Sunday, March 22
The Boston Symphony premiered a new symphony on today's date in 1984—a commission for its Centenary Celebrations. It was the Symphony No. 1 by the then 45 year-old American composer, John Harbison.
Like many composers who teach, Harbison does most of his composing in the summer months, usually spent on a farm in Token Creek, Wisconsin. The academic year is usually spent in Boston, teaching at MIT. In the case of his first symphony, Harbison worked on the piece both in Wisconsin (where he was also finishing up an Italian language song-cycle), and during a residency year at the American Academy in Rome.
"Just as it felt very right to be working on Italian songs in the Midwest," commented Harbison, "it was natural to work on this American-accented symphony in Italy. I have always found the view from the distance to be clearest."
Harbison's father, a Princeton history professor and amateur composer, also was a big influence on him. The younger Harbison, like his father, has an abiding passion for and fluency in American jazz as well as the modern classical idiom. Harbison dramatically fused both styles in one of his most ambitious ventures to date, the opera, "The Great Gatsby," which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1999.
Music Played in Today's Program
John Harbison (b. 1938) Symphony No. 1 Boston Symphony; Seiji Ozawa, cond. New World 80331
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