The Shmooze

British NYPhil Conductor Apologizes for 1776

By Masha Leon

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Explaining his British accent, Bramwell Tovey, conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, welcomed the Avery Fisher Hall audience at its July 4th Summertime Classic Star-Spangled Celebration with: “I am here to apologize for 1776…bad decision by the King. Happy Birthday America!”

As he raised his baton, someone sneezed! Without missing a beat, Tovey brushed the back of his sparkling white jacket with his hand then led the orchestra and a 2,700-strong audience in a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Marine Band member, Bramwell Tovey and Major Dix // Photo by Karen Leon

Leading off with Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” (1942), the program included George Gershwin’s 1927 “Strike Up The Band.”

Mark Nuccio, NYPhil associate principal clarinetist, accompanied by the orchestra thrilled with a memorable performance of Aaron Copland’s (1947/48) “Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra with Harp and Piano.”

When the “Commandant’s Own” 80-strong United States Marine Drum & Bugle Corps [red jackets, white pants and blinding polished brass instruments] marched on stage, there was a momentary hush followed by explosive applause. Perhaps it was an optical illusion, but from where I sat, the edges of the Marines’ red jackets —irrespective of the wearer’s height — seemed to line up evenly!

Under the baton of Major Brian Dix, director and commanding officer of “The Commandant’s Own,” the Marines led off with Elmer Bernstein’s (1922-2004) theme from the Oscar-nominated film “The Magnificent Seven.” A drums only “Xylophonia” [two xylophones were wheeled on stage] adapted by Nathan Morris and Briana Dix and performed by the entire assemblage was followed by Durham Prince’s 1941 “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” which had audience members — myself included — dancing in their seats.

The Commandant’s Own play at Avery Fisher Hall // Photo by Karen Leon

“The band travels 50,000 miles each year giving concerts,” Major Dix said. He invited members of the audience who had served in various wars to stand up and be recognized. As each military branch of service theme was played, veterans stood up to explosive applause. An a capella rendition of “I’m Proud To Be An American” was accompanied by a kishke-churning drumline tattoo. After John Philips Sousa’s “Semper Fidelis” the Marine Band joined the NY Phil in a medley of Dix’s “Ellis Island” (1999). Maj. Dix explained that this work was based on his grandmother’s favorite American folk songs that she and other immigrants learned on their journey to America.”

“We really need America in the world today,” were Tovey’s parting words to the audience.

During the post-performance reception in the Green Room, I mentioned to Major Dix that my husband had served in the U.S. Navy, that a relative recently joined the Marines, that I was a columnist for The Jewish Daily Forward and that I was a Holocaust survivor. He looked down at me (he is tall!) then kissed the top of my head!


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