Jazz, Folk, Pop Americana

Played by the Omaha Symphony


Three American composers, when in their twenties,wrote music reflecting rhythms and melodies of our land. Aaron Copland, Garth Neustadter and Russia-born Elena Roussanova Lucas had those inspirations in common with Michael Daugherty and Estonia-born Eino Tamberg. Sounds from all five come forth with Thomas Wilkins conducting in a Symphony Joslyn performance.   

Copland’s “Music for the Theatre” wasn’t created for a play; he just felt it was the kind of thing to fit the bill because, after completing the pieces, he said he noticed a “certain theatrical atmosphere.” They sprang for wanting to write something “recognizably American” and decided that jazz, in fact, offered “a native product from which to explore rhythm.”

Neustadter, now 31 years old, created  the “American Vignettes” suite four years ago, and, among its parts, found inspiration from jazz, American folk music and dancer, reflecting, he says, “mirth, youth and joviality.” He wants to evoke American landscape as if witnessed by a traveler across  “the infinitely diverse and undefined borders.” Along the way, suggesting something “stark, open, and vast…reflective and pensive…a certain melancholiness, nostalgia, and longing” associated with “the uncertainty of the seemingly infinite horizon.” Neustadter’s an Emmy Award winner, winner of Turner Classic Movies Young Film Composers Competition Scores and has also written for PBS.

Luca’s brass quintet “The Great Chaplin,” from 1998, also reverberates with jazz and ragtime in a three- part tribute to the jaunty, beloved film star in what is influenced by early 20th Century pop music. Hence, the composer also suggests nostalgia, finding it tinged with something bittersweet.

Complex rhythms and syncopation certainly fit the title of Michael Daugherty’s “Strut,” as he imagines African-American actor, singer, civil-rights activist Paul Robeson strutting down Harlem’s 125th Street. Daugherty intends to reflect, he states, “ the visionary optimism and outburst of creative activity during the Harlem Renaissance” of the 1920s when Robeson was a central figure. Daugherty has become well-known for similar American culture inspirations, such as Elvis, Barbie dolls, Liberace and Superman. The last named took flight as “Red Cape” at the Symphony four years ago.

More brass. There’s a trumpet concerto by Tamberg, his first. He too feels the spirit of folk music and of Stravinsky. “Angular, lyrical, agitated, melodic, radiant” are words used by program annotator Paul Schiavo to define what you’re bound to note. Scott Quackenbush, the Symphony’s principal trumpet player, is the soloist.

The concert takes its title from Neustadter’s music. It sounds like a colorful array, doesn’t it?

This Symphony Joslyn performance is May 21, Joslyn Art Museum’s Witherspoon Hall, 2200 Dodge St, Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets: $33. www.omahasymphony.org


Category: Music

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