’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

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - Life & Arts - By Randy Har­ri­man

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.

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