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Classical 101

Happy Hour with the CSO Featuring American Sounds

I've invited my gal pals, picked out a dress, and I am ready for Happy Hour this Thursday with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. Their lineup for this month's FREE Happy Hour could not be more perfect for February. The selected music is American, iconic, and just fun enough for a pre-Valentine's Day date. The event is this Thursday, February 12th at 5:30, and it starts with an hour of drinks and hors d'oeuvres to be followed by: Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man- a piece written for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1942, inspired by a particularly moving speech made by vice president Henry A. Wallace entitled, "Century for the Common Man." The work has been the opening theme for many a sports broadcast, but my first recollection of the signature opening was from an Emerson, Lake & Palmer LP. Bernstein's Three Dances from Fancy Free - it's energetic, reminiscent of the orchestration from Westside Story, and it accompanied the ballet Fancy Free by Jerome Robbins for the New York City Ballet in 1980. The ballet's story is a bit outdated; sailors out to find girls for a night, but the music is lighthearted and vivacious. Gershwin's Lullaby for Strings -written in 1919 as a theory and counterpoint assignment for Edward Kilenyi Sr., this piece was unfamiliar to me, but I am glad to make its acquaintance. It's meditative and altogether lovely. It should be an absolute joy to hear live. Gould's Interplay- Morton Gould's 1945 work for piano and orchestra will certainly be quite a wake-up call after the dulcet tones of Gershwin's Lullaby. Gould's works are often a bit out of left field, (see: "The Jogger and the Dinosaur"), but this piece fits the American sound quite well. It's got some well-placed, brassy jazz elements. ***Pianist Caroline Hong and conductor Joe Smirnoff will be in the studio with Boyce Lancaster this Thursday morning to discuss Thursday night's works and discuss their upcoming performance with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.***

Thoughts on the CSO's Happy Hour Program: These composers represent a bit more than might initially meet the eye, they represent an important aspect of American music; the dichotomy of classical music and blues/jazz sound in a very American balancing act. Whether its a classical composer using jazz/blues elements (Claude Debussy's "Galliwog Cakewalk") or a jazz musician using classical music language (Modern Jazz Quartet's "Softly As A Morning Sunrise"), or something a little harder to identify like Gershwin's overall blue sound, there is a sort of Venn diagram that exists between the world of Classical music and Jazz. What better time to appreciate the influence of one on the other than February and Black History Month? For more music like this, join Boyce Lancaster Thursday morning, catch up Thursday night with Christopher Purdy for the CSO's Happy Hour, and explore musical works by these composers: Gunther Schuller- one of my favorite composers and the namesake of my beloved dog, Gunther. Boyce Lancaster shared this link with me from a fantastic keynote address he gave in 2000. Here is a lovely work he wrote on a theme by John Lewis ("Django"), and his seminal work, "Transformations." Duke Ellington- pianist, band leader, and jazz royalty, Ellington's works for piano march the line between classical and jazz in interesting ways; sometimes a pure jazz composition was inspired by something unrelated to the blues. This can be seen in his Degas Suite; the sound is blue and American, but the subject is certainly not. He also delved into re-imagining classical hits such as The Nutcracker Overture. Milton Babbitt- another of my all-time favorite composers and the subject of many conversations with my old theory teacher Yuri Bortz. The name Milton Babbitt, if you are familiar, is usually associated with works such as Philomel rather than anything to do with jazz, unless you have heard "All Set." The work was a composition for the Modern Jazz Concert, 1957, and was scored for alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, trumpet, trombone, contrabass, piano, vibraphone, and percussion. It is still the voice of Milton Babbitt, but in the language of jazz. Charles Mingus- double bassist, composer, and reputable band leader. Mingus can be seen as the culmination of Hard Bop, Third Wave Jazz, and Gospel music. In spite of his early talent, he did not learn to read notated music until high school, so he was often at odds with the classical world due to his lack of early music education and racial issues in the United States. This did not stop him from making some of the greatest American music and well-developed orchestrations. Check out, "Reveltations."