notes for this concert
Slonimsky: Maverick Conductor
Conducting Career never To Be
January 21, 2001
3pm, Carnegie Hall
WEISS: American Life
IVES: Three Places in New England
RUGGLES: Men and Mountains
ROLDÁN: Suite de "La Rebambaramba"
$46, $33 & $16. Call CarnegieCharge:
is preceded by a discussion, moderated by noted music historian Carol
Oja, free to ticket-holders, at 1:45pm.
American Composers Orchestra presents
a tribute to Nicolas Slonimsky's historic concerts that introduced
Europe to the American musical revolution; Dennis Russell Davies
conducts music by Adolph Weiss, Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, Henry
Cowell and Amadeo Roldán.
trying to determine the essential ideas of American music, I was
especially struck by the fact that Nicolas Slonimsky conducted
concerts of American music in Europe in 1931 and 1932. Nicolas was so
central to the promotion of American music that I knew I wanted to
-Dennis Russell Davies
American Composers Orchestra continues its multi-year "20th-Century
Snapshots" Millennium celebration at Carnegie Hall on Sunday,
January 21, 2001 at 3pm with "Berlin 1931", a concert that
pays tribute to the landmark concert series that the prodigiously
talented and adventurous musicologist and conductor Nicolas Slonimsky
presented in Berlin and throughout Europe in 1931 and 1932.
American music has never had an easy time in the world of Western
Classical tradition. The tensions between the great European music
and the inborn American tendencies toward adventurous individualism
put immense pressures on a fledgling, indigenous art form. The early
American-born composers of the 19th century took very tentative steps
to straddle this line between the European tradition and a new
"American" music. But it was not until the 20th century
that American composers found a voice that would eventually prove to
hold its own in the European theater.
Slonimsky was one of the first to recognize the vitality and validity
of this new generation of American composers and pioneered their
debut in Europe in a series of concerts that began in Paris and ended
concerts in Berlin left lasting memories among those who heard them.
For years afterwards I met people who recalled in detail the scenes
that took place on those memorable occasions. My Berlin agency,
impressed by the praise lavished on me in the press, made plans for
me toconduct all over Germany&ldots; Alas, the agency, largely Jewish
in its membership, was swept away by the fateful wave of Hitlerism a
few months later.
worked very closely with composer and fellow trailblazer Henry Cowell
to create the Pan American Association of Composers
(PAAC), which served to bring the new music of the Western hemisphere
to the world. Realizing the importance of making their mark in the
birthplace of the Western musical tradition-and seizing on the
favorable dollar value at the time-Slonimsky and Cowell approached
their mentor Charles Ives to ask for financial assistance to hire
European orchestras for a series of concerts. Ives agreed to do so, secretly.
1931" is a tribute to the programs that Slonimsky brought first
to Paris and later to Berlin. The concert begins with Adolph Weiss's American
Life. A close colleague of Slonimsky and Cowell (and secretary
of the PAAC), Adolph Weiss is remembered largely for being the first
American student of Arnold Schoenberg, and the first to propagate
Schoenberg's 12-tone serial technique in America. American Life is
one of the great examples of Weiss' orchestral work, with its atonal,
jazzy, dodecaphonic description of life in the early part of the century.
considered Charles Ives to be the reigning genius of the American
music scene. He describes his first acquaintance with Ives's Three
Places in New England as an epiphany:
looked at the score, I experienced a strange but unmistakable feeling
that I was looking at a work of genius. I cannot tell precisely why
this music produced such an impression on me. The score possessed
elements that seemed mutually incompatible and even incongruous: a
freely flowing melody derived from American folk-songs, set in
harmonies that were dense and highly dissonant, but soon resolving
into clearances of serene, cerulean beauty in triadic formations that
created a spiritual catharsis.
Ruggles' tone poem Men and Mountains, Ruggles' name itself
seems to suggest the rugged individualism that characterized the man
and his music. The title of this severe and beautiful tonal and
atonal poem comes from William Blake: "Great things happen when
men and mountains meet." A contemporary of Charles Ives,
Ruggles' music was championed by Henry Cowell, who described Ruggles
as "irascible, lovable, honest, sturdy, original, slow-thinking,
deeply emotional, self-assured, and intelligent."
Charles Ives, Henry Cowell was one of the greatest innovators of
American music in the early part of the 20th century. Whether through
his groundbreaking compositional ideas or through his efforts to get
new music played and heard, Henry Cowell was without doubt one of the
most influential musicians of the 20th century. His Synchrony
for full orchestra-which was conceived in collaboration with Martha
Graham-was featured at the Berlin concerts.
Roldán's La Rebambaramba completes the program. Slonimsky
and Cowell's artistic ties with Cuba were very tight, and the Parisian-born
Cuban composer Roldán was considered one of Cuba's guiding
lights. Described at the time by a critic for the French Excelsior:
Rebambaramba [is] a multicolored musicorama by the fiery Cuban
mulatto composer Amadeo Roldán, depicting an Afro-Cuban fiesta
in a gorgeous display of Caribbean melorhythms, with the
participation of a multifarious fauna of native percussion effects,
including a polydental glissando on the jawbone of an ass.
concerts were a great opening effort for the new wave of American
music: an effort that would be eclipsed by the Nazi rise to power,
but one that sowed the seeds for the eventual flowering of modern
American music in Europe. Slonimsky said of the Berlin concerts:
my brief career as a conductor did I enjoy such marvelous
cooperation. The virtuosity of the individual players of the Berlin
Philharmonic was beyond praise&ldots;I could not have imagined that
within a year, some of these great players would be forced to wear
degrading swastikas and stand up to hail Hitler.
Major support of the American Composers Orchestra
is from Alliance Capital Management L.P., Americans for the Arts, Mr.
Thomas Buckner, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, Robert
Sterling Clark Foundation, Booth Ferris Foundation, Citigroup
Foundation, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Eleanor Naylor Dana
Charitable Trust, Jean and Louis Dreyfus Foundation, Fidelity
Foundation, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Greenwall Foundation,
Christian Humann Foundation, Meet The Composer, Andrew W. Mellon
Foundation, J.P. Morgan & Co., New York Foundation for the Arts,
New York Times Co. Foundation, 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. The residency of composer P.Q. Phan
is made possible through Music Alive, a program of the American
Symphony Orchestra League and Meet The Composer. This national
program is designed to provide orchestras with resources and tools to
support their presentation of new music to the public and build
support for new music within their institutions. Funding for Music
Alive is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the John S. and
James L. Knight Foundation, and The Aaron Copland Fund for Music.
ACO's "Coming to America: Immigrant Sounds/Immigrant Voices"
project is supported by the Animating Democracy Initiative, a
program of Americans for the Arts funded by the Ford Foundation.