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Gerald Carpenter: Academy Chamber Orchestra Plays Milhaud, Copland and World Premiere

Matthew Aucoin is not the only brilliant composer-conductor hanging out at Miraflores at the Music Academy of the West this summer. There is also the suavely accomplished James Stephenson, who is currently in residence.

Stephenson will conduct a chamber orchestra comprised of Music Academy fellows in a concert at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 11, in the Lobero Theater, 33 E. Canon Perdido St.

Stephenson (an academy fellow himself in 1988, 1989 and 1991), will conduct a program of three works, all connected to dance. They are:

Darius Milhaud's "La création du monde, ballet, Opus 81 (1923);" the World Premiere of James Stephenson's "Martha Uncaged (2017);" and Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring (ballet for Martha), Suite, (1944)."

Milhaud (1892-1974) had his own history at the Music Academy, and was on the faculty in the late 1940s/early '50s. He had been visiting America since at least the 1920s, and lived here off and on for most of his life.

On one of his first visits, he went to Harlem and heard African-American music for the first time. The experience caused a seismic shift in his composing.

Milhaud never wrote "jazz," because, for one thing, jazz is not a written language.

But he loved the black harmonies, the instrumentation, and the syncopation, and all of these show up in "La création du monde," which has had great influence in both French and American music.

Almost 40 years later, the great John Lewis, of the Modern Jazz Quartet, composed a ballet called "Original Sin (1960)."

Stephenson is well-represented on YouTube, but it is best if you go to his website,, and get the names of a few of his compositions in order to get the right James Stephenson.

When I hear music by a contemporary composer, whose stuff I have never heard before, my first reaction is usually to put it into one of three categories: 1) attractive and/or exciting, 2) boring and/or uninspired, 3) incompetent and/or offensive.

The four or five samples of Stephenson's work I have now heard fall definitely into the first category.

I look forward to hearing the new work, which is a kind of mosaic portrait of the indispensable choreographer, Martha Graham.

Copland, who wrote "Appalachian Spring" for Graham, gave it the working title, "A Ballet for Martha." The Shaker song, "Simple Gifts," has almost become the composer's theme song. It remains the greatest of his borrowed tunes.

Tickets to this concert are $46, and can be purchased at the Lobero box office, by phone at 963-0761 or 899-2222, or online at

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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