Yesterday, Mark O'Connor recorded his Americana Symphony with Marin Alsop and the BSO (see previous post). Here, he discusses the piece, movement by movement.
I come from a folk vernacular world, so I used my own theme, "Appalachia Waltz," that I invented. For the symphony, I created six variations on it. Each movement takes a phrase or two out of "Appalachia Waltz" and develops it in a different way. The First Movement is a brass fanfare with percussion battery. That sets the tone. It’s called “Wide Open Spaces,” and you can feel the Americana spirit right from the start. In Movement Two, I take a couple phrases and turn it into a jig. It’s a look at the multi-cultural melting pot that developed in Appalachia centuries ago. These days, we don't think of Appalachia in that way, but it was incredibly diverse. And all of American Music can be traced back to that time and place: rock and roll, jazz, blues, country music, everything. The Third Movement is a fugue. It's called "Different Paths Towards Home," and I'm curious how people will react to it. For it, I imagined people standing on some summit in the Alleghenies, or the Smokies, looking west. Movement Four opens on the plains with a hoedown. Wagon trains and horses kick up dust. This one's a real live wire, and it feels like you’re on the prairie. The Fifth Movement is a soaring eagle and the setting sun. It's a very mood-filled, struggle-filled movement. It depicts the escalating Rocky Mountain range. It starts with low basses and builds towards one solid crescendo for seven minutes. Then, you reach the peak of the Rockies looking westward towards the setting sun. The Sixth Movement is the theme. It introduces the theme and transitions from the mountain space to the great distances of the west. Then, it goes into "Appalachian Waltz" with full orchestra, like no one’s ever heard it, with the full orchestra and all the brass on the big refrain. Then, everything falls away, until there are only three players left—violin, cello, and bass—like on the original recording. It builds to an orchestral crescendo that celebrates a renewed sense of optimism and hope. You know, [Leonard] Bernstein says you write the same piece over and over, and I sort of understand that, with the classical pieces I’ve been doing over the past 20 years. I see that, in my work, I’ve been slowly uncovering the idea and spirit of the westward migration. That's what I've been moving towards.
The BSO performs Americana Symphony tomorrow (September 12), at Havre de Grace High School.