Copeland and Lincoln – my favorites

Last evening I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful opening concert for the new season of the Duluth Superior Symphony. We took our good friends and, because of the additional seats required got to sit four or five rows closer to the orchestra.

I was particularly eager to hear the middle offering by Aaron Copeland “Lincoln Portrait” – “>Here a truncated version read by (I think) Gregory Peck. (This is not my first reference to this performance)

It was last performed by the Symphony at a 4th of July Concert outdoors and I joked with my friend Frank that I was intensely jealous at that occasion to hear my two time opponent Congressman James Oberstar do the naration honors. I was almost more irked that he did them quite well.

Over the years I’ve read more books on Lincoln than any other historical individual. Copeland is my favorite composer and I’m sure the Portrait is a large part of the reason for my appreciation. It is however, his Fanfare for the Common Man that is my favorite piece, Its so niave, hopeful, fresh and American. It can’t quite stand by itself but is included in many if not most of the Copeland albums and compilations and when it is included it is the exclamation point.

The orchestra did a creditable job and the narrator, Mr. Fogle, was excellent, understated and grave. Sadly a low static feedback on his mike continued on through the narration. The performance brought a pretty quick standing ovation as did the finale in the second half Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony.

“Creditable” sounds like a dismissal and that’s not a fair characterization. The performance brought a tear to my increasingly weepy eyes and you can’t ask for more than that in any performance. I missed some of the energy of a season opening performance when the musicians should have been keyed up and their music crackling with passion.

Markand Thakar has built a truly phenomenal orchestra in little, lowly, provincial Duluth. We’ve had season tickets off and one since before we had children thirty years ago (if I recall correctly) Markand has been here for a third of that time and a decade is a very long time for a conductor to wield the baton at any particular orchestra before moving on. I think the orchestra has grown a little blase about him and it seems borne out in performances with are close to flawless but often wanting in intensity.

I was on the School Board when Markand came to town and at one supper we ate together he lobbied me for more money for the school music program. I was but one member of the Board and the political realities prevented me from doing anything except for putting my heart into the passage of excess levy referendums. Otherwise I was a tightwad with existing cash and resisted large pay increases for the teachers which would have necessitated cutting back the faculty and the course offerings.

Little did I know that those would be the good days for music in the public schools. We had a fabulous music program. I swear when my kids were at East High a School general music program seemed to include half the students on the stage. The Christmas/Winter performance at the DECC auditorium was like a small town festival. True, the music rooms were hideously small, unacoustic, and damaged the hearing of the teachers. That’s no longer the case but I’ll bet the number of children taking music instruction is a much smaller percentage now than in the pre Red Plan days. I’d love to have a school board member make an inquiry into this subject but I wouldn’t expect them too. The results could be too dispiriting.

I do not think that this will be true of the new Symphony season. Last year the Orchestra did crackle repeatedly under the batons of all of the candidates to succeed Maestro Thakar. I was especially knocked over by the first performance of the first candidate. That candidate will soon take up the baton as our new maestro. I hope he keeps the marvelous orchestra that Thakar built on the tips of their toes.

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