“A Poem Inspires Echoes of Jazz and Ice”

"Wolfgang Sawallisch's concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra have typically had a sense of Germanic propriety: everything is in place, yet the music-making can seem safe or even stolid.  But at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday evening, Mr. Sawallisch and his players sounded unusually youthful and vigorous, perhaps because they played a program that demanded as much."

"The Curtain raiser was Kevin Beavers's three-movement Sinfonia, a work that was heard during the new music week at Tanglewood in 1997 and won a comeptition held by the Philadelphia Orchestra last season.  Mr. Beavers is not afraid to ask an orchestra to make noise, and he begins his Sinfonia with a blaring, dissonant chord that gradually dissolves into a slow-moving, mostly portentous movement, with an occasional moment of lightness: for example, a jazzy section with gracefully bending string lines."

"Mr. Beavers's central movement, "Winter Moon," is pure tone painting: the crescent moon described in the Langston Hughes poem that inspired him is drawn by dissonant winds that evoke an unforgiving iciness.  And the finale, "Chatterbox," borrows a page or two, in terms of instrumentation and snappy rhythms, from "West Side Story" before making its way through a variety of jazz idioms and ending somewhere in the big-band era."

"The orchestra set out gamely on this eclectic voyage, taking it up on its invitation to produce a big, powerful sound."

-Allan Kozinn,
The New York Times, Saturday, October 14, 2000


"Composers Get a Taste of Direct Democracy"

"As history in the making, it did not rival the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic.  But in the annals of the century-old Philadelphia Orchestra, Oct. 5 will go down as a date unlike any other.  For one night only, audience and musicians joined forces to select a winning composition among three finalists chosen from a staggering total of some 330 submissions- For the winner of this centennial composition competition, the prize meant a spot on the program for two subscription concerts and a reprise tonight at Carnegie Hall.  The other two would be shelved in favor of Stravinsky's "Symphony in C." Ballots cast at intermission were tallied -Mr. Beavers won."

"-The three-movement "Sinfonia," by Kevin Beavers (born 1971), a teacher of composition and theory at the Interlochen Arts Camp, in Michigan.  The "Overture" opens with a big clatter that instantly dies, gives way to a somber adagio, which in turn is overtaken by hot syncopation: The still, chilly second movement, "Winter Moon," is inspired by the Langston Hughes poem of the same name, with whispering strings hold isolated stratospheric notes from chimes and winds together like unseen ether.  The finale, "Chatterbox," is witty, angular, built like a fast-forward "Boléro" but without a hummable tune, culminating in whooshing gasps straight from the other Ravel chestnut, "La Valse," then bouncing into a "Wild Rumpus" coda guaranteed to bring an audience to its feet.  Certainly it did so in Philadelphia."

"-Probably what tipped the scales was the sheer verve of his final movement.  That, and the appealing personal-even autobiographical-note that is evident even without recourse to his commentary in the program note.  Privately, Mr. Sawallisch said that the vote did not surprise him.  'The Beavers piece has a jazzy quality, which appeals to an American public.  And we do play for the public.'"

-Matthew Gurewitsch,
The Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, October 10, 2000


In Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer (10/9), David Patrick Stearns reviews a Philadelphia Orchestra performance of the winning work in the orchestra's Centennial Composition Competition, Kevin Beavers's "thoughtful, but rock-influenced" "Sinfonia." Stearns finds the work to consist of "three highly descriptive tone poems" showing Beavers to have "an engaging, distinctively American voice with the compositional chops to project it." Stearns also notes that Music Director Wolfgang Sawallisch "handled these American vernacular elements with a musical truthfulness you don't hear from his German contemporaries (such as Kurt Masur) or even his younger American contemporaries (such as Kent Nagano)."  Stravinsky's Symphony in C and the Brahms Violin Concerto with soloist Hilary Hahn were also played.

--From the American Symphony Orchestra League's newsletter
-Edited by Melinda Whiting.

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