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My lovely wife Nina and I spent the evening in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, where the New York Philharmonic Orchestra kicked off their summer concert series with a program of Tchaikovsky and Dvořák.

Prospect Park, a verdant jewel set upon Brooklyn’s bosom by the incomparable Frederick Law Olmstead, is alive with music all summer long. We have the weekly Celebrate Brooklyn series, which takes place at the 9th Street Bandshell, 300 yards from my front door, and which this year has already offered appearances by Maceo Parker, Laurie Anderson, Savion Glover, Toshi Reagon, and Prince, with much more to come. Then there is the area known as Drummer’s Grove on the east side of the park, where, during the warmer months, musicians from the borough’s enormous Carribean and West African community gather to play. And once a summer the Philharmonic sets up an enormous stage among the baseball fields at the south end of the Long Meadow, and people gather by the thousands to share a picnic dinner under the stars – you can see at least twenty in the New York summer sky – and to hear one of the world’s finest orchestras.

Tonight’s program (with associate conductor Xian Xiang swinging the lumber) consisted of three pieces. First there was Tchaikovsky’s Festival Coronation March – an “occasional” piece, commisioned for the coronation of Czar Alexander III, and a bit of a toss-off – brief, blaring and brassy. (Apparently Tchaikovsky, for his efforts, received from the new Czar a ring worth 1500 rubles, which he pawned at once for 375 rubles, and then, the same day, managed to lose both the money and the pawn ticket.)

Next we heard another, much more serious work by the same composer: the Violin Concerto in D Major, op. 35. This is an extraordinarily demanding composition; in fact the violinist to whom Tchaikovsky initially planned to entrust the premiere, Leopold Auer, declared it unplayable, and refused to attempt it (he later relented, and went on not only to perform it, but also to teach it to his students, who included Jascha Heifetz and Mischa Elman, among others). The virtuoso who finally did unveil the piece, Adolf Brodsky, required two years to master it. Tonight’s rendition was by the breathtakingly talented young player Jennifer Koh, who, even if she didn’t make it look easy, certainly was more than equal to this daunting challenge.

After the intermission we heard a gorgeous rendition of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G Major, op. 88, a lilting and lovely work, drenched in the wistful moods and graceful rhythms of Dvořák’s Czech homeland.

Finally, for the children in the audience – both those accompanying the adults and those still living inside us – we were treated, after the Dvořák was over, to a dazzling display of fireworks.

What a splendid evening! New York at its very best.

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