Anja Bihlmaier conducts music by three giants in the history of American music. Antonín Dvořák wrote his famous symphony From the New World in New York. Inspired by the city, 50 years later Leonard Bernstein wrote his breakthrough works. And American Ben Beilman is the soloist in Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto.
During the 1930s, Samuel Barber (1910–1981) became one of America’s most popular composers. His big breakthrough came with Adagio for Strings (1936); it is one of the most played orchestral works of the 20th century. Barber began composing his Violin Concerto in Switzerland in the summer of 1939. In the beginning of the autumn of that year all Americans had to leave Europe and Barber continued working on it in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. Barber’s Violin Concerto consists of three movements. The first two are evocative and melodic and the last one is an energetic perpetuum mobile.
Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) became famous overnight when he had to step in as conductor on short notice at a concert with the New York Philharmonic in the autumn of 1943. The following year he enjoyed his first success as a composer with the ballet Fancy Free and the Broadway musical On the Town, which was based on the ballet. The plot revolves around three sailors who are on 24-hour shore leave in New York and their experiences in the big city. The orchestral excerpts Three Dance Episodes from On the Town premiered in 1946.
Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904) was already one of the world’s most famous composers when he moved to New York in 1892 to be the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America. One of his students was singer and composer Harry Burleigh, who was the grandson of a freed slave and a unique disseminator of American spirituals. The two of them became good friends and the songs Dvořák heard from Harry Burleigh were important inspirations for the former’s Symphony No. 9, which received the title From the New World. The symphony premiered in New York in 1893 and it was an immediate success.
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