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Oct. 2022 | Gilded Age Americana

Our 80th Season opens with a dynamic concert entitled Gilded Age Americana. The centerpiece is Charles Ives’ monumental Symphony #2. This work is completely constructed from sections of popular 19th-century tunes, including

America the Beautiful, Columbia the Gem of the Ocean, Bringing in the Sheaves, Turkey in the Straw, Camptown Races ,and many more. Every time our orchestra traverses a Beethoven symphony, new gems and musical innovations are revealed. The same is true of this symphony. Each rehearsal reveals a new, previously unnoticed phrase which has been lifted from a long-forgotten song. How many of us can whistle the Pig Town Fling or remember the words to Long, Long Ago? In an effort to bridge the gap between American and European music, Ives orchestrates his purloined phrases and uses them for counterpoint in a way that would have pleased Johannes Brahms. In fact, during some of his transitional passages, he has “lifted” ideas from Brahms Symphonies, Beethoven Symphonies and even Bach Inventions. We will sing and play some of the traditional American tunes so that all of us can play Sherlock Holmes, musical sleuth, tracking down the origin of Ives’ wonderful phrases.

This symphony holds a very strange place in American musical history. Leonard Bernstein called it the most important and perhaps the greatest symphony by an American Composer. In this piece, Ives has managed to unite the popular musical traditions of the U.S. with symphonic traditions of Europe. He was also way ahead of his time. This work uses polytonality, several keys sounding at once, and polyrhythms such as 5 against 4, 3 against 4, etc. Many composers studied the printed score for ideas and inspiration. The strange part? This music was mostly written between 1897 and 1902 but no one actually heard this music until 1951, when it was premiered by Bernstein and the N.Y Philharmonic.

Suddenly the entire population understood that Ives had created the Great Patriotic American Symphony way back before World War l.

This concert will also feature cello soloist extraordinaire, Pamela Roberts, in two concert rarities: the Baroque Cello Concerto in A Major #L20 by Leonardo Leo, and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s elegant Dark Pastoral.

Leonardo Leo (1694-1744) was, in his day, a famous Neapolitan opera and symphonic composer. He was almost completely forgotten until scholars began studying Mozart’s letters. Mozart wrote that of all the music he encountered while travelling in Italy, the music of Leo was among the very best. Clearly, Mozart was a discerning judge of talent and if you listen carefully, you will detect certain phrases and sequences that Mozart may have copied from Leo. Surely there is no higher praise than having ones musical ideas stolen by none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!

Our soloist, former PLU faculty member Pamela Roberts, has brought us a new piece, the Dark Pastoral of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Well, it is almost by Vaughan Williams. Yes, it resembles The Lark Ascending and certainly inhabits his sound world, but this piece was constructed by David Matthews. Mr. Matthews took the sketches of an incomplete slow movement from a cello concerto that Vaughan Williams had abandoned and masterfully created this “new” work for solo cello.

Our Gilded Age Americana concert begins with War Times, based on melodies and rhythms that composer Edward MacDowell heard and collected while visiting Native American villages in the 1880’s. Please join us at the Marvin William Center at 7:30 on Saturday evening. Our Youth Jazz Ensemble under Mr. Derick Polk will entertain you during a reception at intermission.


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