The summer concerts given by the Berliner Philharmoniker in the city’s open-air Waldbühne amphitheatre are relaxed and sociable occasions that enjoy cult status. Before each concert the audience traditionally performs the sort of Mexican wave more familiar from sports stadiums. Kent Nagano made his debut in this very special arena in June 2000 and conducted a concert under the title Rhythm and Dance, providing an impressive demonstration of just how different rhythms and dance music can sound in different parts of the world.
We start with a trip to Broadway for He Got Rhythm, a tribute to George Gershwin by the French composer Jean Pascal Beintus. It is difficult for listeners to stop their feet from tapping in time with the music’s jazz rhythms. And even Ravel’s valedictory homage to the Viennese waltz, La Valse, encouraged the audience to dance along with it and revel in its triple-time metre. Next came Eitetsu Hayashi, who gave the audience a lesson in the traditional Japanese art of drumming. The dedicatee of Hi-Ten-Yu – literally “Fly-Heaven- Play” – by the Japanese composer Isao Matsushita, Eitetsu Hayashi proved a virtuoso exponent of the solo writing in this concerto for drums and orchestra. Also from the Far East, but this time from China, came the suite from the film score to Farewell My Concubine, a bitter-sweet love story that helped its director, Chen Kaige, to achieve his breakthrough in the West.
The Second Suite from Ravel’s ballet Daphnis et Chloé provided dance music of the noblest kind before the programme returned to its starting point with a selection of immortal hits by George Gershwin. Susan Graham, who in the view of Gramophone magazine is “America’s favourite mezzo”, brought charm and a meltingly beautiful voice to the final numbers on the programme. After her delightfully relaxed performance of “Summertime”, Kent Nagano, too, leant back, laid aside his baton and left the orchestra to play on its own in the traditional final encore, Paul Lincke’s Berliner Luft.