It's sound, brand-new and fantastical, on Now Is the Time, Saturday, August 2nd at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Mason Bates intersects electronica pop rhythm with indigenous percussion in Stereo Is King, while Prism by Charles Peck combines a percussion quartet with an electronic touch-pad instrument of his own invention, at Philadelphia's University of the Arts.
Violin mashes into a surprisingly romantic Fantasy for Violin and Electronics by James Aikman, Barton McLean unleashes the hounds in Demons of the Night, and up in Woodstock, David van Tieghem wrote, recorded, and produced the quirky Waiting for the Gizmo—No. 1. Ambient Pastels of Larry Kucharz waft through the rest of the program.
On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday August 2nd, 5-6 pm... The gentleman from Philadelphia was heir to a textile business but his passion was music. An amateur violinist and violist, he founded a club for young people to play music at a time—1909—when there was no instrumental music instruction in the Philadelphia schools. He obtained a building, hired a conductor, and brought the students in to play orchestral literature, as much as he could buy. He called it the Symphony Club.
Edwin A. Fleisher (1877-1959) quickly realized, however, that he would need to go to the source of orchestral music. Music publishers did not have the international reach, through agents and distributors, that they would later have. So Fleisher traveled to Europe, purchased music, signed agreements, and shipped scores and parts back to the United States.
He was building what would become the largest library of orchestral performance material in the world. It was the library of the Symphony Club, and is now called the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music. It is housed in the Free Library of Philadelphia.
The Symphony Club held readings/rehearsals every week, for younger and older students, for strings only and for full orchestra. They learned chamber music and theory, and even had a choir. Occasionally they’d give public concerts. Boys and girls, blacks and whites, rich and poor all took part, with Edwin Fleisher footing the bill, paying for salaries, music, and later, the hand-copying of instrumental parts where none existed.
The library grew to include American and Latin American music, but in the beginning the music was European through and through, the spine of orchestral literature, music popular at that time and music that had been popular in previous decades.
Because of Fleisher’s access to European publishers, the Symphony Club often premiered works in Philadelphia that would later become staples of orchestral programs. That’s the case for the two Czech composers on Discoveries today. Josef Suk’s Serenade for string orchestra and Vitezslav Novák’s Slovak Suite, which show up on programs all over the world, had their very first Philadelphia hearings on Symphony Club concerts.
Suk and Novák, born within a year of each other, were colleagues and friends, and in the vanguard of the new generation of composers reaching beyond folk influences to a more international sound. They could not escape—nor did they really wish to—the teaching and influence of Dvořak. Suk, in fact, had married the master’s daughter. But the future of Czech music continued bright and world-renowned in large part to their own legacies.
So it was, that when Edwin A. Fleisher toured Europe in the early years of the 20th century, prodding publishers for the latest in orchestral music, he returned with works by Josef Suk and Vitezslav Novák (as well as by Dvořak). Philadelphia first heard these works because of the Symphony Club, because of its library, and because of the gentleman from Philadelphia who founded them both.
The old saying goes, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Angele Dubeau is living proof. An acclaimed violinist and leader of the ensemble La Pieta, Dubeau's story is both hopeful and enlightening.
New music hears old tunes on Now Is the Time, Saturday, July 26th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. George Crumb has a way—like no one else—of investing the simplest gesture with mystery and grandeur. He fills his seventh American Song Book, Voices from the Heartland, with these touches of wonder assembled in these hymns, spirituals, folk songs, and American Indian chants. Soprano Ann Crumb and baritone Patrick Mason are accompanied by Orchestra 2001, conducted by James Freeman.
Beginning the show, there's just time enough to hear a movement from David Amram's Violin Concerto. His Celtic Rondo breathes the air of long ago from another place, or maybe he hears the spirits of ancestors from any place. Charles Castleman is the soloist.
Islands and dances and flutes seem to float on Now Is the Time, Saturday, July 19th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Haiku of Basho inspired Edie Hill's This Floating World for solo flute; Elena Ruehr's The Law of Floating Objects is for one flutist multiplied many times. An excerpt from A Floating Island is Matthew Greenbaum's chamber opera on an episode from Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, where some are so lost in thought they don't see what's right in front of them.
The Habanera makes us think of Cuba and islands (okay, it's a stretch), and we find one in 5 Pages from John's Book of Alleged Dances by John Adams. Robert Ackerman improvises Havana Special, clarinet and bass, and there's just enough time for an Ackerman encore, Scena.
