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Monday, December 03, 2012

Harrison on Hand

From the Vault Dept.: This is one of my earliest concert reviews, and it shows. It reads more like a social column, with very little attention given to what made the music and the performance effective. But it’s a snapshot of a time when Lou Harrison (1917-2003) could be on hand to talk about his works. Following the review is the advance I pumped out a few days earlier.


WITH SUCH DISTINGUISHED AUDITORS as Isaac Asimov, Peter Schickele and Lou Harrison present, the chamber music concert presented by the Catskill Conservatory at the Rensselaerville Institute proved its appeal. Harrison was on hand as guest composer, with two works on the program: a 1978 Set for String Quartet and a Suite for Cello and Harp written in the 1940s.

Lou Harrison
Harrison introduced his pieces, calling attention to the simplicity of design and his emphasis on melody and rhythm. The string quartet was written in the style of medieval music, imitating such things as harpsichord ornamentation and a Turkish drumming technique (performed by the cellist).

The players – violinists Janet Brady and Jennifer Reuning, violist George Myers and cellist Stephen Stalker – gave a fluid and sensitive reading which was warmly applauded by the composer as well as the audience.

Stalker was joined by harpist Elizabeth Huntley for the suite, which comprised selections of unused film music; a short, challenging Interlude; and an aria from Harrison's Symphony in G. The combination of instruments was lovely and the music had a beautiful lyricism.

The program opened with a quartet for violin, viola, clarinet (played by Robin Seletsky) and cello by Karl Stamitz, and closed with Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, played by the entire ensemble. Both pieces offered interesting contrasts to the contemporary works, the Ravel finishing the program with a nice, familiar touch.

Also performed was a Serenade for Violin and Flute by Virgil Thomson, a whimsical collection of five movements which anticipates the visit by Thomson to the next concert in this ambitious, commendable series, to be presented Aug. 26.

– Albany Knickerbocker News, 8 August 1984


THE CATSKILL CONSERVATORY must count itself lucky to pin down composer Lou Harrison long enough to perform three concerts with him. Harrison has just returned from a tour of Europe which included stops in Indonesia and New Zealand, and a visit to Stuttgart where Dennis Russell Davies conducted some of his music at a summer festival in that city.

Travel has always been a part of Harrison’s life and musical development, and he considers himself an internationalist, interested in gathering the traditional musical elements often overlooked by Western academics.

On Sunday, the Catskill Conservatory begins a series of four concerts at the Rensselaerville Institute, each to take place at 4 p.m.

Harrison will be present for performances of his Suite for Cello and Harp, and his recent Set for String Quartet. The Catskill Conservatory, based in Oneonta, received a 1984 New York State Governor’s Arts Award. This is the first year it will perform at the Guggenheim Pavilion of the Rensselaerville Institute.

The programs are made up of a mixture of traditional and contemporary chamber music. Sunday’s concert also will include music of Karl Stamitz, Virgil Thomson and Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro (with harpist Elizabeth Huntley).

Carleton Clay, conductor and cofounder of the Catskill Conservatory. says Harrison is not only his favorite composer but also a profound influence on his life.

“He’s a maverick, but one who prefers to remain outside the mainstream,” says Clay. “His has always been a quiet, positive rebellion.” The Conservatory plans to commission a work from Harrison to be premiered during next summer’s series.

Future concerts at the Rensselaerville Institute will take place Aug. 26, with Virgil Thomson as guest; composer Gunther Schuller with the Catskill Brass Quintet on Sept. 2; and the Catskill Woodwind Quintet with composer Pauline Oliveros, who also will perform on accordion, Sept. 9.

– Albany Knickerbocker News, 3 August 1984

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