A periodic feature, inspired by Copland’s often-stated belief that music is an affirmation of life …
particularly relevant during these challenging weeks.
8/6: In celebration of friendship
I don’t know if you’re aware of what you mean, have meant for 30 years, to me and my music and to so many of my attitudes to life and to people … I hope you live forever.
Leonard Bernstein, in a letter to Aaron Copland
I always want you to be you, so that I can go on feeling about you the way I do.
Aaron Copland, in a letter to Leonard Bernstein
… in good times or bad, it’s always nice to have friends!
Celebrating the 2020 International Friendship Day. (Yes, such a thing really exists … for nearly a century in various countries, and officially recognized globally by the United Nations in 2011!)
(Special thanks to Alexander Bernstein, both for capturing on film this sweet, relaxed moment with his father and Copland, and for letting us share this endearing photo from 1976.)
RAYMOND SCOTT: Powerhouse, arranged for 2 pianos by LEONARD BERNSTEIN
[from around the time Bernstein and Copland first met in 1937]
Michael Boriskin and John Musto, pianists
7/4: Independence Day, 2020
AARON COPLAND: Suite from Appalachian Spring
Music from Copland House: Paul Lustig Dunkel, flute; Derek Bermel, clarinet; Peter Kolkay, bassoon; Ayano Ninomiya, Susie Park, Annaliese Place, and Harumi Rhodes, violins; Kathryn Lockwood and Leslie Tomkins, violas; Kathryn Cherbas and Joshua Roman, cellos; Robert Black, double-bass; Michael Boriskin, piano; Michael Barrett, conductor
Some have said that it might be more apt to call today Interdependence Day, since even America’s early colonists had to band together to succeed in their quest. This year, it would be oblivious to mark the Fourth of July without acknowledging the turmoil and profound distress swirling around the country … coping can indeed be a challenge when surrounded by such uncertainty. But this holiday weekend, we thought we’d offer a special treat: one of Music from Copland House’s all-too-infrequent live performances of the original 13-instrument version of the suite from the iconic Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland (seen above in the 1970s with the ballet’s choreographer Martha Graham, in one of their many curtain-calls together over the decades).
Few American works more eloquently capture the noble and optimistic notion of community and love joining together to conquer adversity. Its life-affirming joy and ardent lyricism, tempered by occasional darkness and anxiety, eloquently convey the expressive extremes accompanying a difficult and uncertain journey. For Music from Copland House, it’s almost a rite of purification for us to perform this exquisite music. We offer it now, both as a balm for troubled times and an expression of our deep appreciation for your friendship, as well as your interest in and support for our efforts to showcase and build upon America’s vibrant musical legacy (an embodiment of independence, if there ever was one!).
6/27: AFFIRMING LIFE!
John Musto: Allegro giusto, from Clarinet Sextet (2000)
Music from Copland House: Curtis Macomber and Harumi Rhodes, violins; Danielle Farina, viola; Alexis Pia Gerlach, cello; and Michael Boriskin, piano
With grim news piling up in recent weeks, coping has become even more challenging! More than ever, we need what Aaron Copland called “an affirmation of life” – an exhilarating manifestation of musical creativity, expressivity, and mastery. … so we turn to the rollicking opening movement of John Musto’s Sextet for Clarinet, Strings, and Piano. Its raucous wailing of the klezmer’s clarinet mixes with the propriety of academia in a breathless, continuously-evolving conversation — by turns, cooperative, contentious, and multi-layered. Brash energy meets stylish sophistication here, in an impressive display of individual and collective virtuosity — a group of individuals coming together to combine their resources and expertise for a common goal. (Not a bad model, too, for effective civic leadership!)
6/19: THOUGHTS & SOUNDS OF JUNETEENTH
arr. Hall Johnson: Hol’ de Light
James Martin, baritone; Michael Boriskin, pianist
Hol de Light – from our CD anthology of 125 years of African-American art songs, spirituals, and hymns – refers to freedom, liberty, and compassion. As my good friend James Martin, who sings here it so fervently, said, “It’s about carrying on with hope, and being redeemed. It’s a perfect sentiment for Juneteenth, a day of deliverance.”
