to the delicate lacing of harp chords and the woodwinds’ lonesome call. It was impossible not to think of rhythmic motifs and harmonic language from Copland’s ballet “Billy the Kid.”

The least predictably Copland-like movement is the third, called “Dream March and Circus Music.” The dream section is dissonant and halting, as if a puppet were dancing. Some passages are strictly tonal, but with the orchestra divided into two keys at once. Mitchell was not afraid to unleash some wild weirdness in the circus section, which features an unsettling calliope tune and an onslaught of piano chords with tambourine accents galumphing up and down to simulate creepy laughter.

“The Red Pony” Suite is not without angst – in “Grandfather’s Story,” movement five, the brass melody marching over strident string patterns tells a tale of peril – but this is Copland’s world, not to mention that of 1940s Hollywood, so you know everything will turn out fine. In fact, the last movement is called “Happy Ending,” bringing back the grand chords and angular melody from the opening. Mitchell and the Grant Park Orchestra made us believe, if only for half an hour, that Copland’s Technicolor soundscape was reality and the American Happy Ending was possible.