Tuesday, January 10, 2012

American classical music finds its voice, old school

Strictly speaking, there's still nearly three decades left of the so-called American Century, the somewhat jingoistic phrase coined in 1941 by Henry Luce, the American Century's first multimedia mogul, to spur on the good old USA to dominate the world stage in politics, business and culture, not necessarily in that order, just the way God wanted it. But, truth be told, it looks like our century has passed in everything but the cultural realm and, while we may make it to the finish line of our designated time, we will probably be limping and hurting and gasping for breath, impressing no one, save for the cheerleaders for the power de jour and its hangers-on. So, the Boston-based collective Amercan Century Music seems a little unstuck in time, historically speaking, seeing how much, if not most, of its programming comes from before our self-proclaimed time — and far more benign, referring to the period when American classical music found its own voice, but not shouting at people with it. In fact, all three pieces in "Voices of the Early American Century," the ensemble’s second performance in Newburyport, were created and performed before Luce ever shot off his big mouth. About that, anyhow.

It’s an intriguing program that focuses on a transitional time for American classical music composers, who helped find a distinctly American voice during the last gasps of the Romantic movement, one that incorporates new forms of music, like pop and jazz, essentially where the Romantic meets the modern.  The Port  program focuses on the very beginning of that ascendancy, when American composers were just beginning to find a distinctive American voice. "Converse and Foote both knew they were finishing out a line of music," says ACM Executive  Director Scott Parkman. "They were aware of what was happening in the larger world, with jazz and pop music, and were definitely a part of that. In fact, Carpenter, in 1922, had composed "Krazy Kat," a musical pantomime based on the comic strip — a piece said to have greatly influenced Gershwin.

American Century Music came together last year to shine a light on underappreciated, underperformed composers who are lost in the musical netherworld between established classical repertoire and the modern composers like Glass, Reich, Crumb and Zappa — composers who have their own cheering sections and, says ACM founder Scott Parkman, “don’t need our help.” In its first season, the ensemble performed over 20 works by American composers like Amy Beach, Charles Griffes, Walter Piston, Donald Martino and Elliott Carter — including a performance, its fourth, at the Maudslay Arts Center, which included Foote’s Nocturne and Scherzo for Flute and String Quartet and Gershwin’s Lullaby for String Quartet. It has also inaugurated a monthly concert series at Boston Public Library, collaborating with the Lydian String Quartet and the Claremont Trio.

For the Newburyport show, ACM will team up with the Florestan Recital Project, which takes its name from the fiery alter-ego of Robert Schumann as a voice for many of his most impetuous and passionate works, and is now in its tenth season. In 2011, Florestan partnered with Maine State Ballet in an original presentation of Schumann’s “Dichterliebe,” and gave the European premiere of Libby Larsen’s “The Strange Case of Dr. H. H. Holmes,” a 2010 Florestan commission.

Parkman, who studied percussion and conducting at the University of Michigan, comes to American Classical Music from a strong background in traditional repertoire, serving as assistant conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and leading the orchestra in 150 performances of major works by Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky and Wagner, among others, from 2003 to 2008. He was also sole conducting fellow at Tanglewood.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: American Century Music and Florestan Recital Project will present “Voices of the Early American Century,” a chamber music performance focusing on American composers from the early 20th century, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, at St. Paul's Church, 166 High St., Newburyport. The program features Frederick Converse’s Sonata for Violoncello & Piano; John Alden Carpenter’s Gitanjali for Voice and Piano; and Arthur Foote’s Piano Trio No. 2 in Bb Major, op. 65. Performers include pianist Alison d'Amato, violinist Gabriela Diaz, baritone Aaron Engebreth and cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer. A pre-concert talk by ACM artistic director Scott Parkman begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 or $10 for seniors or students, and can be purchased at www.mktix.com or thorugh www.americancenturymusic.org 

1 comment:

  1. Informative post. Thanks for sharing such a nice article. Liked the post. keep it up.

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