Signature Copland — and a little more
Who: The Colorado Springs Philharmonic, conductor Thomas Wilson, narrator Joey Wishnia
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9
Where: Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.
Tickets: $29-$59; 520-7469; pikespeakcenter.com
Something Else: The “Vanguard Performances” will be back in 2013-1014 with two “Beyond the Score” presentations and an original offering created by Wilson, “Tchaikovsky’s Shakespeare.”
Next: “Casablanca,” a pops concert featuring the original movie accompanied by the orchestra playing the original score. Conducted by Wilson.
When Thomas Wilson takes the podium for the Colorado Springs Philharmonic’s Vanguard performance of Aaron Copland’s music for “Appalachian Spring,” it will be the result of an intense creative process that went on for more than three months.
The Copland presentation is written and conducted by associate conductor Wilson and uses the same model as Chicago Symphony’s “Beyond the Score:” a first half that unfolds the music and history through a script, musical excerpts and video projections; and a second half performance of the entire work without interruption.
Considered the signature work of American music, “Appalachian Spring” captures the beauty of the American landscape, the hopefulness and simplicity of a bygone age. It was composed for the Martha Graham Dance Company to accompany an original ballet that premiered in 1944.
The two other presentations in this series — Mussorgsky/Ravel’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 offered in April — were both pre-packaged “Beyond the Score” concerts purchased from the Chicago Symphony.
However, the September premiere of “Pictures” was been met by criticism from many audience members due to its length and a highly analytical style of presentation.
Wilson hopes to inspire a different reaction.
The Gazette: How did this Vanguard concert come about?
Thomas Wilson: The idea was to have this semi-educational model and to delve deeply into one piece. We wanted an American piece, for one thing, but also, the Chicago Symphony does not have an “Appalachian Spring” “Beyond the Score” yet, so we created this from scratch. I really had to take a deep breath before saying yes, because it was a lot of work, but I love the piece so that made it worthwhile.
Gazette: What did you have to do to make this come to life?
Wilson: Write a single-spaced, nine-page script. The first half is about 45 minutes. I felt the first half of the Mussorgsky/Ravel “Pictures” “Beyond the Score” was a little too long. I also felt they spent so much time tearing things apart that it felt a little bit like doing surgery on your grandmother.
Gazette: Are you using the same model?
Wilson: Similar model. With what I did, I decided I really wanted to talk about Copland the man and where he came from and what he had done up to that point that led him to this piece. We talk about his birth and his family life. The big question was how could this Jewish guy from Brooklyn write the quintessential American music and create the Western sound of the orchestra? Here’s this kid that was probably expected to take over the family department store and he loved music and they supported him 100 percent. He never went to real music school. He went straight into that program (the legendary early 20th century composition class of Nadia Boulanger) in Paris and emerges from that as an established composer. It’s just an amazing thing.
Gazette: Will you also be dealing with Martha Graham and the dance aspect of the piece? After all, Copland’s own title for the work was “Ballet for Martha.”
Wilson: Somewhat. I didn’t want to go way back into Martha Graham. When was Martha Graham born? (Laughs.) I didn’t want to do that big heave-ho twice. We did go into the process it took to get the ballet on stage.
Gazette: For “Pictures at an Exhibition,” there was a narrator, an actor and a piano soloist in front of the orchestra. What’s on tap for “Appalachian Spring?”
Wilson: Only one narrator and I was very clear that I didn’t want any fake accents — any of the stuff that was distracting in the “BTS” production. Our narrator will be more like a host. Also, for the dance, we’re going to explain the story line and do some of the excerpts with video. I’m hoping our presentation is going to be a little more accessible and more fun than the “Pictures” presentation.
Gazette: Very few people have heard anything but the orchestral suite of the work. You’ll be presenting the full score, which contains music that will be new to the audience. How will you deal with that?
Wilson: What was mostly cut out for the suite was the minister’s dance. It really changes the meaning. Nine full minutes of music.
Gazette: The score’s pathos was removed.
Wilson: Copland never fully explained why he took it out. The minister in Martha Graham’s ballet just suddenly goes all fire and brimstone on the bride and groom. ... I studied this score with (San Francisco Symphony music director) Michael Tilson Thomas. He felt that this whole episode wraps up and there’s finally that loud “it’s the gift to be simple, the gift to be free ...,” that big loud climax. He thought that was all just a rejection to all of the fire and brimstone; that this is a day for love and faith and happiness and joy.