There are many legends of jazz, but not many living legends. One exception is Wynton Marsalis. Put him together with 15 of today’s finest jazz soloists and you have the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO). If you go even one better and add the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to that combination, then you have a musical experience that brought the audience in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House to their feet.
This was the Australian premiere of The Jungle (Symphony No 4) composed by Marsalis to capture the essence of the sounds, sights and cosmopolitan nature of modern day New York. The Jungle is in six movements which portray the brassiness of New York as well as the city’s frenetic nature and the plight of its many ethnic communities and its homeless and disposed citizens.
The Jungle symphony is an enthralling piece of music that gives these musicians an excellent opportunity to showcase their talents. The music was performed under the able and energetic baton of the Sydney Symphony’s David Robertson, who is said to be “a champion of contemporary composers”. He certainly demonstrated that.
Despite being the Managing and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Wynton Marsalis doesn’t claim the limelight from his fellow musicians. He is simply one member of the JLCO line-up. Watching the performance and his seeming reluctance to stand out, I came to the conclusion that apart from being a very accomplished musician, he is a very humble man. This is in contrast to his talents and his work in using music to promote goodwill and raise money for various worthy causes. As well as being the recipient of nine Grammy awards, he was appointed a Messenger of Peace by the United Nations and received an award from former President Barack Obama.
The first section of the concert featured the Sydney Symphony’s performance of Edgard Varese’s work Ameriques. Varese who came to New York as a migrant was influenced by Dadaism and Futurism, contemporary philosophies of the early 20th century. Just like the Jungle symphony, Varese tried to capture the sounds and essence of New York.
When introducing this work, David Robertson said that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, for it was a very strong cuppa. The music, which features sirens and other surprising sounds, is both confronting and intriguing. it is reminiscent of John Cage and Frank Zappa, both of whom were apparently inspired by it. David Robertson told the story of its first performance at Carnegie Hall, when a woman came to the front of the stage, banged her handbag down and yelled, “Stop, stop, stop, I confess”.
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is embarking on a series of concerts around the country. It performed with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra on Friday and Saturday night. There will be one more performance with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House on Monday night.
Food Wine Travel were guests of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
All photos by Tim Skinner, published with the permission of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.