The Copland-Sessions Concerts: A History
Copland & Sessions: A
Modernizing Ballet Mécanique
Sunday, April 2, 2000 at 3pm
Saturday, April 1, 2000,
10am - 5pm, Weill Recital Hall
A symposium and chamber music concert featuring "Music from the
Aaron Copland & Roger Sessions Legacy Honored by American Composers Orchestra in Weekend at Carnegie Hall, April 1 & 2; Antheil's Ballet Mécanique Recreated
The American Composers Orchestra continues its extended Millennium celebration at Carnegie Hall with "Copland-Sessions" on April 1 and 2--a weekend devoted to Aaron Copland and Roger Sessions, and the landmark concerts they jointly produced from 1928 to 1931. Through those historic "Copland-Sessions" concerts, these two musical giants introduced new works by many of the brightest young American composers of the early part of the 20th century. ACO's celebration at Carnegie Hall begins Saturday, with a symposium and chamber music concert exploring the history and significance of the "Copland-Sessions" concerts. On Sunday afternoon, ACO takes the stage, under the baton of Music Director Dennis Russell Davies, performing Copland's Short Symphony, Sessions's Symphony No. 3, and the notorious Ballet Mécanique by their colleague George Antheil. The concert opens with a newly commissioned work, Fanfare Ritmico, by Jennifer Higdon.
"The Copland-Sessions concerts really represented the first-ever effort by American composers to organize themselves and present their music," says Dennis Russell Davies. "This was at a time when Copland and Sessions were young men and American composers and their music were largely ignored. What Copland and Sessions achieved was remarkable, not only because of the great new music they championed, but because efforts became a model for much of the musical activity that would take place later in the century," Davies adds. Among the composers whose music was performed in those concerts were George Antheil, Virgil Thomson, Paul Bowles, Henry Cowell, Ruth Crawford, Walter Piston, Carlos Chavez, and Roy Harris.
The Saturday symposium, Copland-Sessions: American Music Coming of Age, opens with a morning session entitled Remembering the Copland-Sessions Concerts. Featured speakers include musicologist Carol Oja, Copland biographer Vivian Perlis, composers Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and Arthur Berger, music critic Anthony Tommasini, pianist Michael Boriskin and ACO resident conductor Paul Lustig Dunkel. At 2:30 pm, Boriskin and Dunkel lead "Music from The Copland House," the ensemble-in-residence at Copland's Westchester home, in a concert of works premiered in the original "Copland-Sessions" concerts. The symposium is presented by Carnegie Hall in association with ACO at Weill Recital Hall. For information about the symposium call Carnegie Hall's education department call 212-903-9670 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
ACO's concert on Sunday afternoon at 3 pm on the main stage of Carnegie Hall takes up where the Saturday symposium leaves off, exploring the orchestral music of Copland and Sessions from later periods in their careers, as well as music by their cohort George Antheil, and then brings the tradition of the Copland-Session concerts into the present with the premiere by Jennifer Higdon.
Copland's Short Symphony was composed from 1931-33 and premiered in November of 1934 by Carlos Chavez in Mexico. A notoriously difficult work to perform, the Short Symphony is not often heard despite the stature and popularity of its composer. Its complex and asymmetrical rhythms proved an unmet challenge to orchestras as accomplished as the Philadelphia under Stokowski and Boston under Koussevitzky, both of whom canceled scheduled performances due to inadequate rehearsal time. Even today, with major advances in orchestral technique and versatility, the work is more often heard in its chamber version, the ever-challenging Sextet for Clarinet, Piano and String Quartet. (The Symphony was notably absent from The New York Philharmonic's recent Copland survey.) Although considered experimental by some, and certainly ahead of its time, Copland himself regarded it merely as an expansion of his style rhythmically, harmonically and texturally.
Copland's codirector, Roger Sessions, is represented by his Symphony No. 3, written in 1957, a full 25 years after the Copland-Sessions series. Considered by many to be a masterwork of the twentieth century repertoire, the work was commissioned in celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra by the Koussevitzky Foundation and premiered by that orchestra with Charles Munch conducting. It is one of Sessions' first works in the 12-tone idiom. However, the composer saw the work as a continuation of a series which began with his Second String Quartet (1951), larger in conception and scale than the First Symphony and not as contrasting as the Second. He added, "I do not consider it of any value to try to describe what is sometimes called the 'emotional content' of a musical work &ldots;What the composer actually conveys in the music cannot be elucidated; this can be really appreciated only through listening to it."
Antheil began work on Ballet Mécanique at age 23. Fascinated with the movies, surrealism, and the impact of a mechanistic philosophy on the future of mankind, he experimented with adding bells, sirens, and all manner of percussion and other unusual sounds to the music. Originally, Antheil conceived the work for multiple pianolas (player pianos) but their paper-roll technology proved incapable of keeping the instruments synchronized, and he was forced to make the first of several revisions, employing live pianists. It was this version that had its premiere in Paris in 1926 with six pianists and at Carnegie Hall in 1927 with a whopping dozen pianists (including Antheil's close friend Aaron Copland). The scandal and now-infamous riots that surrounded the New York premiere cemented Antheil's reputation as "The Bad Boy of Music." But Antheil regretted what he called the "three-ring circus" spectacle of New York premiere, and regretted the undertaking for the rest of his life. Though he revised the score twice more, Antheil died never hearing his original conception of Ballet Mécanique.
ACO's performance on April 2 will recreate the original 1924 version with multiple player pianos that Antheil was never able to realize. Working with Antheil's publisher G. Schirmer, Inc. and composer Paul Lehrman, ACO will perform the work with eight Yamaha Disklaviers. These modern-day player pianos use computer-controlled MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) technology to solve the problems of synchronization.
Jennifer Higdon brings the program smartly into the 21st century with her work commissioned jointly by the Women's Philharmonic, as part of its The Fanfares Project, the Lubbock Symphony and ACO. A faculty member of The Curtis Institute of Music, she often has been called a Renaissance woman of music for her accomplishments as a composer, flutist and conductor. She has written works for fellow flutists Carol Wincenc and Jeffrey Khaner, piano saxophone quartet, chorus and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center as well as the symphony orchestra. Ms. Higdon's future projects include new works for the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Knoxville Symphony, Curtis, the Verdehr Trio and pianist Gary Graffman.
Tickets for Sunday's "Copland-Sessions" concert are $46, $33, and $16 and are available through CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800 or by visiting Carnegie Hall's website at www.carnegiehall.org. The concert begins at 3 pm and is preceded by a 1:45 pm discussion with composers and commentators that is free to ticket holders.
Major support of the American Composers Orchestra is from Alliance Capital Management L.P., Mr. Thomas Buckner, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, Booth Ferris Foundation, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Geraldine C. and Emory M. Ford Foundation, Mr. Francis Goelet, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, J.P. Morgan & Co., the Virgil Thomson Foundation, and the Helen F. Whitaker Fund. ACO programs are also made possible with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.