The theme of the 2008 program of the American Composers Festival is "The West: Music inspired by the American Frontier".
This year the festival has an overall theme of "The West", that landscape of America's reality, it's history, and it's fevered imagination, of big skies and open spaces, of Columbus, Magellan, and countless others, leaving Europe for the great unknown, of Daniel Boone blazing a trail to Kentucky, of Lewis and Clark exploring a little land purchase made by Thomas Jefferson, of The Oregon, and Chisolm Trails, and all those settlers who travelled them, and other trails, to follow the advice of Horace Greeley to "Go West!"
The 500 year history of Western Civilization's "Manifest Destiny" was intertwined with the tragic story of the indigenous peoples of these lands, all of whom had ancestors who had made the trek "West", from the old world, centuries, even millenia, before the first European set foot on their shores, spreading across countless islands, and 2 continents.
Westard Migration is the defining feature of American History, but it's effect has been felt worldwide.
Joseph Horowitz, Artistic Advisor of the Pacific Symphony discusses, in the Special Program Book, "The Idea of the West" as explored in this year's theme:
The US is a Diverse nation perpetually in ferment-- and perpetually in search of sef-definition. One anchoring trait is its very geography, whose open space and broad horizons connect with freedom, opportunity, and individual innitiative. By focusing on musical meanings of "The West," this year's American Composer's Festival explores values long cherished by generations of Americans.
He says that the topography of a nation can be seen as linked to its identity and to expressions of culture through the Arts.
Our beautiful, and varied landscape, it's weather, its rivers, lakes, valleys, canyons, deserts, and mountain peaks have fascinated, and inspired centuries of writers, artists, and musicians, right up to the present day.
What the Festival, and the program I attended, explore is the fact that composers of American Concert Music, those Yankee takes on Classical Music, the form the Europeans had invented centuries before, and that has been evolving ever since, were, um, late to, as Horowitz writes, "discover an iconic West".
When you realize that Dvorak, a European, and his glorious New World Symphony (1893), got there first, it's downright embarrassing (Horowitz points out 2 19th century American examples (1837, 1885), but makes the point that it was not until the 1930's and 40's that American Composers arrived on the scene and "effectively defined a "Western" idiom of symphonic speech.).
This uniquely American "voice" was, and is, different from that of the Old World, and is not really any single voice, but many, expressing themselves with all the variety of the nation they celebrate, and you don't need some fancy, flowing, words on a page, or website, to notice, and enjoy, the difference... just use your ears. ;-D
So off I went, on the evening of February 9th, to the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, at the Orange County Performing Artscenter, in Costa Mesa, Ca., to partake of a little culture, as presented by Orange County's Pacific Symphony, and a few friends invited for the occasion.
And what fascinating friends they were, but I''ll get to that in the next installment. ;-D
This was the last of 3 nights that this portion of the festival would be performed, and I was especially interested in witnessing two performances on a very unique instrument that I'd never even heard of before being invited to attend.
I was set to experience a west coast premier by Lou Harrison, and two world premier (Stephen Scott, and Curt Cacioppo), performaces, plus works by Ferde Grofe and Aaron Copland thrown in for good measure, with the Pacific Chorale, and the Pacific Symphony.
I'd passed by the complex on the bus many times, and even went to eat at a nearby restuarant, one evening last year, but never went over to take a look around.
The buildings, even in the dark, illuminated only by outdoor, and indoor lighting, are quite impressive to look at, and let you know right away that you are about to experience that special something called "Culture".
Whether you find the resulting experience enjoyable...or not...is between you and your peculiar tastes, and sensiblities, but the performers, and those folks on the staffs of the venues you attend will do their best to give you your moneys worth.
Come with me, now, as I go in search of my ticket, attend a preview talk, find my seat, and settle in for the show.