Juneteenth 2020 comes at what feels like a transformative moment in the U.S. America has often been called an “experiment” – born in a bloody uprising as an idealized, if imperfect, exercise in self-governance. It remains an ongoing, inconsistent, messy experiment in national self-improvement, and its Declaration of Independence almost assumed this never-ending quest for betterment, “in order to form a more perfect union.”
That African-Americans and other peoples of color have been oppressed and victimized over the generations is a devastating, irrefutable fact – an enduring, appalling consequence of America’s “original sin,” slavery. That these communities have for so long been relegated to the periphery of concert music reflects those abominable societal norms over most of the past two centuries. But the classical music world’s curious obsession – unique among all the arts — with a past that was conceived, inspired, and dominated by Europe has also kept our field from truly reflecting and looking like today’s America.
This Juneteenth, Copland House firmly commits to more fully mirroring Copland’s own deep, lifelong conviction that “the creative artist gives substance and meaning to life as we live it … so that when it’s all gone, people will be able to go to our artworks to see what it was like to be alive in our time and place.” In taking to heart Abraham Lincoln’s simple yet emphatic charge used by Copland in his Lincoln Portrait – “we must think anew and act anew” – we pledge at this consequential moment to strengthen and continue expanding all matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout our entire organization and its policies, practices, governance, staffing, programming, and public engagement.
-Michael Boriskin, Artistic and Executive Director
(image above: U.S. Army General Order No. 3, June 19, 1865, formally announcing to the people of Texas that “all slaves are free”)
5/30: PAST AND FUTURE; MEMORIAL DAY, 2020
Aaron Copland: Long Time Ago (from Old American Songs)
William Sharp, baritone; Michael Boriskin, pianist
From another time and context, lines from the end of Tony Kushner‘s epic 1991 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels in America have special resonance this Memorial Day: “In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.” This year, the past seems very long ago, and the future even more imponderable and distant than usual. All of us at Copland House want to pause (within our months-long hiatus) to mark the true meaning of Memorial Day as a moment of remembrance and tribute. Beyond saluting America’s battlefield warriors across the generations, we honor the heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic, who, in uniform and in street clothes, have sacrificed so much to keep us safe, care for us, and help us sustain some semblance of normal lives during this surreal time.
5/21: SINGING AND DANCING; AT HOME!
NED ROREM, Fandango and Pierrot, from Bright Music (1987)
Music from Copland House: Linda Chesis, flute; Harumi Rhodes and Curtis Macomber, violins; Alexis Pia Gerlach, cello; Michael Boriskin, piano
Igor Stravinksy often said that “music … must sing and dance.” That’s frequently true in the work of 96-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, author, and diarist Ned Rorem. His buoyant Bright Music of 1987 begins with both. The opening Fandango breathlessly combines not one but two dances: a flamboyant, eponymous Spanish example, with its swooshes and flourishes, alternates with a waltz-like, Polish folk dance the composer called “a raucous Mazurka.” The second movement, entitled Pierrot (after the soulful, sad character from the 17th-century Commedia dell’Arte), brings a tender, lyrical respite — what Rorem described as “a meditation on Picasso’s early blue-period paintings.” Even during these trying, unsettled times, humankind retains two of its primal impulses — to lift a leg and raise a voice. And so, Music from Copland House invites the still-housebound (and those who may be out and around but always safely-distanced!) to enjoy these brief examples of both.
5/14: FROM HOME; AND BACK
REENA ESMAIL, Tasveer (2012)
Music from Copland House: Carol McGonnell, clarinet; Charles Yang, violin; Alexis Pia Gerlach, cello; Michael Boriskin, piano
Live and originally broadcast from WQXR’s Greene Space, NYC
“Tasveer,” wrote composer Reena Esmail, “marks a very special point for me as a composer. During 2011-12, I was living in India on a Fulbright grant, studying Hindustani classical music … Tasveer was the first piece I wrote after returning from there. It is in this piece that I began to confront the dramatic shifts that had taken place in my musical perception over that very formative year. Hindustani ornamentation is so beautiful and ephemeral, and this was one of my first attempts to capture these little wisps of sound on the page. The concept of this piece is simple: a trill is passed back and forth between instruments, expanding and condensing, pulling and pushing time, and becoming densely melodically ornamented while retaining its harmonic transparency.”
