Monday, February 16, 2009

Songs Harbison Loves to Sing

This weekend, Camerata San Antonio performs music by Andre Previn and John Harbison. On the program is "Songs America Likes to Sing"...

John Harbison: I’m doing a piece for small chamber ensemble which is based on, really variations of various kinds of the most familiar songs I could think of, it’s called Songs America Loves To Sing. The variations are actually quite intricate but the fundamental material is extremely well known and I suppose it comes out of my frequent encounters with Bach cantatas which are based on chorales which at the time were very familiar with the audience. So I’m doing a similar thing, they are in a sense I think of them of chorale preludes because the idea of the chorale prelude is a very familiar cantus in very unfamiliar environment.

John Clare: Any hints to these familiar songs you’re chorale preluding?

JH: Well it ranging very ordinary, occasional like Happy Birthday to Aura Lee, and a number of other songs, really I think the basic criterion is familiarity, that something be quite well known, hoping that the presence of these canvases will guide the listener through what will sometimes is a quite an unusual environment that I sort of imagine for them.

JC: That sounds really fun!

JH: I’m enjoying it, it’s again somewhat of a found object idea.
Camerata San Antonio plays Friday night in Boerne and Sunday afternoon at Travis Park United Methodist Church in San Antonio. I'll give a pre-concert talk at 2:20pm, before the 3:00pm start time.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Grammy Winner: Mr. Tambourine Man

Congratulations to John Corigliano and the Buffalo Philharmonic, JoAnn Falletta and Hila Plitman for their two Grammy Awards this last Sunday. Monday is Corigliano's 71st birthday!

From our interview:
John Clare: "Two people I would not put together, Bob Dylan and John Corigliano but there’s a lovely singer involved. How do those inspirations kick start? Was this something that came about with the singer? Was it something that someone said oh, check out these songs?"
John Corigliano: You're talking about Mr. Tambourine Man - a cycle of seven poems of Bob Dylan that I set to music with out any knowledge of his music. And the reason this took place is because Sylvia McNair and Carnegie Hall asked me to write a large song cycle. And Sylvia said really want to be an American writer the poet and I agreed. She said it would be wonderful to get an American who speaks to people today. And you know what? Every great poet speaks to people today, I mean you know Emily Dickenson speaks today. But I thought is there anyone outside of our kind of cultural elite living? Is there someone who speaks to everybody who’s also very, very good? And someone said to me you should check out the lyrics of the song of Bob Dylan because they really poetic and very good. And so I sent for a book of just his lyrics, a big thick book. I went through them and indeed a lot of them were wonderful, some were not, but you know that’s fine. And I went through them and I went through them and I finally put them together into a seven cycle song. The unusual thing and people tend not to believe me in this is that I didn’t really know the music to Mr. Tambourine Man or Blowin' in the Wind. Now when I say that I might have heard it in the sixties or whenever it was done at a coffee shop while I was talking to somebody. But it didn’t pull my ear into its’ world and therefore I never really heard it. I’m not saying this to condemn him because God knows you know he’s considered a great composer by many people and I won’t take that away from them. But it didn’t excite me the way for example the Beatles did. When I heard their music I stopped and there where so many things they would do doing that were really wonderful for the composer...there were interesting harmonically, rhythmically and phase lengths and other ways that I was really fascinated. Never got that from the Dylan songs in those days, so I didn’t know them. So I took these lyrics or poems - they are wonderful poems, and I was setting them as I would set you know Emily Dickson or Goethe. I was just setting them as a composer of my world setting words I thought were very important. And the result of that was a song cycle that some people love and some people don’t want to hear. I know a lot Dylan people who don’t want to hear this piece. They think it’s strange because we always think of the sacrilegious part - oh say how dare you play Mozart with a pop thing or whatever - and it’s always the classical people. I have found that the folk, pop people can be very ridged about the fact that you are taking Dylan into your world. I don’t think I would have minded if I had a pop version of my music but that’s not what I am. I simply wrote and reflected the words. Another thing about it is Dylan like many folk composers, he wrote an melody and his emotional tale kinda rides over the melody. It isn’t reflected in the melody so he’ll write, he’ll have the same music per verse in which many things happen and many different emotions are displayed - they don’t get reflected in the music. And I understand that and that’s fine and I appreciate and respect that. But one of the things about art music whether it’s St. Matthew Passion or something else is the idea that these words can be reflected in this music and that’s what I did. So it will be music that will have three different kinds of listeners. One is a novice who will listen to it and say I love these words and I see this music means something or it doesn’t to me. One will be a Dylan supporter who will say I don’t want to hear it because it’s not right to do that. And the third person will be who love Dylan who also get a fascination out of listening to a piece in which both things are happening. That is they hear my piece and they hear Dylan’s piece at the same time. And it’s very interesting for audiences. They really like play these pieces because Blowin in the Wind, they hear the Dylan song and my song at the same timed because they know Dylan so well that when the words happen it just goes into those . But than they hear my cadences and my world and its different and they find that interesting. And I find that interesting abstractly too."