Music of Copland House

Songs America Loves to Sing

Music from Copland House

Fri, July 22, 2016, 8:00pm


Due to predicted severe weather, this performance has moved from the Spanish Courtyard to the Venetian Theater.

Recently hailed by the New York Times for “illuminating essential truths about the music,” the Music from Copland House ensemble returns to Caramoor in Songs America Loves to Sing, a vibrant, wide-ranging program featuring concert works inspired by the sounds of country, jazz, folk, ragtime, tango, and spirituals. Includes music by Aaron Copland (selections from Old American Songs) Pulitzer Prize-winner John Harbison (Songs America Loves to Sing), Mark O’Connor (selections from Poets and Prophets, inspired by Johnny Cash), Pierre Jalbert (Crossings, a Copland House commission), John Mackey (Breakdown Tango), Hale Smith (his classic setting of Amazing Grace), and Florence Price (Gonna Wake Up Singin’), as well as the pioneers of ragtime (Scott Joplin) and jazz (W. C. Handy).

“Excellent musicians in vital performances… Copland would have been proud of all of them.” – Chicago Tribune

Copland  Old American Songs (selections)
O‘Connor  Poets and Prophets (selections)
Harbison  Songs America Loves to Sing– Intermission –Jalbert  Crossings
Songs by W.C. Handy, Scott Joplin, Hale Smith, and Hall Johnson
Mackey  Breakdown Tango

Jorell Williams, baritone
Carol Wincenc, flute
Meighan Stoops, clarinet
Gary Levinson, violin
Alexis Pia Gerlach, cello
Michael Boriskin, piano

We’ll give you a lift! Free Metro-North Katonah Shuttle beginning at 6:00pm supported by  First Niagara Foundation

About the Performers

Music From Copland House (MCH) is the internationally-acclaimed touring ensemble-in-residence at Aaron Copland’s National Historic Landmark home in Cortlandt Manor Westchester County, NY, an award-winning creative center for American music ( Hailed by The New York Times for “all the richness of its offerings” and “illuminating essential truths about music,” MCH occupies a special place on the musical scene as the only wide-ranging American repertory ensemble journeying across 150 years of the U.S. musical landscape. MCH has been engaged by Carnegie Hall, the Library of Congress, Miller Theatre, Merkin Hall, Monday Evening Concerts in Los Angeles, the Cape Cod, Bard, and Ecstatic Music Festivals, and many other leading North American concert presenters; and has collaborated with the European Broadcasting Union on a special concert aired in over 20 countries. The ensemble records for Arabesque, Koch International, and the Copland House Blend labels, and is regularly featured on Copland House’s popular main-stage concert series at the historic Merestead estate in Mount Kisco, NY. Inspired by Copland’s peerless, lifelong advocacy of American composers, MCH also presents a wide variety of educational and community outreach activities across the region and U.S. MCH concerts feature the ensemble’s much-admired Founding Artists – clarinetist-composer Derek Bermel, pianist Michael Boriskin, flutist Paul Lustig Dunkel, violinist Nicholas Kitchen, and cellist Wilhelmina Smith – along with an array of stellar Principal and Guest Artists.


Pianist and Copland House Artistic & Executive Director Michael Boriskin has performed in over 30 countries with leading international orchestras and chamber ensembles in major concert halls, including Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, BBC, the Berlin Radio, London’s Wigmore Hall, Vienna’s Arnold Schoenberg Center, and Theatre du Champs-Elysees in Paris. A frequent presence on NPR and American Public Media, his extensive discography on nearly a dozen labels includes his award-winning SONY CD of Gershwin’s complete piano and orchestra works, which is featured in NPR’s 1000 Recordings to Hear before You Die.


Cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach has appeared extensively in recitals and as an orchestral soloist around the world; performs at the Aspen, Bridgehampton, and La Musica di Asolo Festivals, and with Trio Solisti and the string sextet Concertante (both of which she co-founded), Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and Musicians from Marlboro; and partnered with the Paul Taylor Dance Company and former New York City Ballet principal dancer Damian Woetzel. A native New Yorker, she has actively commissioned and premiered new works from such preeminent composers as Danielpour, Glass, Adès, and Golijov.


Russian-born violinist Gary Levinson is Artistic Director of the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth., and has been Senior Principal Associate Concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony since 2002. A much sought-after chamber artist, he has collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma, Lynn Harrell, Eugenia Zukerman, Lukas Foss, Carter Brey, Christopher O’Riley and others, and has been a member of the Elysium String Quartet and Trio Virtuosi. He has recorded works by Margaret Brouwer, Behzad Ranjbaran, and George Tsontakis on the CALA and E1 International labels.


As a member of the Naumburg Award-winning Da Capo Chamber Players, clarinetist Meighan Stoops has commissioned and premiered over 100 new works by American composers, toured nationally and internationally, and performed on several critically acclaimed recordings. She is an original member of the American Modern Ensemble, Wet Ink Ensemble, and Walden School Players, and regularly performs with the Manhattan Sinfonietta, Newband, Music from Japan, Sequitur, Sylvan Winds, Quintet of the Americas, and many other leading ensembles.


As concerto soloist, Grammy-winning recording artist, devoted chamber music performer, and professor/mentor, flutist Carol Wincenc has appeared extensively on five continents. She most recently performed in Prague, Venice, Warsaw, and Nice, and concluded this past season with a recital at Weill Carnegie Hall in the Naumburg Looks Back series. She continues to be the muse for the foremost composers of our time, including Christopher Rouse, Lukas Foss, Henryk Gorecki, Joan Tower, Jake Heggie, and Paul Schoenfeld. Her numerous books and publications for Lauren Keiser/Hal Leonard garner acclaim in the series, The 21st Century Complete Flutist.