Reena wrote Tasveer (which means “portrait” or “image” in Urdu) as a Fellow at our inaugural CULTIVATE emerging composers institute 2012), after having reconnected with her musical and ancestral roots during that Fulbright year. From the work’s beguiling first notes, Tasveer transports us for a few alluring moments out of today’s perilous world to a special place of fleeting, delicate beauty. From the safety and solace of our homes, savor the journey!
5/2: Making the Crossing!
PIERRE JALBERT, Crossings (2011)
MUSIC FROM COPLAND HOUSE: Linda Chesis, flute; Derek Bermel, clarinet; Harumi Rhodes, violins; Danielle Farina, viola;
Alexis Pia Gerlach, cello, Michael Boriskin, piano
LIVE from Louisville Chamber Music Society
Pierre Jalbert has written:
I was inspired by the idea of wandering peoples, crossing into new territories and strange lands. My particular interest was that of French-speaking people first coming from France to North America … in the 17th century, and later on from Canada to the United States in the 19th and early 20th century, since that represents my own family history. Of course, one might also just as well apply this to any migratory journey full of unexpected turns, trials, and tribulations.
Pierre’s vibrant work from 2011, Crossings, is a completely unintended symbol of the surreal voyage we’re all currently taking to the “strange land” of a pandemic and its “unexpected turns, trials, and tribulations.” But, fortunately, from the safety and solace of our own homes, we can revel in the bracing, edge-of-the-seat musical ride this exhilarating piece offers. Crossings is almost entirely built upon a spare, simple French-Canadian folk song, Quand j’ai parti du Canada (“When I Left Canada”) … but you’ll have to wait until the serene middle section of the work to hear that haunting melody unadorned and in full, over a drone accompaniment. By then, just about every phrase of the tune will have been deconstructed, fragmented, re-characterized, and re-ordered in the propulsive opening music (which returns at the end). The whole work is periodically punctuated by a fanfare-like flourish over open violin and cello strings, which sets a folk-like tone. Crossings was commissioned, premiered, and recorded by Music from Copland House, and is among the most popular works in our repertory … we hope you enjoy this journey as much as we do!
4/29: Raising the Roof!
JOHN MUSTO: Finale from Sextet (2000)
MUSIC FROM COPLAND HOUSE: Derek Bermel, clarinet; Curtis Macomber and Harumi Rhodes, violins; Danielle Farina, viola;
Alexis Pia Gerlach, cello, Michael Boriskin, piano
LIVE from Louisville Chamber Music Society
The very first piece Music from Copland House played by John Musto — kicking off a 15-year association and friendship … and still counting! — was his then-still-new Clarinet Sextet. Leave it to John to build a raucous, rollicking Finale around a sly, obscure Yiddish folk song called Shoemaker’s Wives (“Shoemaker’s wives have said / They can’t make threads. / Better to take a tailor as a husband / And get into new things.”). Hear how he turned a 30-second-long ditty into a brilliant, non-stop, 5-minute sprint (and how our Founding Clarinetist Derek Bermel transforms into a klezmer-like virtuoso)! This exuberant music gives those many of us who remain housebound a safe way to raise the roof without either damaging our dwellings or disturbing neighbors or landlords!
4/22: Needing a Friend?
JOHN HARBISON: What a Friend We Have in Jesus, from Songs America Loves to Sing (2004)
MUSIC FROM COPLAND HOUSE: Linda Chesis, flute; Derek Bermel, clarinet; Curtis Macomber, violin;
Alexis Pia Gerlach, cello; Michael Boriskin, piano
LIVE from Louisville Chamber Music Society
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere? …
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
— preacher Joseph M. Scriven (1855)
from What a Friend We Have in Jesus
At the heart of Songs America Loves to Sing, Pulitzer Prize-winner JOHN HARBISON‘s affectionate, exuberant tribute to U.S. vernacular vocal traditions, is his poised, fervent gospel riff on the popular 19th-century Christian hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus. A fixture in hymn-singing from the U.S. and U.K. to India and East Asia, the song speaks to the universal longing for comfort, strength, and solace in the face of suffering and hardship. The steadily-building ardor in Harbison’s immaculate setting reflects the enduring hopefulness in the song’s lyrics, which envision a time of “glory bright, unclouded … rapture.” These frightful weeks and months may temporarily quiet the sounds of Copland House … but will not dim our passion for music, our ongoing commitment to our supporters, friends, and colleagues, and our heartfelt devotion to the communities we serve across the region and nation.
