Arts & Culture

Concert celebrates Guthrie compositions

Staff Writer
Monday, December 3, 2012

Continuing the theme “Musical Voyages” begun earlier this semester and in celebration of the Woody Guthrie centenary, the Brown University Orchestra performed music by Beethoven, David Amram and Leonard Bernstein in a concert in Sayles Hall Nov. 29 and 30.

“The range of music is extraordinary,” said Paul Phillips, senior lecturer in music and conductor of the orchestra. “These are works that compliment each other very beautifully and give the audience something to think about.”

The concert opened with Beethoven’s “Piano concerto No. 3 in C Minor, op. 37” featuring pianist and Concerto Competition winner Peter Asimov ’14.

The competition takes place every fall and is open to members of the orchestra, as well as pianists, singers, organists and guitarists, Phillips said. The 2012 competition awarded three winners – Asimov, Akshaya Avril-Tucker ’15 and Carolyn Ranti ’13. Each winner has the opportunity to play his or her concerto with the entire orchestra.

“It’s a really amazing orchestra, and they devote a huge amount of time to every performance,” Asimov said. “It makes it that much more of an honor to have such exceptional performers playing with you.”

To celebrate the famed American singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday, the next part of the concert featured the Rhode Island premiere of Amram’s “Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie.”

Amram met Guthrie in New York City in 1956 and composed the piece in his honor at the request of the Guthrie family, Amram told the audience before the piece was performed Friday night.

“(Guthrie) was just an encyclopedia,” Amram said. “This is not the kind of music you can do just by tapping your foot.”

The symphony is a musical documentation of Guthrie’s travels throughout America, based primarily on the song “This Land Is Your Land.” 

“Amram wrote each verse in a different part of the country. The music parallels Guthrie’s journeys,” Phillips said. He added that the symphony features movements inspired by Oklahoma, Texas, Mexican immigrants, Native American rhythms, the Dust Bowl and different locations in New York City, where Guthrie lived for 20 years.

Amram and Phillips have worked together many times in the past, Phillips said, adding that he was thankful to have Amram at rehearsals with the orchestra.

“Because the composer was there, he directly helped us for the performance,” said Jacob Stern ’14, a percussionist in the orchestra. “It was a really fabulous experience.”

After a brief intermission, the orchestra concluded the concert with Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from ‘West Side Story.'”

“Several members have asked to play it for years,” Phillips said of the piece, which continues Amram’s American motif. 

The orchestra’s year-long theme of “Musical Voyages” began with concerts during Family Weekend that described a voyage to outer space, Phillips said. The concert included music such as Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.”

The voyage will continue March 23-31 when the orchestra will travel to and perform concerts in Ireland.

“After hearing this orchestra, everyone will fall in love with America,” Amram said. “They are ambassadors for the best that Brown has to offer.”