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Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010

War and Remembrance

Wisconsin Philharmonic’s tribute to veterans

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“Our Nov. 7 concert, a musical tribute in the spirit of Veterans Day,” says Alexander Platt, “is the fulfillment of a long-held dream of mine: to pay homage, in words and music, to the service and sacrifices of our service men and women past and present.” And thus, Maestro Platt will lead the former Waukesha Symphony (recently rechristened the Wisconsin Philharmonic) in a concert called “American Romantics,” squarely centered on the music of the World War II era—classical and popular.

Apart from an “Armed Forces Salute” and “Salute to the Big Bands,” the composers featured are two American icons: Aaron Copland (1900-90) and Samuel Barber (1910-81).

Barber composed his Commando March in E-Flat Major in February 1943—the first musical undertaking of his service years. It was broadcast and heard around the world under the auspices of the Office of War Information later that year. The three-section march, which includes an introduction and a coda, is more than your simple Sousa-esque rouser.

Barber’s Night Flight, Op. 19a, originated as the second movement of his Symphony No. 2 (1943), was, again, written with Barber’s Army Air Corps service front and center in his life. In thin but telling orchestration, he uncannily captures the pitch-black sky and anxious atmosphere of night flying during wartime.

By far Barber’s most famous and lasting work is the Adagio for Strings (1938), which, like Night Flight, originated as something else (in this case, the central movement of a string quartet). The theme itself is quite simple, but unfolds in a series of increasingly intense terraces, ultimately to a soaring climax, then slowly fading back into silence.

Quiet City
, scored for English horn, trumpet and strings (1940), was composed as incidental music to Irwin Shaw’s play of the same name. It remains one of Aaron Copland’s most successful works: a tribute to the inhabitants of a thriving metropolis that never sleeps. This concert’s featured soloists are Christian Anderson, trumpet, and Suzanne Geoffrey, English horn.

Copland’s Letter from Home (1944), commissioned by bandleader Paul Whiteman for radio performance, is a short, lyrical essay, a portrayal of the nostalgia and melancholy one might feel upon receiving a letter from a loved one far away.

Copland’s Preamble for a Solemn Occasion (1949), commissioned by NBC to mark the first anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, solemnly reflects on the recently ended world war but concludes with an optimistic glance toward the future. In this performance, Henry Fogel provides the narration—derived directly from the U.N. Declaration.

The world of dance was always inspirational for Copland, as his 1942 score for the Agnes de Mille ballet Rodeo certainly exemplifies. Copland here displays his way with great delicacy (Corral Nocturne) and exuberance (Hoe-Down), both of which are on the Philharmonic’s program.

This concert takes place in Shattuck Auditorium on the campus of Carroll University on Nov. 7.