Leonard Bernstein

Aaron Copland

Laurence Taylor

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This article by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on September 29, 1999. All rights reserved.

Beauty and Melody in 20th Century Music

In this moment of millennial everything, imagine the

plight of the modern music director. We all know that the curtain

comes down irrevocably on the 20th century this concert season, yet

music written after 1900 still provokes shudders from many subscribers.

Mark Laycock, opening his 14th season as music director of the Princeton

Chamber Symphony, is out to celebrate the 20th century while bravely

looking forward to the 21st.

"There has always been a great emphasis on melody and beauty —

particularly beauty — in modern, that is 20th century music,"

says Laycock with feeling. He has selected a program to transport

listeners to "musical moments in this century which affirm the

positive in life."

Opening its 20th anniversary season this week, the Chamber Symphony

has titled its five-concert series, "Music of Our Time: Masters

of the 20th Century." And Laycock is confident that in the panoply

of works he has selected, melody and beauty will be there for his

audience in abundance.

The musical journey begins with "The Extraordinary Leonard Bernstein,"

presented at Richardson Auditorium on Sunday, October 3, at 4 p.m.

The Chamber Symphony celebrates the prodigious American composer,

an icon of what is arguably an "American Century," with four

very different works.

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Leonard Bernstein

"Bernstein is the consummate musician of the 20th century,"

says Laycock, "widely influential as a musician, conductor, composer,

and as a composer for Broadway." Born in 1918, Leonard Bernstein

was conductor and musical director of the New York Philharmonic from

1958 to 1969 and made over 100 recordings. The program will illustrate

Bernstein’s varied output, featuring four works in a variety of genres

dating from 1943 to 1980.

"We have three Bernstein pieces on the program that are not very

well known but they are all fantastic," says Laycock, with unconcealed

enthusiasm. The "Divertimento," which he describes as "extremely

charming," is comprised of eight short scenes on a single motif.

"Facsimile," he describes as "a ballet masterpiece —

virtually unknown — that is beautiful, enchanting, and quite fun

to listen to." The third lesser-know work is Bernstein’s "Jeremiah

Symphony," a serious work in three movements, written in 1943,

when the composer was only 24 years of age. The final movement features

Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Lucille Beer, who collaborated with

Bernstein in several of his works, as guest soloist. The text is taken

from "Lamentations."

The "Symphonic Dances" from the Broadway show "West Side

Story" of 1957 will be familiar to all. Bernstein was almost unique

in balancing his writing for Broadway, beginning with "On The

Town" in 1944, with a career as a conductor and composer for the

concert hall.

Although when Bernstein died in 1990 he was an acknowledged

cultural hero, Laycock notes that, at the end of his life, he failed

to recapture the popular fame of his "West Side Story" days.

"Where he failed at the end of his life as a composer was in 1975

with another very disappointing Broadway attempt," says Laycock.

"Had he lived longer he would have found another upswing."

The show in question, "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," written

in collaboration with Alan Jay Lerner, was a satirical survey of American

heads of state, through the decades, featuring a succession of white

presidents and their black butlers. It was a complete flop. Yet Bernstein’s

"Candide," considered by many his greatest Broadway score,

composed in 1956, is currently enjoying a hit production at London’s

National Theater.

Also celebrated this season are American composers Aaron Copland,

Samuel Barber, Charles Ives, Milton Babbitt, and George Gershwin.

"American composers defined a new sound that is readily identifiable

as American," says Laycock, "and I think Aaron Copland had

a lion’s share in defining that sound. You can even hear his influence

in Bernstein. And Gershwin’s influence in Russia in the ’20s was significant."

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Aaron Copland

Copland’s "Appalachian Spring," a well-loved aspect of that

"American sound," will be featured on the symphony’s March

program. Commissioned by Martha Graham for a modern dance about forces

that helped shape American culture, the music is a colorful soundscape

that pits an itinerant evangelist preaching hellfire and damnation

against a young frontier couple whose bond of love gives them the

courage to look to the future with optimism.

It’s an optimism that Laycock shares. And this American vision is

extended to the season’s grand finale, George Gershwin’s "Suite

from Porgy and Bess" and "Rhapsody in Blue" performed

by noted pianist Robert DeGeatano.

"To mark our 20th anniversary and the end of our 20th century,

we wanted to pay tribute to the musical icons of the century —

those composers who are best known for putting their stamp on 20th-century

music," says Laycock.

