Professor of Piano Tony Caramia’s recitals are well known for offering interesting themes, imaginative programs, and lots of historical tidbits about the music and composers. His upcoming Faculty Artist Series concert An American Journey – this Sunday afternoon, October 23 at 3 p.m. in Hatch Recital Hall — will be no exception.
In the pianist’s words, “An American Journey explores the connection between title and musical content.” Each of the pieces to be performed has the word “American” in the title: American Serenade, American Nocturne, American Story, and much more.
The concert will present a diverse collection of thirteen composers, along with three Eastman premieres: “Genesis” from An American Story (2007) by Mary Lee Taylor Kinosian, American Atmospheres (2005) by Jonathan Pieslak, and Afro-American Suite (1969) by Undine Smith Moore.
The recital begins with an assortment of pieces by composers whose names seldom turn up on classical recitals: Vernon Duke, Dana Suesse, Morton Gould, and other mainstays of Broadway and movie scores and radio orchestras in the 1930s and 1940s. All were composed in 1939-1940 at the request of Meredith Willson (of The Music Man fame), who wanted musical pieces to perform on his radio show with the word “American” in their titles. Caramia will dress four of the five selections up in his own arrangements, with results he describes as “1939 meets 2022.” (The exception is American Caprice by Gould, who was, in fact, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer.)
“I’ve always been interested in why composers chose the titles for their pieces,” says Caramia. “What’s the reason? And in these cases, how does the music reflect their use of the word ‘American’?”
He thinks there are several clues in the music itself, including a rhythmic freedom and a daring harmonic sense derived from jazz. They are easily heard, for example, in Three American Pieces from 1944 by a young Lukas Foss (originally for violin and piano but now also a staple of the flute repertoire).
The Americanness in Caramia’s choices can also be as simple as the use of familiar American melodies, as in “The Streets of Laredo” from Roy Harris’ American Ballads; such spirituals as “Nobody Knows the Trouble I See” and other hymns in the Black worship tradition set by Undine Smith Moore in her Afro-American Suite for Flute, Cello, and Piano; or Caramia’s own arrangement of Samuel Ward’s “America the Beautiful,” which he hopes will conclude the concert in an inspiring and thoughtful way that may lead listeners to think about “the nature of being here.”
“I’m not trying to define American music,” he says of this program, “just to explore and celebrate our disparate characters and our differences. Maybe we can learn from our differences … and maybe I can be a bit different myself because of learning from you.”
Annette Farrington, flute
Chihiro Kakishima, violin
Kyle Victor, cello
Sunday, October 23, 2022
Hatch Recital Hall, 3:00 PM