NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO COMMENTARY
Copyright © Markand Thakar, 2000
Commentary for National Public Radio, Performance Today
First Aired, January 4, 2000
Copland's Hear Ye! Hear Ye!
Hear Ye! Hear Ye! This is the name of a ballet by Aaron Copland, a work that
I have always loved. This is music that spoke to me immediately and
has remained very close to my heart. So imagine my delight when the
New York Philharmonic asked me to conduct this work on the Completely
Copland festival this season.
it didn't exactly happen like that. The truth is, before I was asked
to conduct Hear Ye! Hear Ye! on the Completely Copland festival,
not only was I not familiar with the music, but I didn't even know
that such a work existed. And when I heard the one available recording
it didn't really speak to me.
invitation to lead one of the world's great orchestras in its tribute
to one of the century's great composers was a singular honor, and I
decided I could learn to love the piece.
by getting to know the story, which is charming. It takes place in
a courtroom, where three witnesses tell dramatically different versions
of the same event: a murder in a nightclub. The hostess, a Mae West
type testifies first. She recalls the evening opening with a hot, jazzy
chorus line dance, followed by a seductive pas-de-deux in which the
woman pulled out a gun and shot her partner. Next to testify is a honeymoon
couple, and they remember a dreamy chorus line dance, followed by a
romantic pas-de-deux, when a chorus girl ran out and shot the man.
Finally the waiter is sworn in, and he is terrified. He describes a
frenzied chorus line dance followed by a foreboding pas-de-deux, with
the murder committed by a stranger in the crowd.
but without dancers the music seemed disjunct, and long: a 33-minute
succession of catchy, jazzy fragments. Ballet music almost always comes
to the concert stage in shortened form and Copland brought out suite
versions of Rodeo, Billy the Kid, and most notably, Appalachian Spring.
work if I extracted a suite from Hear Ye! Hear Ye! ? What would I cut?
The three pairs of dances are very engaging, so I needed to leave those
in. And to tie things together I could retain some of the swearing-in
music for each witness. That inane attorney's music and jury music
isn't necessary. Hmmm, the middle section of this dance goes on forever
-- OUT. And that one, repetitive. OUT. The Overture has some cute music,
but it doesn't really fit ...GONE.
by little the piece took shape. My suite version that you're about
to hear opens with the judge's gavel ("Hear Ye! Hear Ye!") and
a take-off on the national anthem. Three times we hear a witness sworn
in, followed by their description of the two dances and then the pistol
shot, and at the end we're back in the courtroom with the verdict --
guilty! guilty! guilty!.
weeks up to my elbow in the score of Hear Ye! Hear Ye!, along with
red pencils and reams of manuscript paper, I began to appreciate what
I had missed: Copland's genius for pulling you into the moment, from
playful to romantic to dramatic, all in the most engaging way.
this suite from Hear Ye! Hear Ye! now with several orchestras I've
come to love it, and it's now music that -- yes -- is very close to
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