4/17: ” … Sounds and Sweet Airs that Give Delight …”
PAUL MORAVEC: “Ariel Fantasy,” from Tempest Fantasy (2001-02)
MUSIC FROM COPLAND HOUSE: Derek Bermel, clarinet; Nicholas Kitchen, violin; Joshua Roman, cello; Michael Boriskin, piano
With Music from Copland House, from WQXR Radio’s home to yours …
While we’re not suggesting to violate the current ban on non-essential travel, now might be a good time to head off to that mysterious, faraway land and its world of magic, sprites, and spells, which William Shakespeare conjured in his idiosyncratic play The Tempest. And so, for this musical diversion, we join Music from Copland House as it visited the Manhattan studios of WQXR a while ago for a Cafe Concert (something of a precursor of NPR’s popular Tiny Desk Concerts). Ensemble Founding Artists Nicholas Kitchen (violin), Derek Bermel (clarinet), and Michael Boriskin (piano), along with Guest Artist Joshua Roman (cello), kicked back and sampled the scintillating opening movement, “Ariel Fantasy,” of PAUL MORAVEC‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning Tempest Fantasy, which so vividly captures Shakespeare’s whimsy, brilliance, and eloquence. As we hunker down, we can continue to find and enjoy those havens that, as Caliban so elegantly said in Act III, are “full of noises, sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.”
MIKLOS ROZSA: Spellbound Concerto
MUSIC FROM COPLAND HOUSE: Carolina Eyck, theremin; Roni Gal-Ed, oboe; Harumi Rhodes and Curtis Macomber, violins; Danielle Farina, viola; Alexis Gerlach, cello; and Michael Boriskin, piano
Creativity amidst hardship, from another time: As America was sacrificing and struggling to bring World War II to an end in 1945, a top-tier Hollywood artistic team led by famed director Alfred Hitchcock was filming Spellbound, a psychological murder mystery that almost instantly became a noir classic. The forward-looking film inventively explored psychoanalysis, amnesia, and childhood trauma – and even included a 20-minute-long dream sequence (much of it later cut) by no less than the great Surrealist painter Salvador Dali. The movie also pioneered the first prominent commercial use of a relatively new electronic instrument called the theremin, which draws its sounds almost literally out of thin air, by the hovering and movement of two hands between a pair of metal antennas to vary pitch and volume. The dazzling, Oscar-winning score – complete with the expected love theme – by the famed Hungarian émigré MIKLOS ROZSA was written in the kind of luxuriant, hyper-romantic idiom that was typical of the era’s Hollywood films. This musical interlude for anxious times comes from another precarious era – Rozsa’s short Spellbound Concerto, where love and neuroses co-exist! Music from Copland House performs with the extraordinary German theremin virtuosa Carolina Eyck at the 2015 Caramoor International Music Festival.
3/24: Simple Gifts
AARON COPLAND: Simple Gifts [from “Old American Songs”]
William Sharp, baritone; Michael Boriskin, pianist
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.
— by Elder Joseph Brackett, 1848
[used in Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland]
Just over 75 years ago, during the darkest days of World War II, Aaron Copland and Martha Graham created an iconic ballet about friendship, love, loyalty, and renewal. Their message: the community conquers adversity and survives only by joining together. Those enduring values are essential as we cope with the current health crisis. Absent our normal public engagement, we’ll be sharing favorite souvenirs we’ve collected from our travels across America’s musical landscape. Today, we offer one of our performances of the beloved Shaker tune Copland placed at the heart of Appalachian Spring. It reminds us to try to find solace during these challenging days in simple gifts — family, home, friends, love, compassion — and to look forward to the time when we can again “come down where we ought to be [and] find ourselves in the place just right.” To all near and far, stay safe and healthy.