A Poet of Words and Music


We don’t hear the name Agustin Barrios (1884-1944) much today, but in his home country of Paraguay – and in certain guitar circles – he is still revered. Guitarist John Williams once said of Barrios “…is the best of the lot, regardless of era. His music is better formed, it’s more poetic, it’s more everything!” Barrios dedicated his life to both music and poetry. He composed over 300 individual compositions. During his travels throughout South America, Barrios would sign copieds of this poems and give them to anyone who wanted one. Collectors warn that the originals are difficult to authenicate.

Barrios’ music fell into three major categories: imitative, folk and religious. Many musicians consider his work call “La Catedral” his greatest composition. Barrios played parts of it to Andres Segovia and Segovia was entranced by it. He called it “… ideal for the repertory of any concert guitarist.”

Our Guitar Picks this week:

Agustin Barrios – Waltz No. 3 – Alexander-Sergei Ramírez
Antonio Vivaldi – Guitar Concerto, RV93 – John Williams
Joseph Haydn/Francois de Fossa – Grand Duo Op.9/5 – Castellani-Andriaccio Duo
JS Bach – Prelude, Fugue and Allegro for Lute in E flat major, BWV 998 – David Lippel
Manuel de Falla – Danza del Molinero – Miloš Karadaglić

My ukulele pick this week is my friend Ken Middleton’s version of a Bob Dylan classic:

1953 LO Program : Look into the Past

The Louisville Orchestra: Used with permission of Ruth French

Below is an original 1953 Louisville Orchestra Program. Violinist Ruth French (Ruth Scott in the program) shared this program from her beginning years with the Orchestra. Hear more of her story here.

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Roy Harris

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In the 1930s, a small group of composers responded to the challenge of creating a truly “American” classical music, whose roots were planted as deeply in the soil of their country as Bach’s was in his. Of them, Aaron Copland may be the most iconic, but Roy Harris (1898-1979) made the deepest mark in the symphonic genre, and certainly had the closest connection to Louisville. Born to poor parents in a log cabin in Oklahoma (sharing a birthday with Abraham Lincoln!), Harris grew up in farming communities in Oklahoma and California. As a young man he supported himself as a truck driver for dairy firms. Harris felt deeply connected to the iconography of America, and infused works such as his early symphony American Portrait (1929) and his ballet What So Proudly We Hail with spirited patriotism.

While Harris’s clear harmonies and folk-derived melodies link his aesthetics with Copland, his more famous frenemy, Harris was less shy about the influence of European models in his music, particularly Renaissance polyphony and the modal scales of Gregorian chant. Compare the lyrical opening cello melody in Harris’s Third Symphony (his most famous work, championed by Bernstein and turning Harris into a household name) with this Alleluia, dating from around the 12th century. In some of Harris’s chamber works, such as his 3rd String Quartet, Harris used unabashedly European contrapuntal forms such as fugues, enlivening with them with his broad, angular-but-still-sweet melodies.

Since his death in 1979, Harris aesthetic has become synonymous with an “American” style of composition: folk-influenced melodies, clear orchestration, a vivacious rhythmic energy adopted from jazz, a love for historical and popular iconography, and above all, a sweeping air of optimism. But what was particularly American about these features? Why is Harris’s sound so easily understood as “American,” but not Cage’s, Varése’s, Cowell’s, or Partch’s? According to Patricia Ashley,

What happened was that, having been told that his music was like America, Harris worked this idea into his mystique until he was able to believe that America was like his music. His rhythms and forms, based on irregular increments rather than subdivisions of the whole, may have had their origins in (besides truck driving) a study of Hindu philosophy, Gregorian chant, and very likely the music of Igor Stravinsky, but now he became convinced that these were the natural rhythms and forms of America. The assumption was not hard to make, for he was told often enough that it was true. Another generation has since discarded the idea of naturalness in a “national style,” but Harris — who has frequently been an internationalist in other respects — is loyal to nationalism in the arts.
Aaron Copland sums it up thus: “We can let posterity concern itself with the eternal [aspects] of Roy Harris’s music… the important thing is that it has something for us here and now.”

