Charles Ives The Unanswered Question
Ned Rorem Eleven Studies for Eleven Players
Aaron Copland Appalachian Spring
Espressivo will be coming home to America on March 30th after four concerts spent mainly in Europe. The highly professional and already much lauded ensemble, under the direction of Maestro Michel Singher, will remind us of “Our American Heritage” in a program featuring works by Charles Ives, Ned Rorem and Aaron Copland. The works to be performed — Ives’ The Unanswered Question (1906), Rorem’s Eleven Studies for Eleven Players (1961) and Copland’s beloved Appalachian Spring Suite (1944 ) — are already sufficiently removed from us to have acquired a patina, evoking an America surer of its identity than ours today.
Though a question cannot be affirmative, Ives’ short instrumental “cosmic drama” (his term)— in which three sound sources, spatially distant from one another and asynchronous, raise “The Question”— points less at our incapacity to comprehend ultimate matters than to their transcendent nature. Within a decade, Ives was to celebrate his debt to the Transcendentalists of his native New England with the “Concord” Piano Sonata, two movements of which are titled “Emerson” and “Thoreau.”
Ned Rorem has been acclaimed not only for his compositions in notes, but as well for the introspective and acerbic diaries of his cosmopolitan bohemian life. His music, however, is generous and accessible. This particular work, while containing passages of lyrical beauty one would expect from the preeminent American song writer since the 1950s, is, in essence, a virtuosic showpiece for the players, verging on the gaudy in its sometimes raucous, very American exhibitionism.
The evening’s finale will be one of the most loved works of American music: Copland’s distillation of the ballet he wrote for Martha Graham. As we look back on it nostalgically, it, in turn, looks back on a pastoral America of barn-raisings, folk singing and country dances. The score is as inspired as its craftsmanship is impeccable, immensely sophisticated in its handling of nai?ve materials.