Ensemble Monterey brings Aaron Copland to Salinas and Carmel.
Thursday, May 13, 2004
If you’re conflicted about being an American these days due to ongoing events in the Middle East and elsewhere, a double shot of composer Aaron Copland’s music may be in order.
Ensemble Monterey’s season-closing presentation, “Aaron Copland—an American Icon,” opening Friday at the Madonna de Sasso Parish in Salinas and Saturday at the Sunset Center in Carmel, just might give you the strength to turn on the network news again. Both shows begin at 8pm.
One of the country’s most revered composers of the last century, Copland, who died in 1990 at age 90, is known for his ballet scores of American folklore such as Billy the Kid and Rodeo (which is familiar to couch potatoes as the theme music for America’s beef producers’ TV ads). He also wrote film scores for such classics as Of Mice and Men and Our Town , jazz charts for Benny Goodman, operas and symphonies—all with a decidedly upbeat, Americana slant.
How Copland, an erudite, sophisticated Jew who spent most of his life in New York City, was able to churn out popular agrarian tunes without ever spending any time down on the farm remains something of a mystery. He claims his affinity for rural folk came from the fact his grandparents once operated a retail store in Dallas. (They even employed Jesse James’ brother Frank.)
While that’s all a little far-fetched, what’s not is the simple advice he received from Nadia Boulanger, the famous composition teacher Copland studied under in Paris in the 1920s. She told him the atonal stuff he was putting out, while popular among his peers, didn’t really suit him, and instructed the young composer to return to America to find his true voice.
“That’s the best advice she gave anybody. That’s what he did,” says Dr. John Anderson, Ensemble Monterey’s longtime musical director, who’ll be wielding the baton for three soloists, a 40-member chorus, two ballet dancers, a 13-piece orchestra, and a banjo player this weekend.
Anderson denies that Ensemble Monterey’s Copland tribute has anything to do with current events—the program was picked a couple of years ago.
“Music, to reach its full potential, has to deal with values which are timeless, and music which is anchored to a specific event or a specific time tends to go away after a while,” says Anderson, a music faculty member at Monterey Peninsula College.
The first part of the show will feature Appalachian Spring , Copland’s most famous ballet about a young couple setting up their first home. The second half of the program is devoted to Copland’s opera The Tender Land , the coming-of-age saga of a girl in small-town America.
“What you’re dealing with in Appalachian Spring on the surface level, sure, is some American Shaker folksongs and some American folkdance rhythms transformed in a very complex way,” Anderson says. “What you’re really dealing with is the fundamental concepts of rebirth and renewal, which are as old as the most ancient Egyptian writing we have. If ever we needed a renewal it’s now and this piece is all about renewal.
“Many people think of Copland as associated with Americana, which he certainly is, but the music transcends that. Any composer’s true voice is a realization of timeless concepts and aspirations put into a language, which is understandable to the people of his time.”
Ensemble Monterey performs Fri. May 14 at 8pm, Madonna del Sasso Parish in Salinas, and Sat. May 15 at 8pm in the Sunset Center, Carmel. $18-22/Salinas; $22-25/Carmel. 333-1283.