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Parade of conductors celebrates Tanglewood

LENOX -- Tanglewood on Parade is an all-day celebration of all things Tanglewoodian, and the public loves it -- nearly 13,000 people showed up for various musical events on Tuesday, culminating in a joint concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra.

This is not a concert where one expects to encounter Mahler or Bruckner or Schoenberg; lighter fare is on the menu, and this year offered an attractive assortment.

Music director James Levine chose Gershwin's ``Cuban Overture" to lead off the program. Levine did a terrific ``American in Paris" and ``Concerto in F" in Symphony Hall and brought ``Porgy and Bess" to the Metropolitan Opera, so he knows the territory. The ``Cuban Overture" is less familiar to most concertgoers, but the rumba rhythms are irresistible, and the performance combined the virtues of elan and off handed elegance.

Conductor Stefan Asbury has been a pillar of the Tanglewood Music Center for more than a decade; currently he's coordinator of the conducting program. He led the TMC Orchestra in the suite from Leonard Bernstein's score for ``On the Waterfront."

Those who were looking forward to the suite because all they remembered was the theme may have been disappointed, because the theme is all there is in the suite, although it is heard in many guises as Bernstein borrows what he needs from Stravinsky, Copland, and others. There was nothing to fault in the moody, high-octane performance though.

Keith Lockhart led the Pops in a lively, noisy performance of Duke Ellington's ``Harlem," a piece commissioned for Arturo Toscanini but not ever conducted by the legendary Italian maestro. This musical survey of Harlem life, ranging from ``Church" to ``Chic chick" to ``Civil rights demandments," deserves to be better known.

Pops conductor laureate and Hollywood legend John Williams got a tremendous welcome from the audience. He led the Boston Pops in his own haunting ``Suite From JFK" with impressive solo work by trumpeter Thomas Rolfs and horn Richard Sebring , before presiding over the united TMC Orchestra and the BSO in a mega-loud but dignified uncut performance of Tchaikovsky's ``1812" overture with culminating cannons and assisting fireworks.

Friday night's BSO concert was led by the orchestra's most gifted assistant conductor since Robert Spano, Ludovic Morlot.

He had his hands full in Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto, in which Andre Watts gave a desperate and distracted performance. In recent years, he has had some serious medical problems that may lie behind this. A few silvery phrases and his affable stage presence reminded us of why he became a star at 16, and offered hope for the future.

Morlot led lively, intelligent, virtuoso performances of Berlioz's overture ``Le Corsaire" and, at the end, Ravel's ``La Valse." There's a tendency these days to turn this piece into a juggernaut; Morlot led it meticulously but conveyed the necessary sense of heedless delirium; he let the end of civilization as the 19th century knew it take care of itself.

Morlot liked George Perle's ``Transcendental Modulations" so much when he was cover conductor for Levine last fall that he asked if he could put it on his own program. This 1993 work is a kind of allegory for life -- it depicts in musical terms the surprising yet inevitable ways we get from one place to another and end up the way we do. Not many works can stand up to ``La Valse" in terms of orchestration, but this piece does. The 90 - year-old composer, too ill to come to Symphony Hall in November, did make it to the Shed, where he was warmly applauded. After ``La Valse," the orchestra joined the audience's ovation for Morlot, which is not an experience everyone who steps up onto the BSO podium can confidently expect.

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