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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Thursday, November 19

Lou Harrison's "some assembly required" Concerto

Synopsis

The publisher of Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Violin and Percussion, which received its premiere performance on today’s date in 1961 at New York’s Carnegie Recital Hall, states with refreshing honesty that it is (quote) “not one of Harrison's most frequently performed works” and that “The highly rhythmic violin line is pleasantly contrasted by the exceptionally varied percussion ensemble.”

Now, by an “exceptionally varied” percussion ensemble, they mean in addition to conventional instruments, Harrison asks for tin cans, suspended brake drums, flowerpots, plumber’s pipes, wind chimes, and spring coils.

Not surprisingly, it can be difficult to assemble the “heavy metal” called for in the score. For a 1965 performance, Harrison was forced to spend hours, as he put it, "chasing down pipe lengths and flowerpots in hardware stores."

But there was a method to his madness. Harrison was trying to imitate the sounds of the tuned bronze gongs of the traditional Indonesian gamelan orchestra by using distinctly American “found” materials. In performance, the set-up seems downright humorous at first sight, but at first sound, it works. In fact, one suspects Harrison WANTS the audience to chuckle at first, but then be charmed.

Music Played in Today's Program

Lou Harrison (1917 – 2003) Concerto for Violin and Percussion Antonio Nunez, vn; Basel Percussion Ensemble; Paul Sacher, cond. Pan Classics 510 103

Additional Information

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