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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

America’s 20th Century in Music at MSO

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When commissioned by the eminent conductor Walter Damrosch for a new orchestral work for his New York Philharmonic, little did composer George Gershwin (1898-1937) know that he would produce one of the most endearing and durable American symphonic works. Gershwin’s work, An American in Paris (1928), is a true tone-poem, inspired by extra-musical considerations reflecting his firsthand impressions of the sights, sounds and moods of Paris. “My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris,” Gershwin explained, “as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere.” The work clearly does so, including the famous “homesickness blues” trumpet solo in the work’s soft center.

Eight years later, another American composer, Aaron Copland (1900-90), sought to musically depict the atmosphere of a different place. In this case, it was Mexico and Copland’s impressions of a “colorful dancehall in Mexico City.” As he explained, “It wasn’t so much the music or the dances that attracted me as the spirit of the place.” The result of this immersion was Copland’s first popular success, El Salón México, a gaudy musical souvenir consisting of varied Mexican dance motifs that build to an exuberant finale.

Massachusetts native John Adams (b. 1947) is best known for his operas Nixon in China (1987) and The Death of Klinghoffer (1991), but his particular brand of minimalism extends further. In 2005 he completed his fifth opera, Doctor Atomic, which centers on the tribulations of J. Robert Oppenheimer and other individuals associated with the first atomic bomb test at Alamogordo, N.M., in 1945. From this work Adams culled several symphonic episodes, creating his Doctor Atomic Symphony in 2007. As Adams describes it: “The symphony is cast in a sustained 25-minute single-movement arch, not unlike the Sibelius Seventh Symphony, a work that has had an immense effect on my compositional thinking.”

Newest of all these works, however, is the Clarinet Concerto of pianist and composer Marc Neikrug (b. 1946), completed just last year for Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra clarinetist Todd Levy. Neikrug, artistic director of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, states that he has “always been particularly attracted to the clarinet. It is one of the few instruments with the range, versatility, depth of expression and power to be a commanding solo voice.”

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Giancarlo Guerrero performs the aforementioned works at Uihlein Hall on March 13. Adams’ Doctor Atomic Symphony receives its MSO premiere and Neikrug’s Clarinet Concerto its world premiere at this concert.

The Bel Canto Chorus presents the U.S. premiere of Missa Lorca by Italian choral composer and singer Corrado Margutti (b. 1974), a work based upon the Latin Mass and poetry of Spanish writer Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936). Other works on the concert include Psalm 42: Sicut Cervus by Palestrina, Psalm 3: Jehova Quam Multi Sunt Coeli by Purcell, Missa Brevis by Britten and others.

This concert takes place at Milwaukee’s St. Joseph Center Chapel on March 14.