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Anchorage Symphony Presents American Voices This Month


Tickets for American Voices are now available to attend in person or to experience the multi-camera, high definition live stream.

Anchorage Symphony Presents American Voices This Month

On January 22nd, the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra begins the second half of its 76th Classic Concert season with American Voices, an evening of musical stories by American composers.

The ASO will be performing pieces by recognizable names like Copland, Gershwin, and Barber. Others on the program, like Carlos Simon and Florence B. Price, may be new to audience members.

Carlos Simon's music ranges from large and small ensemble concert pieces to film scores influenced by jazz and gospel. In 2021 he was named one of the Sphinx Medal of Excellence recipients. This is one of the highest honors bestowed by the Sphinx Organization, which recognizes extraordinary classical Black and Latinx musicians.

His impressive list of awards, commissions, and accolades makes it clear he belongs on any list of great American composers that include names like Copland, John Williams, William Grant Still, Scott Joplin, and more.

His short orchestra study The Block is based on a piece of visual art by Romare Bearden (see Bearden's piece here: Most of Bearden's work reflects Black culture in urban cities and the rural American south. Although Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, he spent most of his life in Harlem, New York. With its vibrant artistic community, this piece highlights the rich energy and joyous sceneries that Harlem expressed as it was the hotbed for African American culture.

Bearden's work "The Block" is comprised of six paintings that highlight different buildings (church, barbershop, nightclub, etc.) in Harlem on one block. Bearden's paintings incorporate various mediums, including watercolors, graphite, and metallic papers. In the same way, Simon's musical piece explores different musical textures which highlight the vibrant scenery and energy that a block on Harlem or any urban city exhibits.

The evening's program goes from the streets of Harlem to a Mexican dancehall; even if you don't know Aaron Copland's name, you know his music. From Rodeo to his Appalachian Spring tune "Simple Gifts," his work is highly recognized. While Copland loved rural America, he traveled around North and South America, from Canada to Argentina, becoming particularly fond of Mexico.

In 1932 he took his first trip to Mexico at the urging of a close friend. He was immediately taken by the people and music, giving him endless inspiration. One of Copland's favorite places was a popular dance hall called El Salón México. He was inspired to compose a piece by the same name, using tunes and themes from local folk and popular music he heard at the hall.

Knowing this was just a light and fun piece, Copland wrote, "All I could hope to do was to reflect the Mexico of the tourists, because in that hot spot [El Salón México] one felt, in a very natural and unaffected way, a close contact with the Mexican people. It wasn't the music that I heard, but the spirit I felt there which attracted me and what I hope I have put into my music."

In February of 2019, the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra performed the Alaska premiere of Florence B. Price's Symphony No. 1. For most in the audience that night, this was the first time they heard of this American treasure that has a remarkable story.

On June 15, 1933, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed the world premiere of Florence Price's Symphony No. 1. After the performance, the Chicago Daily News reported: "It is a faultless work, a work that speaks its own message with restraint and yet with passion...worthy of a place in the regular symphonic repertory."

This was the first time a major American orchestra performed a work by a Black female composer. Even with high praise, Price's music didn't take its rightful place in the symphonic repertoire until 80 years later.

From humble beginnings in the American South - especially during an often-violent and challenging period of our nation's history where race and gender so unjustly defined and restricted her opportunities a??a?? Price did more than survive. She blazed a trail and knocked down barriers in a fascinating story. Over several decades, Price composed over 300 pieces: symphonies, chamber works, and songs noted for their lush orchestration and enchanting lyricism. Her music has its roots in slave songs that later became firmly entrenched in the American musical landscape. While Price is a trailblazer, her music might best be called a bridge.

Florence Price was rightfully celebrated in her day. Still, even with her relative success, she struggled to keep a roof over her head and was saved from destitution by friends. She suffered from poor health for most of her later life and was often in hospital. In May 1953, her work was gaining momentum, and she was preparing to fly to Europe to promote her music when she suffered a heart attack. Florence Price died on June 3.

Her untimely death and the vast amount of music she composed (but was never heard) conspired to dim her reputation over the years a??a?? until now. So much of her music was almost lost forever in her abandoned home in St. Anne, Illinois until the new owners discovered 30 boxes in 2009. Approximately 200 compositions were found that librarians and scholars continue to pore over - and arts organizations worldwide are enthusiastically sharing with their audiences for the first time.

