American Beats Program at a Glance
Sunday, February 25, 2024
This program is as much spectacle as concert. The sheer complication of arranging the panoply of percussion instruments required by Corigliano’s Conjurer requires hours of planning, and skillful execution by stage workers. And that’s only the beginning!
Canadian conductor Marco Parisotto, appearing for the first time with the PSO, brings a program he calls “American Beats”. Tiawanese percussionist Pei-Ching Wu also makes her PSO today.
The program highlights a few of the many threads included in the tapestry of American music. One wraps around the enormously influential Parisian teacher Nadia Boulanger, who worked extensively with both Copland and Bernstein (and with Maine native Walter Piston, who taught Bernstein at Harvard). She also famously refused to teach Gershwin, whom she felt to be such an original voice that she feared diluting his natural gifts with too much instruction. Only Corigliano was not directly influenced by Boulanger.
Gershwin and Bernstein freely meld jazz and other popular styles in their high art music. At the same time, Bernstein took inspiration from the still difficult German composer Arnold Schönberg, and Gershwin looked to Maurice Ravel for harmonic and coloristic cues. Copland, American born and Paris trained, championed a spare, angular style that was novel when it appeared, and spawned many imitators. His sound became so iconic that it was used a generation ago in the famous “Where’s the Beef” TV commercials.
Corigliano (b. 1938), the only living composer on this list, has come to symbolize the modern American composer, who no longer tries to sound “American” in the sense of wide-open spaces and lonely cities, but embraces the traditions of the many parts of the world whose cultures enrich the United States.
– Martin Webster