BPO celebrates the patriarch of modernist American music, Artvoice

As part of the continuing week-long festival celebrating the legacy of Charles Ives (1874-1954) music director Joanne Falletta will be on the podium for concerts on Saturday (4/11) at 8pm and Sunday (4/12) at 2:30pm devoted entirely to the composer’s music. Joseph Horowitz, the author and producer of this multi-media event, worked with the orchestra in 2102 in the well received multi-media production of Dvorak’s New World Symphony. Horowitz is committed to revitalizing classical music and revolutionizing the concert experience, and for this production he is again collaborating with the media artist Peter Bogdanoff.

“Our collaboration with Joseph Horowitz on the Dvorak project a few years ago was a departure from what we usually do in our programs at Kleinhans,” says Falletta, “but it was so successful that we are happy to be able to have him join us for these concerts showcasing the American composer Charles Ives. Some people, who have only heard about the music of Charles Ives being difficult to listen to, might be frightened away from approaching his music with open ears, but he was actually an astonishing human being, as well as being a great musical artist who, I think, very successfully captured the essence of what it means for us to be Americans in his music.”

George Ives, Charles’ father had been a Union Army bandleader during the Civil War, and his open-minded music lessons early on encouraged his young son to experiment with techniques such as polytonal harmonization that would become a lasting influence on his music. “His father would have him accompany himself on the piano in a different key than the one he was singing in”, says Falletta. “Charles also heard a lot of band music being played, and you can hear the effects of two bands playing different music at the same time while marching towards and away from each other in his music.”

Ives went to Yale, where besides being something of a jock (he played varsity football) he studied under the then prominent composer Horatio Parker. Ives composed his Symphony No.1 in D minor as his senior thesis and the Allegro movement from that work is on this program.

Ives had been a church organist from the age of 14, but soon after he graduated from Yale he started working in the insurance business, where he eventually gained great success, while continuing to compose in his spare time. “Ives had to choose to support his family in a different way,” says Falletta. He wrote his Symphony No. 2 in 1900-1902, but it was first performed in 1951 by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. “He was too ill to go to the premiere, but hearing the live broadcast on a radio, he and his wife were amazed by the audience’s warm reception. I like to think of the Second Symphony as a marriage of his respect for the German musical tradition and his American musical heritage, blending popular tunes like “Turkey in the Straw” and the music of Brahms. While Ives had a reverence for the traditions of the symphony orchestra, he looked at them through an American lens, and that is what Charles Ives is all about.”

One of Ives’ works most often performed is The Unanswered Question, a brief, highly evocative work that features three separate groups of instruments placed apart on the stage and playing in independent tempos. “A solo trumpet poses the question seven times over sustaining strings, while a group of woodwinds answers the first six times, in an increasingly agitated manner,” says Falletta, “finally leaving the audience to decide what it might mean.”

Charles Ives had an extraordinary influence on many later American composers, and some evidence of that influence can be found in the many arrangements and orchestrations of his music, including William Schuman’s 1963 orchestration of Ives’ Variations on America, a work originally composed for organ for a Fourth of July concert.

Baritone William Sharp will be the soloist in the Five Songs by Charles Ives. John Adams, composer of critically acclaimed works such as Nixon in China, selected the songs “Thoreau,” “Down East,” “Cradle Song,” “At the River” and “Serenity,” composed between 1915 and 1919, and orchestrated their piano accompaniment, and the result is a beautiful, calm suite of serene reflection.

The Pulitzer Prize winning American composer Henry Brant was deeply influenced by the music of Ives, acknowledging The Unanswered Question as an inspiration for his own technique of “spatial music.” Brant orchestrated Ives’ massive Concord Sonata for piano, the 1922 work that Ives had self-published, launching his music on its decades long journey to ultimate critical acclaim. One of the movements from the resulting work, the Concord Symphony, “The Alcotts,” will be performed on this program.

Information: 885-5000 or www.bpo.org.

Charles Ives at Slee Hall

The final installment in the Charles Ives festival will take place in Slee Hall on the UB Amherst Campus on Tuesday (4/14) at 7:30pm when Brad Lubman will lead the Slee Sinfonietta in a program of music titled “Ives and Beyond” featuring works by Ives and his contemporaries. The program features the chamber orchestra version of Ives’ Three Places in New England as well as A Set of Pieces for Theater or Small Orchestra by the composer. Ives’ near contemporary Charles Ruggles will be represented by his Vox clamans in deserto for soprano and chamber orchestra, featuring mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley, a Buffalo audience favorite. Piece No. 2 for small orchestra by Conlon Nancarrow, who lived most of life in Mexico is also on the program. Lastly, Lou Harrison’s heartfelt At the Tomb of Charles Ives is his tribute to his mentor. Harrison was instrumental in bringing both Charles Ives and Carl Ruggles to the attention of audiences, working directly with both composers and in particular facilitating the premiere of Charles Ives Pulitzer Prize winning Symphony No. 3.

Tickets: $15/10; free for UB students. Information: www.slee.buffalo.edu.