Andrew Imbrie is one of the precious few great American composers, and we have to thank Anthony Korf, George Rothman, Harold Rosenbaum, Riverside Symphony, and the New York Virtuoso Singers for championing Imbrie last night with a performance of a significant portion of *Adam*, for chorus and orchestra.
The performance happened at The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, on 46th St., between 6th & 7th Avenues.
Imbrie’s work was preceded by Copland’s very sturdy and worthy *In the Beginning* (1947). Harold Rosenbaum shaped the Copland knowingly, with obvious skill. (Copland was present as Rosenbaum conducted this work years and years prior.) For me, however, Imbrie’s work towered over Copland’s, as one generation’s great composer should tower over the previous. Imbrie’s harmonic schemes are far more oblique than Copland’s. Copland does not hint so brilliantly at where he is going (harmonically), and does not dare to let certain arrival points resonate even as the harmonies progress onward. Riverside Symphony’s conductor George Rothman was spot on throughout.
It is terribly frustrating that the New York Philharmonic has not gotten behind Imbrie. NY Phil is largely mixed up with European composers who are far better subsidized than their American counterparts, and also more entrenched in old 20th C. habits. And then, on those rare occasions when the NY Philharmonic does a work by an American, the choices are so often disappointing.
Imbrie’s work is ultimately an utterly American take on the the vagaries of consciousness expressed in music in conjunction with a diverse range of poetry beginning with enigmatic Middle English macaronic texts and on to Melville, Whitman, and Emily Dickinson.
The choice of texts is brilliant and the music surpasses that conception.
These excerpts were performed:
Adam La I bounden (anon.)
I Sing of a Maiden (anon.)
O! Mankind (anon.)
A God and Yet a Man? (anon.)
Beat! Beat! Drums! (Whitman)
Shiloh (Hermann Melville)
To Make a Prairie (Emily Dickinson)
Two of the texts—->
Adam Lay I-Bowndyn
Adam lay i-bowndyn,
bowndyn in a bond,
Fowre thowsand wynter
thowt he not to long
And al was for an appil,
an appil that he tok.
As clerkes fyndyn wretyn
in here book.
Ne hadde the appil take ben,
the appil taken ben,
Ne hadde never our lady
a ben hevene quen.
Blyssid be the tyme
that appil take was!
Therefore we mown syngyn
Shiloh: A Requiem (April, 1862)
BY HERMAN MELVILLE
Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
The forest-field of Shiloh—
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
Around the church of Shiloh—
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
And natural prayer
Of dying foemen mingled there—
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve—
Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
And all is hushed at Shiloh.
Every time the soprano comes back around to the word, “Shiloh” is magical.
William Anderson is a guitarist and composer and an advisor to the Roger Shapiro Fund.