MUSIC / Beware of cheap imitations: EDWARD SECKERSON

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The Independent Culture
Only in America. The wacky early evening prequel to the second orchestral event in Motorola's Festival of American Music was theatre long before it was music. Counterfeit classics, dietary fibre, and the whereabouts of Elvis Presley were the inspirations here. In response to Claude Baker's piece, Divertissement - a kind of stream of consciousness through the ether of musical history - suffice to say: Will the real Mr Baker please stand up. Mr Aaron Jay Kernis, on the other hand, should let sleeping jokes lie. His piece, The Four Seasons of Futuristic Cuisine - a kind of Facade for foodies - played off texts from the Futuristic Cookbook of F T Marinetti against a tiresome musical backdrop enlivened only by its additives (for flavour, stir in essence of Beethoven 9, a sprinkling of Parsifal, a dash of 'O sole mio'). Leonard Slatkin raised a smile or two with his deadpan delivery of the recipes, but the end result was about as sustaining as a hunger strike.

And then there was Dead Elvis. Well, is he? Rather like the joke in Aaron Jay Kernis's piece, some folk just won't let him lie down. Michael Daugherty - who, Maestro Slatkin informed us, entered his Elvis phase after brushes with Superman and Lucille Ball - seems to suggest that he once played the bassoon. Enter the Philharmonia's Meryck Alexander in full Elvis regalia for a stomping good set on that old rockers' favourite - the Dies Irae. And what is it about 'O sole mio'? Here it was again. As I say, only in America.

Only in America would Philip Glass have become the new Messiah. Well, maybe that's unfair - the Royal Festival Hall was encouragingly full for the evening concert, and I've a nasty feeling that the UK premiere of his Violin Concerto was more than a little responsible. Thank heaven for Gidon Kremer. The mystery remains as to why he should want to expend so much energy and heart on so empty a vessel. But few could fill the spaces between the notes (or is it the notes between the spaces?) as he does. He'd almost have you believing that there was life beyond the next modulation, that the secret of the universe really did lie dormant in those eternal arpeggios. Me, I'm still counting sheep hopping over barlines. Hold the Valium.

The rest of the evening was rich in compensation. Elliott Carter's Holiday Overture was an unexpected blast from his footloose and fancy-free past - a cheer- leading, Coplandesque kind of piece, shot through with the strenuous syncopations and boney harmonies of things to come. And Slatkin excited the Philharmonia into a roaring account of Gershwin's An American in Paris, thoroughly star-spangled in every curve of the Blues (sexily grainy trumpet from Mark David) and curl of the saxophones.

But the real show-stealer was still the old pioneer himself - Charles Ives. Listening to the Second Symphony is a bit like watching him emerge from his chrysalis. Having started out for all the world like a yankee reincarnation of Brahms, the symphony then offers a priceless moment when 'Columbia, Gem of the Ocean' peeps over the horizon in the horns. Only an Ives could make a feature of his inexperience - awkward transitions and wishful orchestrations are defiantly flung down - and still touch something deep inside. Those are heavenly moments in the finale when Dvorak and Stephen Foster link hands. Old and new worlds reconciled. And Slatkin really brought on the marching bands to celebrate. That final chord was more than ever the musical equivalent of the Monty Python boot. Only in America.

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