On January 22nd, the ASO will perform her short suite, Dances in the Canebrakes, one of the last pieces she wrote before her passing. Originally written as a suite for piano, after Price's death, William Grant Still orchestrated it for full orchestra; this is the version the ASO will be performing. When listening to Canebrakes, you can feel the atmosphere of a dance hall in the steamy south, full of people enjoying a night off while dancing a favorite rag.

Since the late 1980's if you watched any TV or walked through O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, you heard the theme of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue...a lot. For the last three decades, United Airlines has used the catchy tune as part of its advertising campaigns and piped it through the terminals in their hub city of Chicago. It also received the Disney treatment in the animated concert film Fantasia 2000.

Pretty impressive for a piece that Gershwin didn't even know he was writing! As legend has it, Gershwin's brother was reading the paper one day when he saw an article announcing a concert featuring the works of Victor Herbert, Irving Berlin, and a new jazz concerto by George Gershwin. Not familiar with his brother's new piece, Ira asked George about it, to which George expressed shock and confusion. With only five weeks until its premiere, George began composing...quickly.

Many composers will tell you, the greatest motivation to complete a piece is a deadline. And Gershwin was up against a tight one! He began writing the infamous main theme while traveling from New York to Boston. He told a biographer later, "It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty bang, that is so often so stimulating to a composer.... I frequently hear music in the very heart of the noise. And there I suddenly heard-and even saw on paper-the complete construction of the rhapsody, from beginning to end...I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness. By the time I reached Boston, I had a definite plot of the piece."

On February 12, 1924, the clarinet opened the premiere of Gershwin's new Jazz concerto with what has become one of the most recognized musical passages in the world (the infamous glissando was the clarinetist being silly and Gershwin said "keep it!"). Gershwin performed the piano solo at the premiere, improvising most of it. The orchestra would wait for Gershwin's nod to signal the end of his solo and the cue for the ensemble to resume playing. He did not write out the piano solos until after the performance. It remains unknown exactly how the original rhapsody sounded at the premiere.

At American Voices the ASO will be joined by Timothy Smith on the piano. Smith is a Professor of Piano, head of Piano Studies, and Sr. Associate Dean for the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is also a long-standing member of the Anchorage Symphony Board of Directors.

Described as "A pianist who interlaces grace with bursts of power and color" by the Philadelphia Inquirer, and "an excellent pianist" by Vers l'Avenir (Belgium), Smith began his musical career at a young age after being accepted into the Pre-College division of the Juilliard School at just ten years old and five years later making his orchestral debut. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Washington Seattle and continued his graduate studies at Juilliard, where he received his Master of Music degree and his Doctorate from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

An accomplished soloist, Smith has performed with several major orchestras worldwide, including New York, Utah, Japan, and China. He has also completed several tours around China and Japan, giving performances and masterclasses. The ASO is honored to share the stage with Timothy Smith once again.

This special night of American composers also includes Samuel Barber's single-movement Symphony No. 1. Barber's earliest compositions were songs, his primary instrument being voice. As he began composing for other instruments and large groups, he always kept the lyricism of those early compositions. Barber found success early in his career, including the award that allowed him to study at the American Academy in Rome, where he started writing his first symphony. He completed the work while at the Anabel Taylor Foundation in Roquebrune in the French Alps.

Upon its 1936 premiere in Rome, Barber's Symphony No. 1 was an immediate success. It was premiered in the US a year later with the Cleveland Orchestra, where the accolades continued. This single-movement symphony was such a success that the Vienna Philharmonic performed it at the opening concert of the 1937 Salzburg Festival. It was the first performance of a symphonic work by an American composer at the prominent festival.

Tickets for American Voices are now available to attend in person or to experience the multi-camera, high definition live stream.

Anchorage Symphony's American Voices, Saturday, January 22, 2022, (7:30pm) in the Atwood Concert Hall, Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Infrared headphones for the hearing impaired are available concert night from the House Manager on the Orchestra Level. Tickets: Adult, $52-$27; Youth, $24.75-$12.50; Senior, $46.50-$24.50; Streaming Only $39 (prices include surcharges and fees). Military, student and group discounts available. To purchase tickets, go to or call 263-ARTS (2787), toll free at 1-877-ARTS- TIX.

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