Friday, January 6, 2012

Spend Part of Today with Leroy Anderson

You know composer Leroy Anderson's work even if you didn't know you knew it.

Think "Sleigh Ride". Or "The Syncopated Clock". Or "Blue Tango".

Did you know that Anderson also wrote a marvelous piano concerto? Yes.

As the story goes, it had its premiere in an outdoor concert in Chicago, on July 18, 1953, with Anderson conducting the Grant Park Symphony and pianist Eugene List as soloist. There was another performance soon thereafter. The music critics were lukewarm (Boo to you critics, and shame on you, as well).

Because of the lackluster reaction of the so-called experts, Anderson withdrew the concerto, and so, there it sat in his files.

Near the end of his life, he got it out and looked it over and told his wife that he thought it had merit and he could do something with it (considering making some changes to the first movement). But did not get around to it. And maybe that is fortuitous, because it is perfect as it is. A work of genius.

The music is bright and uplifting, something one cannot say about every piano concerto but ought to be able to say about every piano concerto in C major. The sound is distinctively American, and those who love Copeland, Bernstein, Grofe, Gershwin and other prominent 20th century American composers (indeed, it seems as if Anderson anticipates John Williams), will find much to appreciate and enjoy in this concerto.

The concerto sounds as if it would be an absolute joy to play, either as a member of the orchestra or as the piano soloist. There are introspective moments, as there should be in every concerto; however, as befits an American work, the mood is mainly energetic, exciting, and enveloping.

While some of the serious works of others of the Mid-Twentieth-Century composers not named above sound decidedly dated in the 21st, Anderson's piano concert sounds fresh and right, need I say, timeless, even while it reflects the joy and hopefulness of the immediate post World War II era. Maybe we needed the perspective of a few decades to realize just how grand it is.

Thankfully, even though it was overlooked and somewhat forgotten for decades, orchestras in Europe, Canada and the United States have been presenting the concerto in recent years with much success and audience appreciation (may the acclaim increase year by year).

Anderson's concerto is polished and delightful. To get a sense of it, listen to the first movement of the concerto, here:

Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) : Concerto for piano and orchestra (1953) 1/2

I believe if you listen even once (and am absolutely certain if you listen twice) that Anderson's concerto will become a new favorite of yours, and become part of you. The rest of the concerto is here:

Thrilling conclusion

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