A brilliant icon in the world of classical music in the USA, Mr. Henry Fogel, took time to generously focus and share his thoughts regarding America’s own composer, Leroy Anderson. After many years of chiming in about Anderson’s Piano Concerto, I am indeed proud to see the success of the concerto and its acceptance in the concert world. Due credit must be given to Erich Kunzel, who initially sought permission to perform, record and release the concerto, which he recorded for the first time in 1992. I was present at the performance in Cincinnati the evening before the recording sessions commenced, and was immediately enchanted with the piece. Erich graciously suggested I contact the Anderson family, which has evolved into a special and endearing friendship. After performing the concerto at its birthplace, the Grant Park Music Festival, in the mid-1990s, I had eventually convinced [the late] Maestro Skitch Henderson, founder of the New York Pops, to bring it, with me, to Carnegie Hall. I’ve proudly carried the concerto close to my heart since then, and was thrilled to have recorded it with America’s own maestro, Leonard Slatkin. Leonard is famous for promoting, recording and premiering new works, and this occasion was, for me, an event.
Here is the blog entry from Mr. Fogel:
Leroy Anderson: An American Treasure, Unjustly Neglected
I rarely use this space to review or report on recordings, but I recently came across one that struck me as important and noteworthy in many ways. It is Naxos’s Volume One of the orchestral music of Leroy Anderson. Leonard Slatkin leads energetic, committed performances of a wide range of Anderson works, and Slatkin and pianist Jeffrey Biegel team up to show us that Anderson was capable of writing a fine Piano Concerto, one that deserves to be more widely known than it currently is.
But what makes this disc stand out for me is that it points out how little attention the American musical community has given to one of its own giants, just because his music fell into that uncomfortable area between “popular” and “classical.” (God, how I hate those terms.) Leroy Anderson was a genius, as this disc amply demonstrates. He worked on a remarkable level of melodic inspiration, tunes pouring out of him like water out of a fountain. He wrote what we today call “pops” repertoire – much of it for Arthur Fiedler and his Boston Pops.
Other countries treat their composers of lighter music with much greater respect–whether it is Johann Strauss Jr. in Austria or Hans Christian Lumbye in Denmark, to give just two examples. There is a place in the repertoire for music of a lighter nature. But we’re so damned serious in our concert life, so vested in making every concert an “artistic experience at the highest level,” that we’ve neglected one of America’s true originals.
Fortunately, 2008 is Anderson’s centennial year, so his music is likely to get some attention. He wrote only one extended-length work, and that is the Piano Concerto heard on this disc (Naxos 8.559313, for those of you who still collect recordings, as I do). The work was premiered by the Grant Park Orchestra in Chicago, under Anderson’s baton with Eugene List as soloist, in 1953. It got mixed reviews both there and in a subsequent performance in Cleveland, and Anderson withdrew it. He intended to revise it, but never did, though toward the end of his life he is reported to have found himself coming around to the piece again. After his death, his widow Eleanor Anderson decided to release it in its original form, and Jeffrey Biegel is one of its main proponents now. One wishes that the critics had been more open to this tuneful, colorful piece–perhaps Anderson would have been encouraged to write more music in larger forms.
But no matter. We shouldn’t fall into the trap of diminishing the importance of Anderson just because most of his pieces are three or four minutes long, tuneful, and toe-tappingly rhythmic. The one American composer in this vein whom we seem to have treated well is John Philip Sousa. Perhaps Anderson’s time is finally coming. This disc shows that he is a true American treasure, and great fun to listen to.
July 11, 2008 10:03 AM Permalink Comments (0)