Wednesday, October 19, 2011

American Connections: October 20 and 21, Tennessee Theater, 8:00

All this time, I thought the Copland’s Corral Nocturne was really the “Chorale” Nocturne. It certainly is chorale-like. Just a play on words, I guess, by a composer who had made a name for himself by writing “plays on notes.” His humor can be heard via the trombone in the Buckaroo Holiday, in a melody full of more-than-pregnant pauses reminiscent of “I Bought Me a Cat.”And who can discount the charm of that same trombonist portraying the drunk and plum-tuckered-out-from-dancing cowpoke that finally passes out on the floor in the Hoedown. There is a definite lineage here; Copland’s composition teacher, Rubin Goldmark, was a student of Dvorak’s during the Czech composer’s tenure in New York.

Theodore Wiprud’s Violin Concerto, Katrina, evokes the Delta blues without falling into predictable blues constructs. The second movement will feature players of very traditional orchestral instruments playing on something you haven’t heard with the KSO since Robert Bonfiglio was here back in May of 1998- the harmonica. While this work is dedicated to the memory of pre-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, naming the work after the city’s downfall is a bit like naming the Harry Potter movies after Voldemort, but ultimately the concerto’s cathartic optimism allows us to embrace even the protagonist of this awful tragedy. Our soloist, Ittai Shapira, is playing on a Guadagnini violin that has to be heard to be believed. The lineage continues with this work; one of Copland's students, Jacob Druckman, was a composition teacher of Wiprud.

With all the talk about Dvorak visiting Iowa, it’s easy to forget that the Symphony From the New World was not written there. Dvorak arrived in New York in the fall of 1892 and assumed the directorship of the National Conservatory of Music on 17th St. and Irving Place in Manhattan. This attempt to establish a federally funded music conservatory tanked after the Stock Market Crash of 1929, but in Dvorak’s day, it had sufficient funds to lure him from Europe. His tenure there fostered the composition of such works as the Sonatina for violin and piano, the American String Quartet (duh), and a work that is performed far too infrequently around here, the String Quintet in E♭ Op. 97. To hear the last work that Dvorak composed in the USA, you’ll have to come to next month’s Masterworks concert.

This final symphony by Dvorak, whose earlier works were given later opus numbers by unscrupulous publishers in Europe bent on discrediting him, was premiered at Carnegie Hall on December 16, 1893 to “instant acclaim.” A pre-Lent Czech Carnival, called Masopust, had to have been celebrated by Dvorak in York City while composing this piece. In playing through the symphony, I am trying to picture where the influence of a Czech Mardi Gras might be heard. My guess is the second theme and trio of the Scherzo. It is some of the most “old country” writing in the work- giving new meaning to the term “Czech swing.”

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