Davison, Mandelbaum, Grechaninov

On the first Saturday of the month (usually; we moved to the 16th this month because of the fund drive—it’s not too late to give!) Jack Moore and I host Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection on WRTI 90.1 FM in Philadelphia and on the all-classical webstream at wrti.org. We also broadcast encore presentations of the entire Discoveries series (seven years and counting) every Wednesday at 7:00 pm on WRTI HD-2. For a look at all the shows, click here.

Saturday, May 16th, 2009, 5:00-6:00 p.m.

John Davison (1930-1999). Symphony No. 1 for small orchestra, Movement 2, Andantino (1957-58)
Joel Mandelbaum (b.1932). Sinfonia Concertante, Movement 1 (1962)
Aleksandr Grechaninov (1864-1956). Symphony No. 1 in B min, op. 6 (1895)

It’s friends and first symphonies on the next Discoveries. Joel Mandelbaum conducts the music of his friend John Davison, then his own. Next we’ll hear the first symphony of Aleksandr Grechaninov, the premiere of which was conducted by his friend Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

Davison was born to American parents in Istanbul, the family returning to the States shortly after his birth. He studied at Haverford College, Harvard, and Eastman, counting among his teachers Randall Thompson, Walter Piston, Bernard Rogers, Alan Hovhaness, and Howard Hanson, who conducted the premiere of Davison’s Symphony. His music is unfailingly optimistic, and this symphony is full of charms. As he wrote about another work of his, Arthur’s Return for bagpipe and strings, which recalls the longing for Britain’s “once and future king” to establish an unending golden age, “Heaven on earth may seem remote, but poets and musicians can dream.”

Joel Mandelbaum and Davison met as undergraduates, and the two remained friends after establishing teaching careers: Davison at Haverford, and Mandelbaum at Queens College of the City University of New York. The Sinfonia Concertante features oboe, horn, violin, and cello as soloists, but they are woven into the fabric of the orchestra. Preparing for a concert of the Queens College Orchestra brought Mandelbaum to the Fleisher Collection, where he looked through the scores of his late friend John Davison. The students at the College bring a fresh commitment to the performances of both these works.

GrechaninovGrechaninov died the year before Davison started work on his Symphony, and had composed his own first Symphony six decades earlier. Those years span countries, cultures, continents, and governments. At the 1895 premiere Grechaninov was already well on his way to success. The Czar guaranteed his income for life, but the Revolution ended the pension along with the Czar. Grechaninov eventually left, for Paris in 1925, then for America in 1939, subsequently becoming a U.S. citizen.

He has been called the last of the Russian Romantics, but folk influences figure strongly in his output as well as a tremendous amount of church music for both Orthodox and Roman rites. His music, and his life, seemed always to be in transition, between Romantic and modern, folk and classical, religious and operatic, old world and new. As he states in his autobiography My Life: “I am not one of those fortunate people whose path of life is strewn with roses.” He died at 91, and his resting place symbolizes the tension surrounding his career. Just a few twists down the road from the roller coasters, safari, and Looney Tunes Talent Show of New Jersey’s Great Adventure amusement park, in a small Russian Orthodox cemetery, Aleksandr Tikhonovich Grechaninov is a silent witness to other worlds.

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