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Saturday, December 1, 2012

American Salute*

I played a concert with the Southeast Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra this past weekend.  The programming was notable, not because it was all American Music, but because it was not the usual bill of fare for such programs.  We opened with Barber's arguably most famous piece, the Adagio for Strings.

Next was a piece written for Benny Goodman, the Concerto for clarinet, piano and strings of Aaron Copland.  Beth Villsmaier, our principal clarinetist, gave a wonderful performance.  My own history of the piece includes listening to it first as a student at U-M, where then-graduate student Richard Shillea performed it for the annual concerto competition.

Later, when I started collecting music (thanks Columbia Record Club!), one of the first purchases I made was a recording of Benny Goodman (for whom the concerto was written) playing the Copland, and pieces by Bartok (Contrasts), Bernstein (Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs) and Gould (Derivations).

The second half opened with Symphony #3 (The Camp Meeting) of Charles Ives. Hard to listen to, harder to perform, but I thought it went well.

We closed with what this writer thinks should be Samuel Barber's most famous piece, his Knoxville: Summer of 1915. The text is taken from the prologue to a larger work by James Agee, A Death in the Family. It ambles, and reflects on a almost-forgotten, peaceable time in our past where life didn't rush and harrass and jostle.  I refer to the piece as 14 1/2 minutes of chamber music, because it never gets too loud or fast or boisterous, but depends on all its parts to produce one of America's crowning achievements in classical music--for that matter, in any music.Our soloist sang and told the story well, and did two of Aaron Copland's Old American Songs--"Long Time Ago" and "The Dodger" as encores.

Sorry I didn't get to this sooner.  It might have been even longer but I was going over recent stats in my blog and realized I hadn't finished this post.

*--Morton Gould, 1942, for performance on the Cresta Blanca Carnival radio show--speaking of times gone by.  The piece is 70 years old this year.

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