Dancers, Dreamers and Presidents
Politics and music have frequently intertwined and on the next broadcast of The Phoenix Symphony, Monday, October 9, 2023 at 7 p.m. Politics is the theme; however, it is not necessarily from a red or blue perspective, but the ways international and social politics and patriotism infiltrate parts of our everyday lives.
Dancers, Dreamers and Presidents, the title of this program, is also the title of an orchestral poem by Daniel Bernard Roumain. His poem begins the program that includes favorites and less familiar works by Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein, all under the baton of guest conductor Andrew Litton.
Dancers, Dreamers and Presidents
Roumain’s Dancers, Dreamers and Presidents had an unlikely inspiration: An episode of Ellen Degeneres’ talk show, from 2007, when Barak Obama, senator at the time, was a guest. In his own program notes to the piece, Roumain said he was struck by “a young, mixed-race, heterosexual man dancing with a young, white, lesbian woman, all on national television. Could this scene have happened in the 1960s, 1970s, or even 1980s? I was inspired by the total relevance of it all.” Each of the three movements represents one of the aspects of the works’ title.
A violinist before he began composing, Roumain’s signature sound-world of violins merged to rhythms and music, which defines life today, are well on display. Roumain, in his program notes, continues, “Watching Obama and Degeneres dance might not save or change our world, but … maybe the journey begins not by screaming at each other, but by dancing with one another. So tonight, like Bowie, ‘Let’s dance!’”
Aaron Copland defined the sound of America through works like Billy the Kid, Rodeo and Appalachian Spring. His music conjures up incredible feelings of patriotism, and you can’t help but feel patriotic when hearing his 1942 Lincoln Portrait. A narrator guides us through the portrait with quotations from Lincoln’s most famous speeches, including the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln’s own poignant and powerful words combined with the honesty, simplicity and grandeur of Copland’s writing make for a moving work. There is a long tradition of having note performers from stage and screen to narrate the work. Actor Geoffrey Owens, a legend of Shakespearean theatre, but more widely familiar to many perhaps from his appearances on The Cosby Show years ago, joins us in a powerful performance.
Slava! A Political Overture
On the second half of the program are two works by Leonard Bernstein. The first is “Slava! A Political Overture,” written to celebrate the appointment of Mstislav Rostropovich as the music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. Bernstein had met the cellist/conductor when on a State Department-sponsored tour of the Soviet Union. Although Bernstein dubbed it a political overture, it is a celebratory, almost vaudeville-style work in the distinct Bernstein style. The title “Slava!” comes from Rostropovich’s nickname, but it also means “glory” in Russian.
Music from West Side Story
One of the hallmarks of the concert stage also comes from the Broadway stage. This Dancers, Dreamers and Presidents program ends with a dance in a New York City high school gymnasium in the late 1950s. Of course, it’s the Symphonic Dances from Bernstein’s score to West Side Story, the iconic 1957 musical, a collaboration with Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents and a well-known updating of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Filling out the program, we’ll have two works in the spotlight, excerpts from Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2.
In preparation for the upcoming concerts by The Phoenix Symphony on October 13, 14 and 15, “Brahms and Dvorak To Die For.”