’Tis a gift to have Copland
Austin Chamber Ensemble salutes one of America’s favorite composers for his 106th birthday Austin Chamber Ensemble celebrates Aaron Copland’s 106th birthday
In the Old Testament story, at one point in his career the prophet Elijah looks for Yahweh in a mighty wind, earthquake and fire, but he isn’t there. Instead, the Lord shows up as a still, small voice.
The secular moral from this sacred story? Bigger is not necessarily better: The small can hold great value.
There’s a lot of musical activity of a relatively seismic size going on in Austin over the next few weeks — some major choral works, a couple of symphony concerts, a grand opera — and they are undoubtedly worthy performances. But there are also some “small voices,” one of which is a Nov. 12 concert by the Austin Chamber Ensemble.
And there is great value to be found: a celebration of the birthday of one of this country’s greatest gifts to classical music, Aaron Copland.
As Martha MacDonald, artistic director and clarinetist of the group puts it, “Well, everyone else is doing a 100th birthday celebration (for Dmitri Shostakovich), so why not a 106th (for Copland) — that’s something to celebrate!”
Copland was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Nov. 14, 1900, and grew up to become one of the best-known of American composers.
It was this New York Jew, born of immigrant parents, who gave American classical music its distinctive voice. Who doesn’t recognize the Old West in “Rodeo” and “Billy the Kid”? Whose red, white and blue feelings aren’t stirred by “Fanfare for the Common Man” and “A Lincoln Portrait”? Who doesn’t hear echoes of Copland in countless film and television soundtracks?
But the composer used that voice in subtler ways as well, and it is more that side of the composer that is in evidence in the program being presented by MacDonald’s ensemble.
All-Copland, naturally, the concert contains his 1937 Sextet for clarinet, string quartet and piano, a rearrangement of his 1932-33 “Short Symphony” (Symphony No. 2), which at the time of its composition was considered too difficult to play; the Sonata for Violin and Piano, dating from 1944 and dedicated to a close friend who had been killed in action; and “Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson,” a song cycle for voice and piano composed in 1949-50 and representing a brief period during which Copland’s output consisted almost entirely of vocal music.
“In the past — about nine years ago — we had
When: 3 p.m. today Where: First Unitarian Universalist Church, 4700 Grover Ave.
Information: done the sextet, and we wanted to do it again because it’s such a great piece,” explains MacDonald, in discussing the program. “Also Bill (Terwilliger, violinist) and Andrew (Cooperstock, pianist) have recorded all the Copland works for violin and piano. They really like playing Copland and do a really good job.
“Claire (Vangelisti, soprano) has not performed the Dickinson songs and wanted to do those,” she continues, “so I just thought this was a good time to put everything together as a birthday celebration.”
Cooperstock is the chair of the piano department at the University of Colorado, and Terwilliger is a professor of violin at the University of South Carolina. They and MacDonald have been playing together as the “Trio Contraste” since the early 1990s, taking their name from the first piece they played together, Bartók’s “Contrasts.”
Although the Austin Chamber Ensemble was formed in 1981 as a wind ensemble, the trio is now its nucleus, and that nucleus is enhanced as necessary for each particular concert. For this program, they will be joined by Vangelisti, violist Martha Carapetyan, cellist Leanne Zacharias and violinist Elise Winters.
“I think it makes it more interesting to not have the same kind of instrumentation all the time,” says MacDonald, “and it gives us a much larger repertoire to choose from.”
Today’s concert is the season opener for the ensemble. On Feb. 11, they’ll present a program featuring Mozart’s “Serenade for Winds,” K. 361 (which involves adding a basset horn to the group), and Dvorák’s “Serenade for Winds, Cello and Bass.” On May 5 and 6 the group will play Brahms, Robert Muczynski, Marko Tajcevic and Gwyneth Walker.
“The season represents a really good mix of instrumentalists, vocalists, repertoire and composers,” says MacDonald. “I think there’s something for everyone.”
Born in November 1900, Aaron Copland captured a uniquely American sound with compositions such as ‘Appalachian Spring,’ ‘Rodeo,’ ‘Billy the Kid’ and ‘Fanfare for the Common Man.’ He died in 1990.