The Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps (LGBAC) Symphonic Band, guided by Artistic Director Kelly Watkins and Associate Conductor Nolan N. Dresden, offered a sensational, varied spring concert, at Symphony Space on April 11, billed as “New York State of Mind,” and the evening, hosted by Marriage Equality USA Executive Director Brian Silva, included three notable contemporary works, and exciting guest appearances by LGBT Icon Edie Windsor, recipient of LGBAC’s Profile in Leadership Award, and by Broadway’s Randy Graff.
LGBAC and Watkins welcomed us in style with the world premiere of Clint Borzoni’s now gentle, now stirring “Symphonic Fanfare for Equality,” an LGBAC 35th anniversary commission, that, firmly in the tradition of pieces of Americana, conveyed at once open countryside and towering cityscape. “The Golden Age of Broadway,” a grandly evocative Rodgers and Hammerstein medley, arranged by John Moss and consisting of “Bali Ha’i,” “Oklahoma!,” “Getting to Know You,” the “Carousel Waltz,” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” followed.
With Watkins classically sculpting LGBAC’s sound, we met the first-ever winner of the band’s High School Musician Concerto Competition, 16-year-old Vladimir Gessen, playing the haunting, florid solo part in Carl Maria von Weber’s Concertino for Clarinet, Opus 26, fluidly and fluently, as arranged by M.L. Lake, and receiving a $1,000 scholarship from LGBAC.
Next came New York native Alex Shapiro’s “Paper Cut,” her intriguing work introduced by Silva as “electric acoustic music,” which began with electronic sounds and soon found band members tapping percussively on small handheld objects and on sheets of colored paper, which they tore and crumpled, eventually playing their instruments, tearing more paper, and returning to their instruments.
Dresden closed the first half of the concert by leading the musicians in a ringing and rousing “76 Trombones,” from Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man,” in Leroy Anderson and Jay Bocook’s arrangement. Later, in memory of those that LGBAC and others have lost, Dresden presided over dignified and contemplative opus “Rest,” by contemporary composer Frank Ticheli.
Watkins opened the second half of the concert with an ebullient overture to “Candide,” by Leonard Bernstein, transcribed by Claire Grundman, quoting “Oh, Happy We” and “Glitter and Be Gay,” and culminating in that famous Rossini crescendo.
Graff, who won the Tony® Award for playing Oolie and Donna in Cy Coleman and David Zippel’s “City of Angels,” sang a brassily effacing “You Can Always Count on Me,” her song from that musical, as adapted by Craig Devereaux and accompanied by LGBAC,. Graff famously created the role of Fantine, in Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer’s “Les Misérables,” on Broadway and, assisted here by pianist Christian Smythe, sang “I Dreamed a Dream,” which she says she now treats as a “power ballad,” but which nevertheless still comes off as the torch song to end all late-20th century torch songs.
Late in the concert, Silva introduced “Matriarch of the LGBTQ Movement” Windsor, whose history victory in United States v. Windsor defanged the heinous so-called Defense of Marriage Act and led to the recognition, under the U.S. Constitution, of same-sex couples’ legal right to marry. Noting that her late spouse Thea Spyer had also been a musician, Windsor declared, of LGBAC’s members, “They are all part of my expanding community!” She acknowledged, as well, the role of lesbians early in the AIDS crisis, immeasurably strengthening the bond between lesbians and gay men. During intermission, in a drive spearheaded by trumpeter and longtime LGBAC member Joe Avena to have the audience match a pledged donation of $5,000, LGBAC succeeded in raising more than twice that amount, bringing the total raised that night to more than $15,000!
We were still choked up from Windsor’s presentation when Watkins, donning a red beret, given to her by the clarinetists, concluded the performance with a jubilant “An American in Paris,” by George Gershwin, transcribed and arranged by Jerry Brubaker, and appended, as an encore, Kander and Ebb’s “New York, New York.”
LGBAC returns to Symphony Space, at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, on December 12 at 8 p.m. Visit www.lgbac.org