About the Music

Aaron Copland / (1900 – 1990) / Old American Songs

After having worked on two major projects in 1949 and 1950 – a cycle of twelve songs setting poems by Emily Dickinson and a rich, somber Quartet for piano and strings, Aaron Copland noted in his memoirs that “I took a break … with the hope of recharging my inspiration.” Seeking a stark contrast from those two substantial, demanding works, he hit upon the idea of setting a group of five American folk songs drawn from a variety of sources. Their charm, simplicity, humor, and warmth brought such immediate success that Copland set five more songs less than two years later. Though based on different themes – politics, religion, children, love and loss, loyalty and devotion, and minstrelsy – the songs all summon a bygone era. The Boatmen’s Dance is a minstrel show tune written by the composer of Dixie, and evokes the revelry of an Ohio River town. The Dodger is a satirical political song dating from the 1884 Grover Cleveland-James Blaine presidential campaign. Simple Gifts is the iconic Shaker tune that Copland immortalized in Appalachian Spring, and Zion’s Walls is a beloved revivalist song.

Michael Boriskin


John Harbison / (b. 1938) / Songs America Loves to Sing

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Harbison remembers (or imagined?) what he described as “a distant, quaint vision: the family around the piano singing familiar songs, a Currier and Ives print … the album which our family sometimes used may have been called Songs America Loves to Sing. In his own work of the same name, he turned to ten popular tunes – spirituals, hymns, gospel, blues, political songs – and reverted to the German Baroque genre of the “chorale prelude,” in which common melodies were embedded into a composer’s own inventions. In Harbison’s Songs America Loves to Sing, these settings alternate between “solos,” with one of the instruments taking the lead, supported by the others, and “canons,” where all the performers collaborate, though sometimes in their own orbits. Knowing the famous tunes enhances the experience of following their transformations, though in some instances, the songs are either so richly embroidered or enmeshed in canonic conversation that the originals sometimes become barely recognizable as they recede deep into the musical texture – an analogy, perhaps, of how these decades-(centuries-)old beloved sounds are always with us in our backgrounds – almost mystical sounds clouded by the past or transparent in the present.

Michael Boriskin


Pierre Jalbert / (b. 1967) / Crossings (2011)

Pierre Jalbert’s Crossings is animated by the idea of wandering peoples, “crossing” into new territories and strange lands. He was especially interested in the migration from France to Quebec and other parts of Canada in the 17th century, and then from Canada to the United States in the 19th and early 20th century, which represents his own family’s history. Framed in a large three-part form, the driving, sharply-accented outer sections of Crossings surround a calm, rather eerie center. The whole work is built around the somewhat mournful French-Canadian folk song Quand j’ai parti du Canada (“When I left Canada”), which is characterized by its subtle, light-and-dark mixing of major and minor modes. While this striking melody does not appear until it is played in its entirety by the violin in the ruminative central portion of the work, nearly all of the material heard in the outer sections is derived from it – de-constructed, fragmented, transformed. Crossings is a musical analog for any journey filled with unexpected turns, trials, and discoveries. The use of open strings in the violin and cello throughout the work and a brief allusion to French-Canadian fiddle music impart a folk-like sound to the music. Crossings was commissioned by Copland House for Music from Copland House, which premiered it in 2011 and recorded it on a new disc of the composer’s chamber music.

Michael Boriskin


W.C. Handy / (1873 – 1958) / Aunt Hagar’s Children Blues
Scott Joplin / (1868 – 1917) / Pineapple Rag
arr. Hale Smith / (1925 – 2009) / Amazing Grace
arr. Hall Johnson / (1888 – 1970) / Ride On, King Jesus!

Countless African-American composers were inspired by a concert tradition that often ignored or excluded them, yet they persevered, and, with family and local encouragement, flourished in often inhospitable, sometimes openly hostile, environments. Their music often told of the human experience, and sang with religious fervor and deep personal sentiment about faith, joy, tragedy, oppression, and liberation, elevating the mundane and seeking to help comprehend the lofty. In their own ways, they embarked on journeys that ended up realizing Antonin Dvorak’s late 19th-century vision of a real American idiom born of “the music of the people” and animated by plantation songs, Negro melodies, creole tunes, or Native American chant. This evening’s group of songs spans nearly 100 years, from the pioneers of Ragtime (Scott Joplin) and Blues (W. C. Handy) to two 20th century stalwarts (Hale Smith and Hall Johnson) who helped strengthen and broadcast the African-American voice, attracting the attention and respect of the establishment in the U.S. and Europe.

Michael Boriskin


John Mackey / (b. 1973) / Breakdown Tango

John Mackey’s Breakdown Tango has, in its various guises, quickly become one of the 21st century’s most-frequently performed works. It began life in the chamber version heard this evening, which was commissioned for a ballet by the Parsons Dance Company. Versions for orchestra and for wind ensemble soon followed, under the title Redline Tango. That name derives from “redlining an engine” – pushing it to the limit, and referring to the red danger zone on meters or gauges in cars or other equipment. As the composer noted, the work begins with “the initial virtuosic ‘redlining’ section, with constantly-driving 16th-notes and a gradual increase in intensity. After the peak comes the second section, the ‘tango,’ which is rather light but demented, and even a bit sleazy. The material for the tango is derived directly from the first section of the work. A transition leads us back to an even “redder” version of the first section, with one final pop at the end.”

Michael Boriskin