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Philharmonic draws 6,000 to Bethel

Bramwell Tovey

By Steve Israel

BETHEL — It's amazing that sleepy Sullivan County could rock the repertoire of one of the world's great orchestras.

But ever since the New York Philharmonic first blasted "Purple Haze" at the inaugural show of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts two summers ago — at the site of the 1969 Woodstock festival — the Hendrix tune has become a staple of its summer gigs.

The Philharmonic treated tens of thousands to it last week in Central Park. They did it again Saturday night at Bethel Woods for a cheering crowd of about 6,000.

The raucous, percussive, slicing strings version was just one of many highlights of this sweet summer evening that opened with Shostakovich's "Festive Overture" and ended with the triumphant "Stars and Stripes Forever." It was a night when the crowd seemed to revel in the lush lawns, trickling streams and bluestone walls of Bethel Woods as much as the majestic, moving music of the Philharmonic.

One notable audience member even seemed to say Sullivan is blessed to have such a place. "This is simply fantastic," said Cardinal Edward Egan, a friend of Bethel Woods founder Alan Gerry and his wife, Sandra, as he walked into the copper-roofed pavilion.

Or, as Catskill veteran Marion Kumer said as she strolled the stone pathways, "The best thing that ever happened to the mountains."

Saturday night's program was as sturdy as those mountains, as soothing as the soft breezes and, with Bramwell Tovey again conducting and wisecracking, light enough for a few Catskill laughs. The Philharmonic played with the hushed precision of a string quartet during portions of Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet." It summoned up the thunderous power of one of the blasting cannons of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture." And guest pianist Joyce Yang — just 22 — sounded as delicate as a dew drop and as bold as thunder on Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2."

As an American flag unfurled on the wood paneled stage during the finale of "Stars and Stripes Forever," the crowd clapped in rhythm — as much for the Philharmonic as for its good fortune.