"For the composers we’ve chosen, their music looks forward, not

backward, and takes us into the next century," he says. From the

delicate bird calls of Bartok’s final Piano Concerto to the raucously

entertaining music of Kurt Weill’s "Threepenny Opera," the

season includes Schoenberg’s haunting love story for string orchestra,

"Verklarte Nacht," regarded as one of the early masterpieces

of the 20th century. The most recent work on the program is the Estonian

composer Aarvo Part’s, "Symphony No. 2" of 1966. Part’s spiritual

vision is part of a contemporary movement to insert harmonic beauty

into new music. "We don’t have works of great dissonance and confusion

on the program," notes Laycock.

Among the famous 20th-century names that are absent from the program

are Mahler, Elgar, Vaughan William, and Sibelius, all composers who

share Laycock’s interest in melody yet whose work he traces back to

the 19th-century Romantic tradition. Also absent are some of the best

known names of the latter half of the century — John Cage, Steve

Reich, and Philip Glass, among them — the longevity of whose compositions

Laycock questions. "I wanted to represent composers who I believe

will live on to the future," he says.

But why, we ask, do we so readily associate "dissonance and confusion"

with 20th century music? The fault, says Laycock, lies with music

directors around the globe.

"Stravinsky’s `Rite of Spring’ contains beautiful music, but there

was actually a riot when it was first performed," says Laycock.

This near-riot that attended the ballet’s 1913 Paris premiere, was

attributed to the music’s shocking and disturbing polytonality and

its irregular, constantly changing meters. These, we are led to believe,

were enough to drive its listeners mad. Yet these same qualities made

the work wildly influential for decades to come.

Stravinsky is included on Chamber Symphony season. But rather than

"Rite of Spring," Laycock has chosen his "Suite No. 2

for Small Orchestra" of 1921.

"Music is an expression of the human spirit, and that involves

communication," says Laycock. "If you don’t understand the

language of the person who is talking to you, you can’t grasp the

meaning. To be confronted by a bizarre person speaking a language

you can’t understand can be a shocking experience."

Laycock believes music directors "around the globe"

are to be faulted for helping to create the communication gap with

their audience. "There has been a lack of understanding from the

podium. In my opinion you can’t walk out and play a piece like this

without offering any preparation and expect the audience to appreciate


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Laurence Taylor

"There are people who believe there should be no speech from the

podium, but whenever I present a piece that I think requires preparation,

I do speak," says the voluble director. "We also pride ourselves

on the superb program notes that are written for us by Laurence Taylor.

These are all things we do to attempt to bridge that gap of understanding."

Laycock says his the only sadness of the job is that, with only five

concerts a year, "we are constantly presenting works for the first

time — works that audience would love to hear again. But we’re

always looking forward."

"The Chamber Symphony has a tradition of blending the familiar

with the unfamiliar," says Laycock. "Even when we play the

best known composers, it’s pieces that may have become obscure or

unjustly neglected." Last season, for example, when the symphony

performed Beethoven, it was with two rarely performed works. "Even

when our audience sees a familiar name on the program, they trust

us to be introduced to music that they may not have necessarily heard

before and will probably enjoy."

"A concert should be both stimulating, and also a refuge. An audience

should be edified and enhanced by the afternoon, not bewildered,"

saus Laycock. "Our point is that there is music of great value

and great beauty in the 20th century. But we don’t abandon Bach, Vivaldi,

or Schumann."

— Nicole Plett

The Extraordinary Leonard Bernstein, Princeton Chamber

Symphony , Richardson Auditorium, 609-497-0020. With guest soloist

Lucille Beer. Sunday, October 3, 4 p.m.

Beauty and Power and Joy. Francine Kay, piano, is featured

in Bartok’s "Piano Concerto No. 3," with works by Hindemith,

Barber, and Shostakovich. Sunday, November 7, 4 p.m.

Haunting and Heartwarming. Classical guitarist David Tanenbaum

is featured in the Castlenuovo-Tedesco "Concerto No. 1 for Guitar

and Orchestra," with works by Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Weill.

Sunday, January 23, 4 p.m.

Distinctive Voices, Musical Visions. Piano soloist Andrew

Burashko is featured in Ravel’s "Piano Concerto in G Major,"

with works by Prokofiev, Ives, Babbitt, and Copland. Sunday, March

19, 4 p.m.

Colorful and Profound, Visionary and Beloved. Final program

features piano soloist Robert DeGeatano in Gershwin’s "Suite from

Porgy and Bess" and "Rhapsody in Blue," with Britten’s

"Peter Grimes" and Aarvo Part’s "Symphony No. 2."

Sunday, May 7, 4 p.m.

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