Maestro Lorin Maazel passed away last Sunday at the age of 84. This legendary man of music devoted over 75 years to his craft. To him, music was a bridge-builder - a way to bring peace to the world and its people.
In America, small-town New England holds our attention. Whoever we are, it’s our town. The paper’s delivered, there’s gossip at the kitchen table, children are born, children go to school, a choir sings, there’s marriage, there’s death. It’s just life—or perhaps life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the perfect description of this American scene, for American it is, and Our Town, the Thornton Wilder play, captures it perfectly.
Our Town hit Broadway in 1938 and was an immediate success. Wilder won a second Pulitzer for it (his 1927 novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey was his first), and Universal Pictures made it into a film two years later. They signed the red-hot classical composer Aaron Copland to write the score. His biggest triumphs were yet to come—Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, A Lincoln Portrait—but Billy the Kid and El Salón México had already put him on the map. We often don’t think of Copland as a film composer, but with The Red Pony to go along with Our Town and others, he’s one of the best.
Copland fills the poignancy and the matter-of-factness of Wilder’s play. Life-affirming yet without triumphing, the music sings lightly but is warmed by coals that glow from deep emotions. Aaron Copland, born and raised in Brooklyn and trained in Paris, could nevertheless deliver a western prairie, eastern mountains, or a New England town. He has defined “American composer” in the popular imagination better than anyone else.
Though Charles Ives celebrated his native New England over and over in his music, much of it never found the light of day, let alone the ears of a concert-going public, until decades after its creation. The very title of today’s work is a conundrum. Is it Holidays, Holiday Symphony, Holidays Symphony, Four New England Holidays, or A Symphony: New England Holidays? His disinterest in a composer’s career often left the details to others.
From the squared phrases of marching bands to flying shrieks of disharmony, from church hymns to layered and crashing sonic sculptures, the music of Ives is like a boy at a parade. He knew the sound of two bands playing on intersecting streets just as vividly as he had felt the giddiness of holding an ice cream cone on a summer afternoon or the elation of fireworks at night. All we have to be is that boy, and we’ll get Ives in a flash.
The holidays in this work are in chronological order: Washington’s Birthday, Decoration (now Memorial) Day, The Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving. The last one he composed first, starting in 1887, as organ music for a Thanksgiving service. He revised and completed it by 1904. Washington’s Birthday he began in 1909, finishing it in 1913, the same year he finished The Fourth of July. Decoration Day is from 1912 (unpublished until 1989).
To picture New England at the very time Ives was composing the Holidays Symphony, picture Our Town. It takes place in fictional Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire between 1901 and 1913. Maybe Wilder’s play and Copland’s music are the grown-up, considered look at the small American town, with no illusions but with all love. Ives’s Symphony is the boy’s look, wide-eyed. With that love and with those eyes, wherever we’re from, this is our town.
Celebrate the solstice on Now Is the Time, Saturday, June 21st at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Into Light is Marilyn Shrude's orchestral paean to youth and possibility, and Lewis Spratlan outlines an entire day of activity—both fun and contemplative—ending with a starry night, in A Summer's Day. Looking at the evening sky reflected in Italy's Lake Como, Laura Elise Schwendinger asks C’è la Luna Questa Sera? ("is there a moon tonight?").
As Monet painted the same scene in different light (including his Rouen Cathedral series from 1892-1893), Jennifer Higdon used materials from her blue cathedral in different ways in Light Refracted for clarinet, string trio, and piano. One of Brian Dykstra's piano rags is the deliciously floating Sweet Daydreams, and in light moving, David Lang provides an encore for Hilary Hahn.
Miniatures are big on Now Is the Time, Saturday, June 14th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. The Pastiche of John Biggs is a riot of tunes you already know, skillfully arranged, while Miniatures are original offerings from Louis Anthony deLise's brand-new CD for flute and piano. A concertino is a small concerto, but Harold Schiffman's, for oboe, is the biggest work on the program and a lyrical treat.
Born in 1987, and now in his 20s, he's been called, "...the finest pianist of his generation," by the UK Telegraph, who also commented that, ..."[he] shows that he's set to be one of this century's big names." He's Igor Levit. And his latest CD of the last five piano sonatas of Ludwig von Beethoven has been creating quite a stir.