“’Tis a gift to be simple.” The celebrated melody of the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” and its optimistic theme are prominent throughout American composer Aaron Copland’s signature work, “Appalachian Spring.”
It will be performed by the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs and the Colorado Ballet Society on Friday and Saturday at the Ent Center for the Arts. It’s paired with the lesser known “The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore” by Gian Carlo Menotti, which will be staged by the chamber orchestra, the ballet society and the Colorado Vocal Arts Ensemble.
“I suspect people will say they came for ‘Appalachian’ Spring’ but will leave saying, ‘I really love the Menotti a little more,’” said Thomas Wilson, music director of Chamber Orchestra of the Springs.
The orchestra will perform Copland’s original version of “Appalachian Spring,” a work he composed for modern dance icon Martha Graham in 1944 featuring only 13 instruments. Copland was awarded the 1945 Pulitzer Prize in music for the score.
“The original almost never gets performed. And if it does, it’s almost never with the ballet,” Wilson said.
Fourteen members of the Colorado Ballet Society’s Connexus Dance Collective, its contemporary company, will dance in the first-ever Colorado Springs performance of the complete piece to the original scoring by a live orchestra.
“We wanted to make sure we honored Graham and also brought a new take to ‘Appalachian Spring.’ The melody of ‘Simple Gifts’ is really fun to try to bring to life,” said Laci Landry, manager and main choreographer for Connexus Dance Collective. “It’s basically the story of a bride and groom on their wedding day.”
Landry, who choreographed the piece with the Ballet Society’s Daniel Prewitt and Mickey Olson, said the dancers enjoy the challenge of performing with a live orchestra.
“It’s always exciting and a great opportunity for our dancers, especially those who go on to dance for their career. The tempo can be different from the recordings we practice to, or they may have longer holds than in practice. Sometimes different instruments are highlighted, and the music can sound different,” she said.
Collaborations among the Colorado Springs performing arts organizations are not uncommon, Wilson said. “We’re always trying to reach out to other arts groups. We think we’re all stronger if we’re together.”
Before the popular Copland piece is rendered, the Colorado Vocal Arts Ensemble will join the musicians and dancers in performing the whimsical Menotti piece, a “madrigal fable” that lampoons societal pressures. The three groups were awarded the 2017 Pikes Peak Arts Council Award for Excellence in the Arts for their collaboration.
“It’s brilliant and ridiculously funny,” Wilson said. “It delightfully, cynically questions the way people expect others to behave. The audience is going to love it. No one’s ever heard of this piece, and no one will forget it.”
MICHELLE KARAS, THE GAZETTE, MICHELLE.KARAS@GAZETTE.COM