It is now a popular tradition, and the Berliner Philharmoniker’s twentieth Waldbühne Concert was no exception. Once again, there was a relaxed and carefree atmosphere that marked the end of the season, the entire audience improvised repeated renderings of the Mexican wave, sparklers and cigarette lighters were waved as dusk fell over the arena, and the final encore, as always, was Paul Lincke’s Berliner Luft. Before that, Seiji Ozawa had delighted his audience with an all-Gershwin programme at which the Berliner Philharmoniker appeared as a big band and turned the Waldbühne into a vast, swinging jazz club.
Ozawa’s choice of the evening’s soloists likewise stressed Gershwin’s roots in jazz. At the piano was Marcus Roberts, one of the most versatile jazz musicians of our day with a virtuoso’s ability to switch from traditional jazz to witty improvisations and, finally, to classical music. He has worked with Ozawa on a regular basis. With the other members of his Trio, Roland Guerin on bass and Jason Marsalis on percussion, he turned the solo episodes in Rhapsody in Blue into regular jam sessions, while the Concerto in F was likewise transformed when performed in Roberts’ own arrangement of the piece, an arrangement that stressed the work’s jazz elements.
For Seiji Ozawa, American music might be described as his mother tongue, a state of affairs attributable to the fact that he has lived in the United States for more than forty years and that his mentor was Leonard Bernstein. The 2003 concert opened with Gershwin’s immortal An American in Paris, and, as the critic of the Berliner Zeitung observed, it was clear from the outset that Ozawa was already well on his way to winning over his audience with a “colourful performance style in which the piece revealed a positively Mahlerian wealth of realistic features ranging from the nervous tension of an animated cartoon to an emotionally affecting elegy, those features emerging now as wild and rousing, now as sombrely vespertine”. The evening ended with one of Roberts’ own compositions and with two Gershwin classics as encores. It was a hugely successful occasion that would undoubtedly have given pleasure to Gershwin himself, a great fan of open-air concerts.