The dazzling young composer-pianist-conductor Thomas Adè will conduct the Music Academy of the West's Festival Orchestra in the closing concert of the 2014 Summer Festival, at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Granada Theatre.
At first glance, Adès has put together a rather assertively "modern" program for the season finale: Charles Ives' Variations on "America" (1892) (orchestrated by William Schuman); the "Four Sea Interludes" from Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes (1945); Adès’ own Polaris: Voyage for Orchestra (2010); and Igor Stravinsky's ever-magical ballet Petrushka (1911).
A little reflection, however, reveals this to be modernism at its most accessible. Even though it is the earliest piece on the program, the sheer Yankee crankiness of Ives' "America" makes it sound almost the newest.
Ives wrote the Variations when he was 18. He had been a church organist since he was 14, and the piece was written for organ originally. Schuman made an orchestral arrangement in 1964, and it immediately became the preferred version. Compare the Ives Variations to John Knowles Paine's 1861 Concert Variations on the "Star Spangled Banner", Opus 1 or Dudley Buck's 1887 Festival Overture on the American National Air, "The Star Spangled Banner," and you will find both Ives' compositional models and a measure of the radical nature of his musical sensibility.
Except for his heartbreaking Sinfonia da Requiem (1940) and the lovely ballet, The Prince of the Pagodas (1956), I have always found Britten's music utterly easy to resist. This goes double — nay, triple — for his dreary, tuneless, interminable operas (after suffering through one of them, Noël Coward wrote in his diary, "I think he goes a bit far in the avoidance of melody"). So, I am not the man to consult for a positive promotion of the "Four Sea Interludes," though people I respect have been moved to remark that, "they aren't that bad, for Britten." Fulsome praise.
Adès’ Polaris — the title refers to the official name of what is popularly known as the North Star — is delightfully and deliberately spacey. It is a very pleasant quarter hour spent poking around in the universe.
Petrushka is, of course, one of the wonders of the modern world, as fresh and mesmerizing today as when it was first performed, more than a century ago, under the baton of the young Swiss conductor, Pierre Monteux — who, two years later, was to also conduct the premiere of The Rite of Spring.
Tickets to this concert are $48, $38 and $15, and they can be purchased by phone at 805.969.8787 or online by clicking here. Tickets are also available from the Granada box office at 805.899.2222.