-by Jacob Gotlib, Louisville composer, pianist, and teacher

Read about Roy Harris’ unique connection to Louisville here.


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Nancy Zeltsman at SIUE

Nancy with Perc Studio

Nancy Zeltsman with the SIUE Percussion Ensemble

Internationally acclaimed marimbist Nancy Zeltsman was recently a guest artist at my school, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, on March 23rd and 24th. I made the trek back to my university to be a part of the experience.

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Nancy Zeltsman performing “Sotto Voce”

Nancy provided private lessons for students, two public master classes, and performed her program Sotto Voce for solo marimba accompanied by a slide show of photographs that her mother took and recordings of her reciting poetry. Sotto Voce means ‘under voice’ or ‘under the breath.’ She explores a softer dynamic range, and performs some of the music that she holds dearest. This program was featured at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) in 2014 and includes works from Daniel Levitan, Aaron J. Kernis, Paul Simon, and more. The master classes allowed students to perform their works for her and the audience, and Nancy openly critiqued their playing and worked with them on concepts such as phrasing, technique, and sound production. The knowledge she shared in the master classes had a deep effect on everyone involved.

You can keep up with the SIUE Percussion Ensemble on Facebook.

Thanks to Emilie Curry at Curry Creations for capturing the events, and to SIUE Percussion Instructor Daniel Smithiger, members of the SIUE Percussion Studio, and SIUE Student Government for making it all possible.

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Sean Schuchman with Nancy Zeltsman

Nancy is the artistic director of the Zeltsman Marimba Festival which is happening this June 28th to July 11th, a full two weeks in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In it’s 13th season, this festival brings together marimbists, performers and educators, from all around the world. There are 8 marimba-focused concerts, 9 master classes, 14 open lessons, composer guest talks, and much more. Participants receive two private lessons from faculty of their choice and early registration will assure teacher selection. This festival is all about people coming together to celebrate and share their love of marimba. It is a chance to work with outstanding faculty including Pius Cheung, Emmanuel Sejourne, Julie Spencer, Gordon Stout, Mike Truesdell, Jack Van Geem, and of course Nancy Zeltsman herself. May 1st is the deadline for registrations and deposits. If you cannot join in for the full two weeks, you can register for three days instead. Can’t make it this year? Make plans to attend next year!

Nanae Mimura, one of my favorite marimbists, was a guest artist at last year’s festival. Here is a video of WLUK-TV Fox 11 talking with Nancy while Nanae performs.

Featured Album: Cypress String Quartet’s Beethoven: The Middle String Quartets


Cypress String Quartet

Cypress String Quartet from San Francisco, California has released their newest album, Beethoven: The Middle String Quartets, which features five quartets from Opp. 59, 74, and 95. Beethoven began writing these in 1806, just after he finished premiering his Eroica Symphony. These works are challenging and hard to understand. During this time period music for string quartet was a genre that was enjoyed privately among die hard music lovers, so these quartets are almost experimental in a sense. Cypress takes on these string quartets with ease, performing them beautifully.

Cypress recently stopped by our performance studio at Classical 90.5 to talk with Daniel Gilliam about their journey to record and perform all of the Beethoven String Quartets. They also treated us to a special performance of Erwin Schulhoff’s Cavatine from Divertimento for String Quartet. Members Jennifer Kloetzel and Tom Stone discussed their recordings of Beethoven’s middle and late string quartets, and their plans to record his early quartets this June. They also described their Call and Response program, which pairs a newly commissioned work from a living composer with a standard masterpiece. This program reaches out to students all over the San Francisco Bay Area, creating new classical music lovers of all ages. Members of Cypress include Cecily Ward and Tom Stone on violin, Ethan Filner on viola, and Jennifer Kloetzel on cello.

You can purchase Cypress String Quartet’s newest album Beethoven: The Middle String Quartets on iTunes, and you can also purchase their first release of the quartets, Beethoven: The Late String Quartets on iTunes. Stay tuned for their release of Beethoven’s early string quartets.

Here is a video of Cypress String Quartet performing the second movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet in Bb Major, Opus 130: II. Presto.