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October, 2019

 “Aaron Copland’s America
2006 President’s Festival of the Arts Celebrates Acclaimed Composer

By Catherine Lee



Cartoonist Al Hirschfeld’s caricature of Aaron Copland

The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music will raise the curtain this month on the highlight of its performance calendar, “Aaron Copland’s America,” a series of performances, lectures and films from March 27 through April 8 that explore the works and legacy of the acclaimed composer who created a new American classical music.


The sounds and excitement of a concert hall again will fill the Great Room at the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center, where all but one of the performances will take place. But this year, the event that’s been known for the past three years as the President’s Concert is the President’s Festival of the Arts — a change that reflects the university’s desire “to broaden the focus so it becomes a showcase for all the arts at CUA,” says music school Dean Murry Sidlin.

In many ways, Copland is the perfect focus for this year’s event, says Sidlin. Born in 1900, Copland was a prolific composer who wrote scores for ballet, film, orchestra and theater. Touching as he did on different artistic genres, Copland created music that evoked the American spirit of unbounded optimism and possibility. His work also had significant influence on other American composers.


The festival will include performances of some of Copland’s best-loved orchestral pieces, such as A Lincoln Portrait and Appalachian Spring; the chamber version of his opera, The Tender Land; and a semi-staged reading of the little-known play, Quiet City, which includes incidental music by Copland. The range of the festival performances will give audiences “a sense of the totality of Copland’s work,” says Sidlin.


For CUA students who will be festival performers, the event will provide the opportunity “to think collaboratively about their own work, which is critical to their development as working artists,” he adds. “We’re producing the festival, in part, so that students might explore the totality of what art means, how it got there and why it got there.”


The music school’s decision to present a Copland festival drew high praise from Leonard Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra.


“When I think of music that describes this country, my mind always goes to Aaron Copland,” said Slatkin. “He was the voice and conscience of our nation, capturing the people, places and ideals in his unique musical language. I applaud Catholic University for bringing Copland’s America to our attention.”


Their Paths Crossed

Conceived and produced by Sidlin, the festival has special significance for the dean, who knew Copland and, at the composer’s suggestion, transcribed for chamber ensemble The Tender Land, Copland’s only full-length opera.


Sidlin’s association with Copland goes back to the dean’s high school days. Sidlin attended a Copland concert at the Baltimore Museum of Art and afterward asked him for his autograph. Their paths crossed again several times, most often in the mid-1970s when Sidlin was resident conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra. When Copland was in D.C., the two met frequently to discuss the composer’s scores.


In 1985, five years prior to the composer’s death, the two men corresponded about The Tender Land, which had suffered a disappointing 1954 premiere. With Copland’s permission, Sidlin revised and rearranged the opera’s score.


Sidlin’s revised score, using the same 13 instruments Copland employed in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Appalachian Spring (flute, clarinet, bassoon, piano and nine strings) resulted in a more “balanced opera and the Copland sound, which we have come to identify as the American sound,” says the dean.


The festival will open with a series of films and lectures organized by Grayson Wagstaff, associate professor of music. Designed to illustrate Copland’s genius and the times in which he lived, the events will take place between March 27 and 30 at various locations on campus. Copland scholars will give lectures about the man and his legacy; the music school also will host screenings of films with Copland scores.


The CUA Music Theatre Company will kick off the performance segment of the festival with stagings of Oklahoma! — the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical set on the open prairie that inspired Copland’s pioneering music — March 31, April 1 and April 2. The festival also will include performances by the CUA Symphony Orchestra, the CUA Chorus, the Rome Trio and the CUA Department of Drama. 


New Old American Songs, the choral concert on April 5, will feature the world premiere of new arrangements by 10 regional composers of old American songs inspired by the folk style of Aaron Copland. Andrew Simpson, composer and associate professor of music, is coordinating the premiere.


Following is a complete list of festival events with dates, times and locations. All films and lectures are free and open to the public. Ticket prices for performances are: $15 for single tickets and $10 for students, seniors, faculty and staff. To purchase tickets, call 202-319-5416. 

Monday, March 27

4 p.m., Lecture by renowned Copland scholars Vivian Perlis and Howard Pollack

John Paul Hall, Ward Hall

Perlis and Pollack will give a joint lecture about Copland’s life and legacy. Music historian Perlis co-wrote with Copland his two-volume memoirs: “Copland: 1900-1942” and “Copland Since 1943.” Pollack is the author of “Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man.”


