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It was the grandest day so far in an early spring. The heat and the pollen were mercifully at bay. For those present in the auditorium of the North Carolina Museum of History, the afternoon was further enhanced. There, conductor Randolph Foy and his colleagues celebrated some of the classical music that sprang from the New Deal and one of its progeny, the Works Project Administration. The WPA was chosen for its heavy significance seventy-five years ago, and for its lingering beneficial effects that can be witnessed even today in numerous parks and public places.
Of the several prominent composers from that era (about which more presently), Foy concentrated exclusively on Aaron Copland for this brief program. Leading was the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano from 1943. Admittedly this was during the fading years of the New Deal, but it served as an educational look at the composer. Featured on the clarinet was Kevin Streich, a player of the first order who performs with the Raleigh Civic Symphony Association and other local ensembles. Pianist Tom Koch, a music faculty member at NC State, also plays with the Association and is in demand with other groups. The duo chose to play the second movement, a slow and tranquil Lento, first. They probably reasoned that it would have sounded anticlimactic had it followed the vigorous and energetic Allegro. Their performance could hardly be faulted, helpfully augmented by Koch’s explanatory opening remarks.
The orchestra came on for the remainder of the program, dedicated to a compilation of Copland’s “Music for Movies.” He broke into the movie score business with the 1939 documentary film, The City, a work meant to dramatize and expose the squalid conditions that were prevalent during that era in most cities. “New England Countryside” demonstrated the essential Copland sound, while “Sunday Traffic” affirmed that the jarring cacophony of city traffic has been around for lo these many years. Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (1939) yielded “Barley Wagons” and “Threshing Machines,” the latter bringing forth magical sound effects from the piano and the trombones. “Grover’s Corners” depicted the charming little New England town that provided the setting for Thornton Wilder’s great 1940 play, Our Town. During most of these selections, Koch’s piano was a major force.
This presentation was the first of three celebrations of the WPA at 75, the next two occurring at Stewart Theatre on the NCSU campus. The Sunday, April 18 edition will feature Copland, Gershwin, Harris, and Piston. Then Sunday, April 25 will bring on Copland, Still, and Thompson. All of these composers represent vital and precious links to America’s past. The area is fortunate indeed that the Raleigh Civic Symphony Association is offering this priceless look back upon the marvelous artistry that grew so miraculously from a dreadful chapter in American history.
Note: See our calendar for times and more details.