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By Culturekiosque Staff

NEW YORK, 23 SEPTEMBER 2010 — Wynton Marsalis’ Symphony No. 3, titled Swing Symphony, received its U.S. debut last night as part of the gala opening of the 2010 - 2011 season of the New York Philharmonic and its 36-year-old music director, Alan Gilbert. Commissioned jointly by the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation, the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and London’s Barbican Center this composition is Mr. Marsalis’ third symphonic work. With this piece, the American jazz artist and composer's intention was no less than to trace the long and rich history of jazz.

Given its world premiere last June by the Berlin Philharmonic together with Mr. Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle, the Swing Symphony is a stylish work full of American vigour, hair-raising virtuosity and a conservative, New Orleans aesthetic charm. Blues, New Orleans parade marches, Hollywood film music, the Hot Club de France and Latin Jazz are among the styles evoked in the six-movement work. And while some may not agree with Mr. Marsalis' vision of the history of jazz, he nonetheless pays tribute to the many great American jazz artists and composers, most notably Duke Ellington, who came before him.

Particularly sexy was the acoustical effect of Mr. Marsalis and his superb 15-piece multi-ethnic jazz orchestra tucked neatly in the gut of the 85-member New York Philharmonic, who acquitted themselves honestly and with enthusiasm, although there were moments when one could hear that Mr. Marsalis' ambitious score obliged them to defend their classical pedigree in unexpected ways.

Similarly, Mr. Marsalis' score makes it patently clear that to be a member of the Jazz Orchestra of Lincoln Center requires not only the same level of virtuosity and artistic talent as their classical colleagues, but in addition, demands a consumate mastery of improvisational jazz performance practice from its early days in New Orleans to the latest global avant-garde. Never an easy task for either musical genre given the history of racial segregation in both classical music and jazz in America. Astutely, Mr. Marsalis has written a work that requires the collaboration of the finest of both worlds in order to be realized. This bodes well for Mr. Marsalis' ensemble, as well as for future musicians and composers with a love of both art forms.

Wynton Marsalis, 48, was the first jazz composer to have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music (denied to Duke Ellington in 1965) for his jazz oratorio on American slavery, Blood on the Fields. Describing the last movement of the Swing Symphony Wynton Marsalis has written: "It features slapping and a groove that we all play together, and it has a long melody and a space for everyone to play. And it brings together many different feelings. Then it goes into the church groove ’cause the centerpiece of a lot of Afro-American music is church music. And then it breaks down into something that is at the end of your life and you reflect on everything…that’s why at the end I have us go "Huuuh." It’s like that last breath that you take. Like we did this and we had a good time. That’s what we conclude in jazz, it’s an optimistic music."  

The other two works on the gala programme, Richard Strauss' Don Juan and Paul Hindemith's, Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, traditional crowd pleasers, received handsome interpretations under the confident baton of Alan Gilbert, exploiting the New York orchestra's big city sound and virtuosity. 

Broadcast live on PBS television, The New York Philharmonic Opening Night Gala continues to air across the United States on the PBS television series, Live From Lincoln Center (check local listings).  

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