I. Blue Like Monk,  II. The Paradiso,  III. Country Fiddle,  IV. Riffs

Winner of the Nissim Prize in Composition from ASCAP

Duration: 22’ 

Year of completion: 2000

Orchestra: picc22Eh2Bcl2Cbn 4331 hrp pno/cl 3perc timp strings

Commissioned and premiered by the Detroit Civic Orchestra
Charles Burke, conductor


Excerpt from Blue Like Monk:

Excerpt from The Paradiso:

Excerpt from Country Fiddle:

Excerpt from Riffs:



   "I have a strong interest in American music," says composer Kevin Beavers. "It seems to me that our home-grown musical traditions are something that we strongly identify with as Americans, and which help give us a cultural identity." American music, and more precisely, the vernacular traditions of our folk and popular music, as opposed to the European art music transplanted to this country, also provides the title and, in a very real sense, the subject for Native Tongue, Beaver's latest work. This piece was commissioned by the Detroit Civic Orchestra to commemorate its thirtieth anniversary, and it receives its first performance at this concert.

    Part of this composition had its genesis in a jazz-oriented piano piece Beavers wrote about a year ago. In response to the Civic Orchestra's commission, the composer decided to adapt two movements from that work, "Blue Like Monk" and "Riffs," for orchestra and then expand the score with a pair of newly composed sections. Each of the four movements makes reference to a particular style of American vernacular music, but in a sophisticated manner that transforms the stylistic sources. "I'm not a jazz player or a country fiddler," Beavers notes, "but a composer who has used jazz and fiddle styles and dance music in an orchestral piece." Indeed, Beavers has been very conscious of the orchestral medium while working on Native Tongue. "I've wanted to write music that would show off the orchestra," he says, "something that would be great for the cellos or woodwinds or other instruments."

   The first of the four movements, "Blue Like Monk," is, as its title suggests, a tribute to the great jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk. Its principal theme has a rhythmic swing and general character much in the style of that musician, but the "Monkisms" extend beyond just this melodic material. "The orchestration is playful the way Monk is playful," Beavers notes. "I've deliberately made it quirky and off-kilter, so that, for example, a big climax will suddenly drop away to just a harp playing the melody." Other capricious touches include a quotation of the opening glissando from Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

    The second movement is the longest and weightiest portion of the composition. Its title, "The Paradiso," refers not to the last book of Dante's The Divine Comedy but to a dance club of the same name in Amsterdam. There the preferred musical mode is techno-based disco, and the driving rhythms of that style form the basis for this movement. Beavers' music is not simple and sunny pop fare, however. Instead, the composer states, it evolves into a dark rhapsodic fantasy.

    Kevin Beavers grew up in West Virginia, and the third movement of Native Tongue brings a reminiscence of the Appalachian folk music of his native state. Not surprisingly, solo violin plays a prominent role here.

    "Riffs," the title of the final movement, could imply another jazz-oriented movement, but the reality is more eclectic. The music touches on not only aspects of jazz but also the idioms of the pioneering minimalist composer Steve Reich, Hollywood movie scores and the Talking Heads in what the composer describes as "a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek romp."

—Paul Schiavo

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