At a Glance
In this program of iconic American composers, it is fitting to commence with music by Charles Ives, considered by many to be the founding father of the American musical tradition. His revolutionary work The Unanswered Question pushed American music into the modernist realm with its juxtaposition of contrasting musical textures, as well as polyrhythmic and polytonal elements. But perhaps the most innovative element is the backdrop of contemplative mystery, in which he musically poses a question that remains unanswered.
The influence of Ives can be heard in the philosophical tenor of two recent orchestral works by John Adams: On the Transmigration of Souls (2002) and My Father Knew Charles Ives (2003). This evening, we hear an earlier piece: Shaker Loops (1978), penned in his trademark minimalist style, which expands the traditional string quartet to a string septet in order to achieve a greater acoustic depth.
David Lang (Carnegie Hall's 2013-2014 Richard and Barbara Debs Composer's Chair) shares Adams's minimalist roots. He similarly challenges convention by exploring and pushing the boundaries of the traditional relationship between soloist and ensemble in his work pierced for solo cello, solo piano, solo percussion, and strings.
Aaron Copland, another patriarch of American music, is represented with the Appalachian Spring Suite for Thirteen Instruments. Originally conceived as a ballet, Appalachian Spring continues the broad exploration of American themes in dance that Copland began with Billy the Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942). The poignancy of Ives's enigmatically painted The Unanswered Question illuminates Copland's Appalachian Spring, in which a similar stroke of poignancy is fashioned with a warm palette that evokes the spirit of 19th-century American pioneers.