The New West Symphony, which began its 2010-11 season with a concert Friday in the Oxnard Performing Arts & Convention Center, will repeat the performance, conducted by Andrés Cárdenes, at 4 p.m. Sunday in Barnum Hall on the campus of Santa Monica High School.
Marvelous pianist Christopher O’Riley will appear with the band as guest artist.
The program consists of three works: Sousaphernalia, from 1999, by one of America’s finest living composers, John Biggs; the Concerto No. 3 in D-Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 30 by Sergei Rachmaninov; and the Symphony No. 9 in E-Minor, Opus 95 (“From the New World”) by Antonín Dvořák.
Once, in conversation with the present writer, Biggs made a reference to “the guys who are still writing melodies,” clearly and justifiably considering himself a member of that club.
Biggs — born in 1932 in Los Angeles — is a Californian to the bone. Educated at UCLA and USC, his compositional mentors include Roy Harris, Lukas Foss, Ingolf Dahl, Flor Peeters, Halsey Stevens and Leonard Stein — a largely American crew, I feel obliged to point out. Igor Stravinsky is a substantial presence for Biggs, as well, but more as a benevolent deity and personal model than as one taking a direct hand in his education.
Another major influence was his own career as a singer. With his then wife, the superb soprano Salli Terri, he founded the John Biggs Consort, specializing in Medieval, Renaissance and 20th-century music. His music tends to lyricism, and his melodies to the vocal line. He has his stringent, modernist moments, but mainly, I would say, if you love Samuel Barber, Gian Carlo Menotti and Aaron Copland, you’ll love Biggs.
The first Biggs composition I heard was his Oboe Concerto, played during Fred Granlund’s long-vanished, deeply lamented Fall Music Festival. I immediately set out to hear more, met the composer himself and found him kind, generous and wise. Every Biggs piece I have heard since has increased my opinion of him as a composer.
Sousaphernalia was written in 1999 and premiered in October of that year by the New West Symphony under its music director, Boris Brott. The composer called it “a consideration of the American musical century on its way out.” It is bound to be peppy, being a kind of homage to America’s “March King,” John Philip Sousa, and it quotes several of Sousa’s well-known works, including Semper Fidelis, El Capitan and The Stars and Stripes Forever.
Regardless of your opinion of Sousa — and I admit to serious reservations — Biggs is a composer you should definitely get to know. I urge you to click here to visit his Web site, where many of his works are available as recordings and scores.
Concert tickets can be ordered by phone at 1.800.639.9378.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.