Tuesday, March 28

10:30 a.m., Lecture and Film Screening: “Aaron Copland: A Self-Portrait”

Ward Hall, Choral Room

Vivian Perlis will introduce the film “Aaron Copland: A Self-Portrait,” which she helped to create. The movie, which Perlis created with documentary filmmaker Allan Miller, will be shown directly afterward. The film features Copland music, including ballet sequences with Agnes de Mille dancing in Rodeo and Martha Graham in Appalachian Spring scenes of Copland conducting; and interviews with composers Leonard Bernstein and Ned Rorem. 


7:30 p.m., Film Screening: “Of Mice and Men”

Gowan Hall Auditorium

Copland earned two Academy Awards for the score of the 1939 movie by director Lewis Milestone. The film, based on the book by John Steinbeck, stars Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr. as migrant workers George and Lennie who struggle for the American Dream during the Great Depression. 


Wednesday, March 29

7:30 p.m., Film Screening: “The Red Pony”

Gowan Hall Auditorium

The 1949 classic, also directed by Milestone, features a score by Copland.  Based on the novel by John Steinbeck, the film is set in Salinas Valley, Calif., where Tom, a boy of about 10, is confronted with loss and responsibility after he acquires his own pony.


Thursday, March 30

12:10 p.m., Lecture: “Copland, Politics and the American Audience”

Ward Hall, Room 211

Jennifer DeLapp, assistant professor of music at the University of Maryland, will give a talk titled “Copland, Politics and the American Audience.”


7:30 p.m., Film Screening: “The Heiress”

Life Cycle Institute Auditorium

Jennifer DeLapp will introduce the 1949 movie that earned Copland an Academy Award for Best Music. Directed by William Wyler, the movie is based on Henry James’ book, “Washington Square,” about a shy young woman who, in her father’s eyes, is overshadowed by her dead mother.


Friday, March 31, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 1, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, April 2, 1 p.m.


Pryzbyla Center, Great Room

The CUA Musical Theatre Company, under the direction of Jane Pesci-Townsend and N.Thomas Pedersen, will

present Oklahoma! — a musical set on the open prairie — to evoke the pioneering spirit of Copland’s music. With a score by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the musical plays out against the backdrop of Oklahoma Territory, outside the town of Claremore, where cowboy Curly McLane woos farm girl Laurey Williams in 1906.


Monday, April 3

7:30 p.m., All Copland Concert

Church of the Epiphany

13 and G streets, N.W., opposite Metro Center

Washington, D.C.

The CUA Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of conductor Kate Tamarkin, will present an All Copland Concert with four signature pieces: The Red Pony Suite, Appalachian Spring Suite, Old American Songs and A Lincoln Portrait. A presentation by photochoreographer James Westwater will accompany the performance of Appalachian Spring. Westwater’s acclaimed presentations integrate large-screen panoramic photos with live symphonic music.


Tuesday, April 4

7:30 p.m., All Copland Chamber Music Concert

Pryzbyla Center, Great Room

The All Copland Chamber Music Concert will feature Ivo Kaltchev performing Piano Variations; the Rome Trio (Jody Gatwood, Michael Mermagen and Marilyn Neeley), Vitebsk: Study on a Jewish Theme; and soloist Sharon Christman and pianist Katerina Souvorova, Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson. 


Wednesday, April 5

7:30 p.m., New Old American Songs Choral Concert

Pryzbyla Center, Great Room

The CUA Chorus, conducted by Leo Nestor, will present a choral concert, New Old American Songs, the world premiere of new arrangements by 10 regional composers of old American songs inspired by the folk style of Aaron Copland. Nestor also will conduct the chorus’ performance of Alexandria Suite by American composer Russell Woollen, whose work was inspired by the music of Copland.


Thursday, April 6

7:30 p.m., Semi-staged reading of Quiet City

Pryzbyla Center, Great Room 

The CUA Department of Drama and Chamber Music Ensemble will present a semi-staged reading of Irwin Shaw’s

Quiet Citythe first performance of the play, featuring music by Copland, since it premiered in 1939. Kate Tamarkin will direct the ensemble. The play, which includes incidental music for clarinet, saxophone, trumpet and piano, suffered a disappointing premiere and was withdrawn after just two performances. Copland later rewrote the music of Quiet City as an orchestral work for trumpet, English horn and strings.


Friday, April 7, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 8, 7:30 p.m.

The Tender Land

Pryzbyla Center, Great Room

The CUA Chamber Music Ensemble will perform the chamber version of Copland’s opera, The Tender Land. Murry Sidlin will conduct. Three decades after the 1954 premiere of The Tender Land, Sidlin, with Copland’s permission, revised and rearranged the opera’s score. Sidlin’s revised score, using the same 13 instruments Copland employed in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Appalachian Spring (flute, clarinet, bassoon, piano and nine strings) resulted in a more balanced opera with the unique Copland sound.


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Last Revised 03-Mar-06 12:12 PM.