The myth that surrounds the person of Roy Harris is indicative of the effectiveness of modern publicity methods and the American desire for perpetuation of the age- old “rags to riches” story. In Harris’ case it is the rise from truck driver to “America’s Composer no. 1.”
Roy Harris had a special relationship with Robert Whitney and the Louisville Orchestra during the 1950s and 1960s, its most innovative period. Not only did the LO record his first symphony, 1933 (also recorded earlier by Serge Koussevitsky and the BSO as the very first American symphony to be commercially recorded), but it commissioned several works from Harris, including the tone poem Kentucky Spring (1949) and his Second Piano Concerto (1953) (see the original concert program here). The former — a tribute (or dig) at Copland? — is perhaps the most succinct summation of Harris’s bright orchestral style.
Harris’s Louisville connection goes even further than the orchestra. Robert French, the founder of the Louisville Academy of Music (now run by his wife, former LO violinist Ruth French), studied with Harris in Nashville, and for three years worked as Harris’s assistant. Robert French copied all of Harris’s symphonies — including the individual orchestral parts — by hand (according to Ruth, “he drew every single stem with a ruler!”). French experienced Harris’s legendary disorganization firsthand; Ruth tells the story of how her husband, on a trip with Harris from Iowa, “stopped for gas, and [Robert] went in to use the restroom, and when he came back out, Roy had forgotten him and drove off without him!”
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Look what a difference your donations have already made in schools like Jacob Elementary. Thanks to Ben Sollee for helping us spread the word about the good you can do in our community by supporting Classical 90.5 and Instrumental Partners. Go to instrumentalpartners.org to see how you can help kids in our community get the tools of the trade. Everyone deserves the opportunity to play music.
The oldest, continuously performing orchestra in Louisville is reviving an old moniker. What started as the Young Hebrew Men’s Association symphony in 1915, merged with the Louisville Civic Arts Association in 1930, a group that is also an immediate predecessor to the Louisville Orchestra. Over the years the Louisville Civic Orchestra (LCO) has undergone a series of name changes, the most well-known being the JCC Orchestra, but for the past few years has been embracing one of its original titles.
Now directed by Jason Raff, the all-volunteer orchestra is performing on Friday, April 29th, 2016, with Louisville Orchestra cellist Nicholas Finch. Daniel Gilliam talks with Raff about the history of the group and this weekend’s concert.