29th January 2018: Harbison, Bernstein, Copland, Barber

Graham Ross photo: copyright Ben Ealovega

Conductor: Graham Ross

Mezzo-soprano: Kate Symonds-Joy

Monday 29th January 2018 at 7.30pm

St John’s Smith Square

Harbison – Remembering Gatsby (Foxtrot for Orchestra)
Bernstein – Symphony No.1: Jeremiah
Copland – Old American Songs First Set
Barber – Symphony No.1 in One Movement

Part of St John’s Smith Square’s Americana ’18 programme.

Our conductor, Graham Ross, is looking forward to this concert: “I’m delighted to be returning to Salomon Orchestra for this fantastic American programme.  I’ve long admired Bernstein’s Jeremiah symphony, and programming it with Barber’s First Symphony to me makes for a very natural pairing: both are short but intense symphonies written by two of America’s most important 20th century composers, both in their mid twenties.  I’m thrilled that we have mezzo-soprano Kate Symonds-Joy performing with us for this concert – the lament for Jerusalem in the final movement of the Bernstein is a moving threnody of remarkable maturity for a composer so young.  ‘Remembering Gatsby’ by John Harbison, who turns 80 this year, is a fantastic, fun foxtrot for full orchestra and concertino group led by soprano saxophone with a touching twenties dance tune that nods towards the composer’s father who himself wrote show-tunes in the 1920s.  The First Set of Copland’s Old American Songs are five perfectly-formed miniatures, first performed by Britten and Pears at Aldeburgh, which delve beautifully into American history including the popular Shaker song Simple Gifts and the increasingly-silly I Bought Me a Cat.  I’m hugely excited about this concert!”

Some words from our programme chair, David Young, about the programming:

John Harbison’s orchestral foxtrot begins with an impression of the faraway green light on the East Egg dock, Gatsby’s yearn for the American dream, that would be shattered by corruption and excess. A tune from twenties style party music sketched for his abandoned opera on Fitzgerald’s novel forms the main foxtrot, culminating in fleeting references to the telephone bell and car horns signifying Gatsby’s fate.

Leonard Bernstein, who famously said for great things you need a plan and not quite enough time, completed his first symphony to a tight competition deadline on 31st December 1942. The first movement represents Jeremiah’s pleas to the people of Jerusalem to root out corruption or disaster would befall them, the second the sacking of the city, and the finale settings of Jeremiah lamenting the desolation. Bernstein refused suggestions to add an optimistic ending, and over his career he worked on the theme of corruption and a crisis in faith, to a conclusion that for renewal dogma and orthodoxy must be stripped away in favour of a fundamental belief in common humanity, as expressed in his eclectic Mass of 1971.

Benjamin Britten asked Aaron Copland to arrange some American songs for him and Peter Pears for the 1950 Aldeburgh Festival. These were such a success Copland arranged another set and orchestrated them all in 1957. The original set includes ‘Simple Gifts’, that was used to great effect in Appalachian Spring, and a children’s song ‘I bought me a cat’ complete with sounds of the barnyard and its animals.

Samuel Barber’s Symphony in One Movement is more universally symphonic similar to Sibelius’ approach and less overtly American than Copland’s later style.  Lyrical and dramatic, it was in 1937 the first American music to be performed at the Salzburg festival.

Tickets available from St John’s Smith Square or from members of the orchestra.