At a School of Music concert in Carnegie Hall on Thursday night, legendary American composers will mix their voices with their music.
“Voices of American Music,” a tribute concert for the 40th anniversary of Yale’s Oral History of American Music collection — a conglomeration of audio and video interviews, original scores and photographs of 20th-century American composers — incorporates recordings from the collection with music by the same composers. Tonight’s event in New York City will repeat a performance that took place Tuesday night at Yale’s Sprague Hall.
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“I wanted to be sure that the materials will be accessible in the future and not lost in some way,” Vivian Perlis, the founding director of the OHAM collection, said. “The sound of a voice can be very powerful in recreating a time in the past.”
The concert intersperses pieces played by School of Music faculty and students with audio, video and photographic montages of composers Charles Ives 1898, Aaron Copland, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Duke Ellington, Eubie Blake, Steve Reich, Jacob Druckman and John Cage.
In one video montage, Academy Award winner Copland, whose music is often described as evoking the American landscape, calls the audio memoirs in the collection “the biography [he] never got to write.” Copland later co-authored a two-volume autobiography with Perlis.
The concert featured music as diverse as the composers behind the scores.
Interview footage of Zwilich, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in music, presents her personal take on the work and the vulnerability of the composer.
“You have to walk a tightrope,” Zwilich said. “Put yourself out there, but also have a sense of humor. If someone says ‘You’re a genius,’ you don’t stop taking out the trash.”
Zwilich’s “Lament,” performed by Lachezar Kostov (cello) and Viktor Valkov (piano), seems to walk a tightrope itself — a complex interweaving of cello and piano that blends melodic segments smoothly into passages of tension-building dissonance.
Cage, described in a slideshow as a Zen-Buddhist inventor with a fascination in mushrooms, responds in an interview to critics’ warnings that he would soon meet an impassable wall in his musical ability with “Well, then I’ll beat my head against that wall.”
Cage’s “Third Construction,” performed by the Yale Percussion Group, features an eclectic slew of instruments, including crank and shake noise-makers, a rope-operated drum and a conch shell.
Druckman’s “Dance with Shadows,” based on the Greek tragedy “Medea,” incorporates sporadic groans and clicks produced by traditional brass imitating kitchen appliances. A particularly difficult trumpet sequence ends in a very traditional sounding cadence.
At Tuesday’s concert, Perlis received the Sanford Medal — the School of Music’s highest honor.
“I was always the one on the other side of the camera that you didn’t see,” Perlis said, referring to her role as musical historian.
Though the award ceremony will not be repeated at Carnegie Hall tonight, School of Music Dean Robert Blocker will introduce Perlis’ work and the OHAM collection before the concert.