Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director Laureate of the San Francisco Symphony, Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra and Co-Founder and Artistic Director Laureate of the New World Symphony in Miami, this week leads the Czech Philharmonic in a programme of music by Aaron Copland and Franz Schubert. The featured works are Copland’s ballet score for Appalachian Spring and Schubert’s Symphony in C major (D944), known as the ‘Great’.
Michael Tilson Thomas is a legend in his own right. Having worked with artists such as Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland as a young musician, he subsequently became Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and he co-founded the New World Symphony in Miami Beach.
It was as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, however, that Michael Tilson Thomas achieved his greatest success, forging a long and highly successful collaboration with the Symphony. This relationship was widely regarded as one of the most inspirational and successful in the United States and represented a remarkable period of growth and recognition for the Symphony. MTT has a reputation for creative and artistically adventurous programming, producing a continual stream of innovative ideas, attracting new audiences to classical music and showcasing the works of American composers. During his 25-year tenure, he led the Symphony on numerous international tours and together they won twelve Grammy Awards, made more than 120 recordings and made numerous televised performances, including Tilson Thomas’ enduringly popular Keeping Score series, broadcast by PBS in the States.
It’s appropriate that the opening work of this Czech Philharmonic concert is by Aaron Copland – the score commissioned by choreographer Martha Graham for her ballet Appalachian Spring. From his early twenties Copland’s mission was to promote American music – an objective shared with Michael Tilson Thomas – and his works bear the influence of jazz and Latin American music, as well as the European music with which he became familiar during his time in Paris, studying under Nadia Boulanger.
The title Appalachian Spring is taken from a poem The Dance by Hart Crane (1899-1932) which is a tribute to spring. The ballet, celebrating rural life, tells the simple story of immigrants to their new country, America, their lives and their rituals. The seventh movement of the work is a variation on the 1848 song Simple Gifts, attributed to Joseph Brackett (1797-1882) and regarded as the anthem of the Shaker movement of which Brackett was a member. Appalachian Spring – which won for Copland the 1945 Pulitzer Prize in composition – was written in 1944, initially for a 13-member chamber ensemble, and premiered on 30th October 1944 at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. The work has since undergone various orchestral arrangements, and the one featured in this week’s performance is an arrangement by Michael Tilson Thomas.
Franz Schubert began work on his Symphony in C major (D 944) in the summer of 1825, and it was thought to have been completed in 1828, or possibly before. It was given the title of ‘Great’ to distinguish it from his Symphony in C major (D 589) of 1818, and chronologically was his last symphony. The first performance of the work was given in a sight-reading rehearsal by the Vienna Society of the Friends of Music, but it was not performed publicly until after the composer’s death in November 1828.
It was Robert Schumann who was responsible for the premiere of Schubert’s ‘Great’ Symphony. On a visit to Vienna in 1838 he heard of the existence of the manuscript in the possession of the composer’s brother, Ferdinand Schubert. Schumann passed it to his friend Felix Mendelssohn, and the Symphony in C major (D 944) finally premiered on 21st March, 1839, in a performance by the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, with Mendelssohn conducting.
Michael Tilson Thomas leads the Czech Philharmonic in a programme of music by Aaron Copland and Franz Schubert in the Dvořák Hall at the Rudolfinum in Prague, from 8th to 10th June. For details on booking tickets, visit the Czech Philharmonic website.
Information sourced from:
Czech Philharmonic programme notes
San Francisco Symphony programme notes
More information available on:
Franz Schubert – Symphony in C major (D 944) ‘Great‘