The Americans, Part 1

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Callum’s preview of the January 25, 2014 CSO MasterWorks series concert:

I can’t wait until this coming MasterWorks concert. André Watts is performing, which is awesome, and I’m really excited. I love it when Mr. Watts performs with the orchestra. He’s an amazing pianist, and I love watching him play. As I’ve said many times before, the orchestra always sounds great, too. I know they are going to do so well, as usual, but André Watts and the Canton Symphony together are absolutely awesome.

They are playing all American pieces, and that is why the title is “The Americans Part 1: The Search for Identity.” I’m pretty sure the reason it’s called “The Search for Identity” is because when Foote and MacDowell wrote the pieces they wrote, they kind of helped American music develop its own unique sound. So, then it’s separate from other countries’ sounds. That way, you could tell American music from German music, Russian music, or British music, etc. So basically, they helped American music find its identity.

The first piece they are going to perform is Arthur Foote’s Suite for strings in E major, Op. 63. Rachel Waddell, the assistant conductor, is conducting this piece. This is the first MasterWorks concert she has conducted on, so I bet she is excited. Foote promoted the music of Wagner and Brahms, and I think it’s funny that during that time, people thought those composers were too modern. And speaking of Wagner, I think that it’s really cool that Foote actually went to the premiere of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in Bayreuth. I bet that would be really cool to see for the first time. The Ring Cycle was so large, and required such a big orchestra, Wagner actually had to have a special hall built. Any other hall couldn’t handle such a big orchestra for the Ring Cycle. If you ask me, I think that is pretty amazing. Anyway, Foote also earned the first Master of Arts degree in music awarded by an American university. He was a member of a group called the Boston Six (AKA Second New England School), along with Edward MacDowell. When I saw the name Boston Six, I thought it sounded like a band, but it was just a group of composers. They never called themselves the Boston Six or the Second New England School, people just call them that now. This piece was really popular for about 30 years after its first performance. It’s only for strings and there is a lot of pizzicato in the second movement.

The next piece they are going to perform is Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2 (Romantic). They used a part of this piece in the end of the movie Alien, which I can now say I have seen. It would be cool if Hanson saw Alien, which was made 1979, since he was still alive when it was made, and maybe he did. Hanson wasn’t asked permission for his music used in the end of the movie, so I don’t think he was happy. Speaking of movie music, John Williams was inspired by Hanson, especially when he did the music for E.T., which you can tell if you listen closely. This piece reminded me almost instantly of John Williams, so I’m not surprised that he was inspired by Hanson. In the first movement, there is also a really funny part that sounds like Woody Woodpecker’s laugh. Here’s a link to that part in the piece: Hanson’s Symphony #2, mvt. 1 ~8:30

The next piece they are going to perform is Edward MacDowell’s Piano Concerto No. 2. This is the piece that André Watts is playing. I wrote this about Mr. Watts in my blog last season: “Where we were sitting, I could see his face the whole time he played, and a lot of the time, his expressions looked like he was so involved in the music, and that it meant so much to him, that it seemed almost painful for him. I could see everything he was doing, and it just blew my mind. I’ve loved all the pianists I’ve seen play with the Canton Symphony, and they’ve all been great, but I’ve never seen anyone play the piano like Mr. Watts does, even the DVDs we have at home.”

Now a little bit about the composer. It says in the program notes that “Twice he performed before Franz Liszt, who cautioned the other students ‘Watch out if you do not want to be outdone by our young American friend!’” As I’ve mentioned before, MacDowell was a member of the Boston Six, along with Foote. In 1904, MacDowell got run over by a hansom cab (basically a horse drawn carriage). Ever since then, his health got worse and worse, until he mentally became like a child until he died. That is really sad because he could have written so much more. It was the same case with Mozart. He died at a young age, and think about what he could have written if he would have lived longer. But MacDowell did do a lot before he died.

The final piece they are going to play is Piston’s The Incredible Flutist Suite. This piece is all about a circus, and this is what it says in the program notes: “At the first rehearsal, the orchestra members became so thoroughly captivated by Piston’s charming music that, when they arrived at the Circus March episode, they spontaneously began making typical circus crowd noises. Delighted, Piston immediately incorporated this informal innovation into the score — along with the barking dog sounds made by one of the musicians at the end of the march.” This suite was premiered by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Fritz Reiner, which I think is really cool. The suite is divided into 11 sections taken out of The Incredible Flutist ballet. Unfortunately, Piston never did a dance form ever again, even though this one was a complete success. This piece is unusual for Piston, because he usually writes more serious and formal works, unlike this piece.

I can’t wait until this concert (what else is new?). It’s going to be awesome. André Watts performing makes it all the more awesome. The concert is on Saturday at 8:00, and the pre-concert lecture is at 7:00, which is going to be really well done, as usual. I hope as many people as possible can come, and I hope to see you there.

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