Annapolis Symphony to perform program of music made in U.S.A.

`America the Beautiful' to include works by Bernstein, Ellington


April 04, 2002|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The composer and music critic Virgil Thomson wasn't merely being flip when he said, "The way to write American music is simple. All you have to do is be an American and then write any kind of music you wish."

From the homespun hymns that entered the 18th century Psalter, to Appalachian folk songs, to African-American spirituals, jazz, Broadway, Tin Pan Alley and formidable symphonists such as Aaron Copland and Charles Ives, our music has been as eclectic a national statement as one could imagine.

That diversity will be on display tomorrow evening when the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and conductor Leslie Dunner take the Maryland Hall stage to present "America the Beautiful," a program of works baring our nation's sassy, expressive soul.

From Leonard Bernstein, the conductor, composer and teacher whose primal energy galvanized American musical life during the second half of the 20th century, we get three dance episodes from his music for On the Town.

Movie buffs will remember these spirited melodies as the ones Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and their cohorts sang and danced to as sailors on 24-hour leave in Manhattan.

Also imbued with the spirit of movement is The River, Duke Ellington's dance suite composed for the eminent American choreographer Alvin Ailey.

The River, which had its premiere in 1971, was as much a spiritual undertaking for the composer as a musical one. In his preface to the score, he spoke of a "wellspring of life," his feelings of "reaffirmation," and a "heavenly anticipation of rebirth."

"Spring," "Giggling Rapids" and "Riba," the three sections Maestro Dunner has programmed, contain some of the work's most evocative moments.

Dunner also has included one of American music's great sonic blockbusters, Ferde Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite, with its evocations of sunrises, sunsets, deserts, clip-clopping trail rides and (with wind machine in place) cloudbursts.

Composed for Paul Whiteman's band, the same outfit that first performed George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, the work contains special effects but is not dominated by them. It is a deftly orchestrated, vividly colored piece of Americana that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that not all post-Romantics were Europeans.

Rounding out the program will be Pablo de Sarasate's "Carmen Fantasy," a dazzling showpiece that spotlights melodies from Georges Bizet's opera, Carmen, arranged by a Spanish violinist and played by Gary Louie, perhaps America's best-known classical saxophonist.

Louie has earned a niche in the concert hall for championing the artistic possibilities of his instrument. His recitals at New York's Lincoln Center, Boston's Jordan Hall and the Opera Comique of Paris have won him acclaim, as have his engagements with the Baltimore Symphony, the Washington Chamber Symphony and Germany's Augsburg Philharmonic.

Louie received the Solo Recitalist Grant from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1993 and has recorded for the Newport Classics and Koch International labels. He serves on the faculty of the Peabody Institute in Baltimore.

The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra presents "America the Beautiful," with music by Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington, Ferde Grofe and Pablo de Sarasate tomorrow evening at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Tickets are priced at $27, $29, and $32. Reservations: 410-263-0907.

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