"this concert isn't as much 'about' Gershwin as it is 'around' him..."
--Francis Thorne, ACO President
Sunday, JANUARY 10, 1999 at 3pm
Dennis Russell Davies, conductor
VERNON DUKE: Piano Concerto in C Major [orch. Scott Dunn] (World Premiere)
Pre-Concert recital/discussion with musicologist Carol Oja at 1:45.
Tickets are $45, $32 & $15. Call CarnegieCharge: 212-247-7800
The American Composers Orchestra begins its Millennium celebration with the first of its "20th Century Snapshots" series at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, January 10, 1999 at 3 pm. Conductor Dennis Russell Davies leads an unusual program four important American pianists in four works for piano and orchestra. The concert, entitled The Gershwin Circle, focuses on the international impact of George Gershwin and his music and features Leon Bates, Scott Dunn, Alan Feinberg, and Ursula Oppens, in music by Oscar Levant, Vernon Duke, Maurice Ravel, and, of course, Gershwin.
ACO's founder and President, Francis Thorne, who as both composer and former house pianist at the famed Hickory House on 52nd Street, is particularly aware of Gershwin's legacy, remarks, "With the recent Gershwin centennial there has been so much attention paid to Gershwin's music, putting it under a microscope. But this concert isn't as much 'about' Gershwin as it is 'around' hima look at his colleagues and spheres of influence, nationally and internationally."
The world premiere of Vernon Duke's Concerto in C Major for Piano and Orchestra opens the program. Written for Artur Rubinstein by then Vladimir Dukelsky (It was Gershwin who suggested that Dukelsky change his name to Vernon Duke, when, soon after writing the concerto, he emigrated to the United States), a two-piano version of the piece was all the composer penned before turning his attention to Tin Pan Alley. The piece languished until pianist Scott Dunn rediscovered and orchestrated it for this ACO premiere. Mr. Dunn is a strong advocate of new American music, having worked with a wide range of composers including Ned Rorem, Richard Rodney Bennett, Irwin Bazelon, Roger Reynolds, Leonard Rosenman, James Sellars, and Elliott Carter.
The concerto extravaganza continues with a performance of Oscar Levant's rarely performed Concerto written in 1936. Levant, a composer/pianist who studied with Arnold Schoenberg, was a popular raconteur and the witty and irascible friend of Gershwin. Levant performed many of Gershwin's concert works, and made several early recordings of them. After Gershwin's untimely death, it was Levant who picked up on many of Gershwin's "gigs." Despite the shadow of the two towering figures of Gershwin and Schoenberg, Levant displays his own musical imagination in this intriguing work. Alan Feinberg, a pianist who has specialized in eclectic American works, particularly those straddling the worlds of concert music and jazz, is soloist. Among Mr. Feinberg's achievements is a landmark series of recordings entitled Discovering America, exploring the music of American maverick composers. Recently, Mr. Feinberg gave the world premiere of Charles Ives "Emerson" Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra.
The works on the second half of the program, Gershwin's Second Rhapsody and Ravel's Concerto for Left Hand, were both written in 1931 and reveal the mutual respect and inspiration shared by the two composers. Together they demonstrate the cross-pollination of popular and serious music. Gershwin's work, originally written as a film score for the now-forgotten Delicious, resurfaced in an expanded version when the composer discovered only a short extract survived the final cut. Gershwin specialist Leon Bates takes on the solo role performed by the composer at its premiere in Boston with Serge Koussevitsky on January 29, 1932. The Second Rhapsody, in contrast to the better-known Rhapsody in Blue, reveals a more musically mature Gershwin, interested in exploring the piano as orchestral collaborator. Its failure to catch on hurt him deeply as he felt that, "In many respects, such as orchestration and form, it is the best thing I've written." In the past twenty years, Leon Bates has emerged as one of America's leading pianists, having performed with such orchestras as Philadelphia and Cleveland, the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and San Francisco Symphony among others. In a recent performance with the Vienna Symphony, Mr. Bates was praised as "brilliant, powerful, a virtuoso. He has Gershwin in his little fingers, in his spirit, and in his intellect."
Ravel's Concerto for Left Hand with the esteemed Ursula Oppens as soloist closes the program. Written when Ravel was already ill, the Concerto displays the influence of American jazz of the time epitomized by Gershwin. Ravel wrote it for Paul Wittgenstein, a pianist whose loss of his right hand in the First World War occasioned works by Prokofiev and Britten as well. Written about the same time as his G Major Concerto, this is the work of a great master at his creative peak. Ursula Oppens has won wide acclaim for her passionate championing of contemporary music and powerful grasp of the composer's musical intentions. Her album American Piano Music of Our Time was nominated for a Grammy Award. Among the varied composers whose works she has commissioned and premiered are Elliott Carter, John Harbison, Julius Hemphill, Bun-Ching Lam, Tania León, Witold Lutoslawki, Gyorgi Ligeti, Joan Tower, and Charles Wuorinen.
For tickets call CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800. A pre-concert recital/discussion at 1:45 pm on the Carnegie Hall stage features noted musicologist Carol Oja, who recently organized a Gershwin Conference for the Institute for Studies in American Music. The recital/discussion begins at 1:45 pm and is free to ticket holders.
The American Composers Orchestra is the world's only orchestra dedicated exclusively to performing symphonic works by American composers. Through its concert series at Carnegie Hall, recordings, radio broadcasts, educational programs, new music reading sessions, and commissions, ACO identifies today's brightest emerging composers, champions this country's prominent established composers as well as those lesser-known, and increases regional and national awareness of the infinite varietiesstylistic, geographic, and ethnicof American orchestral music. The Orchestra has programmed 400 works by 343 American composers, including 108 world premieres and 87 commissions, generating more new American Symphonic works than any other orchestra. Recordings by ACO are available on ARGO, CRI, ECM, Point, MusicMasters, Tzadik, and New World Records.
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. This concert is 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.