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Gerald Carpenter: Concerto Competitions to Yield First Harvest of Winners

In a small but eminently common-sensical departure from the traditional order of things, the Music Academy of the West has divided its signature Concerto Competition into two separate events. 

The piano fellows will compete Thursday, July 14, in Hahn Hall, and the winners of that competition will play concerted works with the Academy Festival Orchestra, conducted by James Gaffigan, Aug. 6, in the Granada Theater.

The string, winds, brass and percussion fellows competed June 29, and the winners — Ao Peng, viola, and Anthony Trionfo, flute — will perform with the Academy Festival Orchestra, conducted by Case Scaglione, at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday, July 9, at The Granada.

The concert opens with the “Prelude” to Richard Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1845-67). Then Peng (a student of Karen Dreyfus and Samuel Rhodes, both of the Manhattan School of Music), will perform the first movement (“Allegro Assai”) of York Bowen’s Viola Concerto in C Minor, Op. 25 (1906), followed by Trionfo (a student at the Colburn Conservatory of Music and currently principal flute of the American Youth Symphony) taking the solo in André Jolivet’s Flute Concerto No. 1 (1949). The concert will conclude with the suite from Igor Stravinsky’s ballet, The Firebird (1919).

I am beholden to Peng for bringing to my attention the life and music of Bowen (1884-1961), a major British composer of the first half of the 20th century.

Until I saw his name the July 9 program, I had never, to my knowledge, heard of him — still less, heard him. What gives this a kind of uncanny twist is that I have spent a good deal of my long life seeking out obscure and forgotten composers, especially from America and the British Isles.

To run across a completely new name from a period explored fairly thoroughly, makes him something of a man of mystery, a dark horse indeed, almost a phantom.

Now, having tasted the sensuous delights of Bowen’s Viola Concerto, and several other of his works, I am even more puzzled by his total invisibility.

Younger than Vaughan Williams, older than Walton and Lambert (or, for that matter Jolivet), Bowen was a close contemporary of Arnold Bax (1883-1953) and George Butterworth (1885-1916), and his musical cohort fits him like a glove.

The first two movements of the concerto, including the one we will hear, sound quite a bit like Delius; the last movement does not, being considerably more energetic and definitely tuneful than that vague and dreamy master ever managed to arouse himself into.

In his The American Cinema (1967) — basically a categorical dictionary of directors — Andrew Sarris has a chapter heading called “Subjects for Further Research.”

That certainly describes York Bowen’s place among British composers, and the sooner we get started the better.

Tickets to this Festival Orchestra concert are $10 (community access(, $40, $50 and $60 (VIP experience box seat), and they can be purchased at The Granada Theatre ticket office, by phone at 805.969.8787 or 805.899.2222 or online at www.musicacademy.org.

— 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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