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Explore the season with Maestro Novo

By: Dr. Mary C. McKiel

“The States are an incredible magnet for talent from other places and we are celebrating that… musicians who came to America and became citizens. I tried to integrate some of that with our Beethoven celebration.”

Music Director José-Luis Novo

Novo’s Vision

The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming season, “Beethoven Discovers America,” celebrates the 250th anniversary of the birth of the great German composer. Beethoven is, of course, a staple in the symphonic repertoire of many orchestras, but the Symphony’s 2019-2020 Masterworks series goes beyond just celebration. Under the thoughtful artistry of the Symphony’s Music Director José-Luis Novo, the new season highlights Beethoven’s extraordinary works plus his considerable influence on American music.

To be sure, “Beethoven Discovers America” does not imply that Beethoven edges out Christopher Columbus in the history books. Rather, in the words of Maestro Novo: “Beethoven is such a central figure in classical music that it is motivation enough to include his music this season, but I wanted to also show how he influenced the development and growth of classical music around the world and specifically in the United States. The idea of ‘discovers’ is a kind of imagining of Beethoven observing how things developed after his death, how his legacy inspired music in the States.”

Emigrés in America

As an immigrant himself, Beethoven shares that distinction with many important American composers. He left his native Germany to study and live in Vienna, Austria where he spent the greater part of his life. Béla Bartók and Sergei Rachmaninov – featured in the season along with Beethoven – immigrated to America in order to further their careers at a time when the European scene was in turmoil. Although not an immigrant, Haydn has his place in the season as a composer who, along with Mozart, had considerable influence on Beethoven.

Maestro Novo describes the season this way: “The most important thing is how the season is filled out, and then the pieces themselves.” He intentionally structured the programs to pair works of Beethoven in each of the five concerts of the series with pieces from both familiar and lesser-known American composers. Gershwin, Barber, and Copland are already well-referenced in American symphonic music. Others, such as George Chadwick, Adam Schoenberg, and female composer Stacey Garrop, are not as well-known but, as Maestro Novo explains: “They are important to the development and growth of classical music in the States.” Chadwick, for instance, was born in Massachusetts in 1854 and studied at both the New England Conservatory of Music and at the University and Theatre of Leipzig, the city where, in 1825, Beethoven’s nine symphonies were performed in a cycle for the first time.

Goodyear’s Gershwin

Stewart Goodyear, piano

Novo gathered an impressive group of solo artists for the season, starting with the gifted and accomplished Canadian concert pianist Stewart Goodyear. Goodyear will play the Gershwin Piano Concerto in F major. Why not the Rhapsody in Blue? According to Maestro Novo, in planning the season “…we initially asked Stewart to do the Rhapsody in Blue, but it became quickly appealing when Goodyear was available that we thought we should do something bigger…and he was delighted.”

Passionate Pratt & Beethoven

Awadagin Pratt, piano

Awadagin Pratt is the second of this season’s well-established pianists. Novo quips: “He’s been on my radar for a long time.” Pratt and Novo are recurring faculty members at the Eastern Music Festival held in Greensboro, NC each summer. Pratt performs Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major in the final concert of the season.

The final concert, featuring Pratt, culminates with Peter Boyer’s “Ellis Island: The Dream of America.”  Boyer is a Grammy-nominated composer and one of the most frequently performed American orchestral composers. He has a flair for the big orchestral sound, and the planned piece does not disappoint. Boyer is a great example of how classical musicians from all over have expanded the American classical music horizon since its earliest germination. Beethoven was an integral part of that growth as Novo demonstrates throughout the season.

Percussion with Pegher

Lisa Pegher, percussion

Lisa Pegher, percussionist, and Anne Akiko Meyers, violinist, have unique places in the 2019-2020 offerings. Not only are they performing pieces from living American composers, they are playing pieces they commissioned! “It’s as good as it gets,” Novo says, “it’s their pieces! They are the best ambassadors for that music.” Pegher performs Richard Danielpour’s Percussion Concerto in the second of the Masterworks concerts, and Meyers performs Adam Schoenberg’s work “Orchard in Fog” in the third concert.

Meyers’ Commissioned Concerto

Anne Akiko Meyers, violin

Meyers is a returning guest artist at the Annapolis Symphony. Novo recalls: “She played with us about eight years ago and did the Barber violin concerto. For this season we explored ideas and she suggested the piece she commissioned from California artist Schoenberg.”  Novo has not previously conducted the piece because it only recently premiered, but he adds that “it is a beautiful piece.” Novo has conducted the percussion piece before with Pegher, but this will be the first time the piece is performed at Maryland Hall and Novo hints, with a smile, that the stage will be “littered with percussion instruments”.

Featuring One of Our Own

Robert DiLutis, clarinet

Annapolis Symphony’s own clarinet artist Robert DiLutis rounds out the season’s guest soloists. He performs Copland’s Clarinet Concerto in the 4th concert. Robert’s comments on the style and feel of the Concerto include: “The style of this work comes from many areas of Copland’s life – Cuban, African, and Jazz are just a few of the influences that can be heard. The work is fun and not always serious. Copland is clearly writing with Goodman in mind, even using the bass at times to create a combo feel. I play the work like a classical concerto for the clarinet. I believe the jazz influence is in the writing, and I try to stay out of the way of Copland’s excellent skill.”

To that, Maestro Novo adds: “Copland is a major name in classical music in the United States, and we like featuring one of our own musicians regularly. Robert is a terrific clarinetist – and one of the newest appointed members. I think he is going to be great!”  According to Novo, the Copland work is extremely difficult for the orchestra as well as for the solo artist!

Lady Liberty and Her Legacy

“The States are an incredible magnet for talent from other places and we are celebrating that… musicians who came to America and became citizens. I tried to integrate some of that with our Beethoven celebration.” While the American music scene at the time of Beethoven was not yet developed, Beethoven was very aware of the ideals inherent in the French revolution and all that had inspired it, such as demands for democracy and individual freedom, and he was drawn to those ideals. “Artists”, says Novo, “are always ahead of their time. Events can change drastically but it’s not always entirely bad in the sense that America took advantage of artists coming to this country and enabling the music scene here to grow. Instrumentalists as well as composers. That is how music schools in this country flourished because artists coming from Europe and other places contributed so much to the culture of this country. It is so important to acknowledge the fact that migrating souls have had an influence, and often times a very good one, on America.”

Classical music. American classical music. Living composers. Accomplished guest soloists. And great Beethoven to boot! The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra’s 2019-2020 Masterworks series promises to be meaningful, historic, and definitely exciting!