Three of the composers featured by the Symphony of the Americas shared a fascination with folk music. But this fascination was a love-hate relationship.
Opening the ‘Sounds of the Season’ concert were selections from Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky. This perennial favourite features some of the most recognizable music created by a major classical composer, who just happens to be the best-known Russian composer in the world.
If his contemporary Russian composers had their way, he would be relegated to the dust heap. They have become known as the “Mighty Five”: Mily Balakirev, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin. Outside of Russia the first two are now virtually unknown, while the others are noted for just one or two compositions each.
They believed Russian music should come from a Russian source, and that others were betraying the cause. Tchaikovsky was their arch-fiend as he did not derive his music from the folk traditions of the Motherland.
In England, by contrast, Ralph Vaughan Williams did just that. He managed to forge a unique nationalistic stamp, as exemplified by the second selection performed by the Symphony in Ft. Lauderdale, the English Folk Suite. To create his music, Williams went out and notated music in farming communities in England.
The Folk Suite, played with sensitivity by the Symphony, springs from the soil of England. It is comprised of six folk songs, composed for winds and dating to 1924, and features a full-throated exposition of English values- it could not have been written by an American or a European. As the work of one of the most significant voices in English music in the entire history of music, it was a delightful thing to enjoy, at least for those of us who are English. It would be nice to have a night of British-American music, to balance the annual Italian-American concert performed by the Symphony.
Williams collaborated on wind ensembles with Gustav Holst, another composer heavily influenced by the English folksong revival of the early 20th century. His composition Bleak Midwinter (1906) is the finest musical evocation of that time of year in England, and it was one of three Christmas pieces performed by the Symphony in a Holst medley. The others were Lullay My Liking (a carol from the 15th century using an early version of the word lullaby) and Christmas Day (1910). Simply delightful.
In addition to a Strauss waltz usually played at New Year’s concerts, the remainder of the program was filled with traditional chestnuts set in medleys themed around Broadway and the Movies. The concert concluded with New York, New York, which I assume was included in homage to Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday this month.
Overall a very fine concert to end the year on an upbeat note.
The next performance of the Symphony of the Americas at the Broward Center will be Jan. 12, 2016, featuring the rarely heard Symphony No. 6 by Dvorak. Visit the website for ticket details: www.sota.org.
Photo copyright C. Cunningham