Saturday, May 18, 2013

one composer departs, another arrives

Harold Shapero has died, I learn from Lisa Irontongue who was his student at Brandeis. Shapero was perhaps the last survivor of the robust American tonal generation that flourished in the 1940s. I can't call him an American nationalist because he wasn't one; instead, he was a slightly latecomer neoclassicist. And "flourished in the 1940s" is exactly the way to describe him, because as a composer he fell pretty much silent after that, though whether this was due to the rise of the serialist hegemony or not is not clear in his case.

The only work of Shapero's I know well is his Symphony of 1947, a brightly orchestrated, crunchy and nervous, oddly breathless work of music, though some of those characteristics may be due to the style of Leonard Bernstein, who conducted the only recording of it I've heard. It's not on YouTube now, though as it appears in the autocomplete if you type his name evidently it used to be, but some piano sonatas you will find there bear some resemblance to it in style. But it's up there with Erich Wolfgang Korngold's of 1952 as one of the great forgotten singleton symphonies of the mid-20th.

Meanwhile, I've been getting more surrounded by Lee Actor, a fate not unpleasant in the least. He's a local composer whose career has taken off since he retired from his day job (coding video games: certain friends of mine take note) ten years ago and devoted himself to music. I've heard a few of his pieces at local concerts, and decided not to miss the one of his current batch of local premieres that was to be played by the best orchestra, so off I went to the Peninsula Symphony at Flint Saturday evening, to hear Daniel Glover play Actor's new Piano Concerto.

It was a large-boned, broad-scaled work in three movements, but not one requiring any epically grand playing. Nevertheless it did remind me of Rachmaninoff at times, but only at times, when it wasn't sounding more in the traditions of Ravel and Bartok, but not of the later Russians. It was pretty good, but I wonder if Actor really puts as much color into his concertos as he does into his purely orchestral music. There were some dandy ideas - the slow movement begins as a creepy thing, for instance - but they don't always lead anywhere appropriate.

Also on the program (music director Mitchell Sardou Klein conducted) was Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony, in a rough-hewn rendition as might have been given by the town band from the third movement. Odd approaches, especially to the lower strings in the slow movement and the bird-calls at the movement's end. The Peninsula Symphony teeters on the edge of being professionally qualified, and this was a particularly teetering performance.

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