Dvořák’s “New World” and Barber’s Knoxville paired for “American Nostalgia”
By Peter Alexander Nov. 12 at 12:03 a.m.
Conductor Elliot Moore and the Longmont Symphony (LSO) will embrace “American Nostalgia” for their Masterworks Concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 13) at Vance Brand Civic Auditorium.
The concert will feature one of the most overtly nostalgic works in the orchestral repertoire, Samuel Barber’s warmly reflective Knoxville: Summer of 1915, paired with Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony. Tickets for LSO concerts are available here.
All LSO musicians, staff and volunteers have been vaccinated. Audience members eligible for COVID vaccinations must show proof of vaccination or medical exemption to attend the performance, and must wear face masks inside the building.
Moore says that he chose the program for Saturday’s concert while reflecting on people’s need to connect to the past in difficult times. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the need for nostalgia,” he says. “There can be feelings that the world is changing so fast, I’ve never seen this before.
“Somebody said to me recently, all that’s keeping me alive right now is looking back. People need a sort of old Americana and that is certainly what I feel through Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915.”
Barber’s score is written for voice and orchestra and will be performed by soprano Leberta Lorál with the LSO. The text is taken from the eloquent prologue to James Agee’s autobiographical novel A Death in the Family. The text is suffused with Agee’s wistful childhood memories of his family, or as Barber wrote, “it expresses a child’s feelings of loneliness, wonder and lack of identity in that marginal world between twilight and sleep.”
But beneath the nostalgic yearning for warm summer nights with the family there is also an undercurrent of foreboding in both text and music. Agee’s prologue takes place shortly before the tragic death of the book’s title, which is briefly referred to in the text and expressed in the music: “God bless my people . . . remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.”
We also know today that World War I was raging in Europe in 1915, and would soon pull Americans into the slaughter. And, Moore reminds us, “one could also say it’s before the Spanish flu”—something we all can relate to today.
Lorál has not sung the Barber before, but says she has loved getting into the score. “I’ve heard it but have never sung it before,” she says. “When I got approached about it, I looked at it and I was hooked on it. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is right up my alley! I love this!’”
She likes the nostalgia and the sweetness of the text and music, but she also has a personal feeling for the final part of the text, in which Agee reflects on his innocence and incomplete identity as a child. “After a while, I am taken in and put to bed,” he writes. “Those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home . . . but will not ever tell me who I am.”
“That line has really stuck with me,” Lorál says. “I know why it stuck with me. At birth I was adopted. I had a great relationship with my biological parents, and last month my birth mother passed, and I was there to see her.
“I was OK with whatever happened—that’s all good. So that last line, wow! It stuck with me. I took that and went back to the beginning to pull through the piece, all the way to the end.”
Moore wanted another work that reflects America’s past to go with Knoxville: Summer of 1915. “To tie that in with Dvorak’s ‘New World’ Symphony, so that we can all feel something good—that’s important for a lot of people in today’s world, where we’re all facing so much,” he says.
The “New World” harkens back to what many Americans think of as a happier time in our history. Composed in the U.S. and premiered in Carnegie Hall in December 1893, the symphony is thematically linked with our culture. For example, scholars have shown that it was partly inspired by Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha,” which Dvořák had read in Czech translation.
While in this country, Dvořák also showed great interest in Negro spirituals, which were sung to him by one of his pupils, Harry T. Burleigh. Burleigh’s singing is likely reflected in the slow movement, with its spiritual-like “Goin’ Home” melody. Dvořák himself believed the symphony expressed something about America, and once said he would never have written it “just so” had he not come here.
Moore finds meaning in both the nostalgia of the program, and in sharing it communally. “People need that,” he says. “That’s an experience not only that we can offer, but that we can offer to people all at the same time.
“People need that kind of shared, uplifting experience that we’ve missed.”
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Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, director
With Leberta Lorál, soprano
- Samuel Barber: Knoxville: Summer of 1915
- Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 in E minor (“From the New World”)
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium