Bravo! Vail: The Fourth and true American music

VAIL — Happy Fourth of July a day early.

As the fireworks go off and the music is played, including Friday’s Bravo! Vail patriotic concert at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater at 2 p.m., it’s always a good time to ask oneself, “What is America?”

Ask 100 people, and, odds are, you’re going to get 100 different answers.

Freedom. Democracy. The right to bear arms (or not). The freedom to worship (or not). Small government. Big government.

It is a wonder we still have 50 stars on the flag. (Seriously, one could start a fight these days over whether World Cup soccer is a big deal. The answer is yes, by the way.)

And this is where the language of music trumps words.

Copland’s Third Symphony, performed brilliantly on Monday by Jaap van Zweden and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, provided a perfect descriptor.

The work is brash, yet humble. It’s industrial and agrarian. And, yes, common, as in the Fanfare, yet quite uncommon. That same fourth movement, which introduces the piece’s signature theme, The Fanfare for the Common Man, simultaneously returns to the melody of the first movement, just as we return to our roots during this holiday.

In short, the work is full of contrasts yet thematically unified. ’Merica.

As much as Bravo! Vail will celebrate the Fourth on the Fourth with traditional fare of Sousa and the like, Monday’s concert was a “patriotic” concert, featuring some of the American giants of classical music — Copland, Barber and Bernstein.

In this space a few years ago, I cooked up my own patriotic concert for the Fourth, which would be Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” or “An American in Paris” — I never could pick which one — Ives’ Second Symphony and, yes, some Sousa, because the Fourth isn’t the Fourth without that man.

‘WASHINGTON POST MARCH’

Speaking of which, as far as Friday’s patriotic concert goes, where is his “Washington Post March?” We’ve got “The Thunderer” and “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” both mandatory for the Fourth, but we need “Washington Post.”

A solution here. We move the “Washington Post March” in for Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” in Friday’s concert. I know that “1812” is jazzy and has cannons, but it has nothing to do with the Fourth of July. In fact, we were otherwise engaged militarily that year. That to-do inspired another piece of music by Francis Scott Key, which is also appropriately on Friday’s program.

Of course, we’d have to play “Washington Post” four times to fill the time gap. My bad. This may be one of several (perhaps, many) reasons I don’t get to program this festival.

NOTES FROM WEEK 1

Other news and notes on the first week of Bravo! Vail:

• I was joking about the “1812” and its relevance to the holiday, but history and music do walk hand in hand. Saturday’s opener of Bravo! Vail — Sorry, I’m a classical-music snob, and pops, though appreciated in its function within a musical festival, doesn’t count — was a perfect example. Saturday was the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Gavrilo Princip, the Black Hand and the archduke — however one assesses blame — set in motion The Great War, and, truth be told, World War II, the two combining for one of humanity’s greatest cataclysms.

So what better way to commemorate the day than with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, an affirmation of humanity? Bravo! Vail wasn’t the only one playing the opus. The Vienna Philharmonic performed the fourth movement, “Ode to Joy,” of the Ninth in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the site of the assassination in 1914. (And that, folks, is some serious symbolism.)

• OK, Ravel’s “Bolero” has been bouncing around in my head for the past few days. That’s always fun to see in person. I particularly enjoy the violinists and cellists, who spend the first 14 minutes of the 16-minute piece doing nothing or simply plucking their instruments. “Oh, we get to play too,” they seem to say during the final two minutes of the work.

It’s just me, but I view “Bolero” as music’s answer to Picasso’s cubism (1908-1912) or Mondrian’s post-World War I period in Paris (red, blue and yellow squares with black lines), the latter of which coincides with the composing of Ravel’s work (1928).

“Bolero” is musical deconstruction, just as it happened in the visual arts.

On a lighter note, I hope the musician on the snare drum didn’t come down with carpal tunnel syndrome.

• Artistic director Anne-Marie McDermott said from the stage on Sunday that Bravo! Vail had long wanted to have pianist Stephen Hough perform here. He was well worth the wait with Liszt’s First Piano Concerto. Please don’t wait another 27 years, Stephen.

Sports Editor Chris Freud is also the Vail Daily’s resident classical-music fan and can be reached at 970-748-2934, cfreud@vaildaily.com and @cfreud.


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The VailDaily Updated Jul 2, 2014 01:03PM Published Jul 2, 2014 03:56PM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.