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Belated Fanfares for an Uncommon Composer

November 25, 1990|DANIEL CARIAGA

The celebration of Aaron Copland's 90th birthday on Nov. 14 is not quite over. This week, for instance, the Copland mini-festival at USC continues, and Monday Evening Concerts puts on its own Copland event, honoring the composer and his music simultaneously.

Monday night at the County Museum of Art, composer and pianist Leo Smit--a longtime friend and colleague of Copland's--has arranged the program for the MEC's celebration.

Smit will play, along with Adam Stern, the original two-piano version of "Billy the Kid," preside at the keyboard for a revival of the Quartet for piano and strings and accompany soprano Rosalind Rees in 18 songs by friends and colleagues of the feted composer.

Explaining why the familiar "Billy the Kid" score began life as a two-piano work, Smit, reached between rehearsals at the museum last week, recalled that " 'Billy' was written for a very poor dance company, Ballet Caravan, who took it on tour and certainly could not afford an orchestra. But, from the beginning, Aaron had the orchestration in mind. The manuscript has all sorts of cues and clues."

In his prefatory note to this event, Smit comments, "The concert opens with (Copland's) Quartet for piano and strings, undeservedly neglected as it contains a movement of rare, tragic eloquence, the deeply moving final part."

Later, he writes, "Aaron was always interested in what younger composers were up to. With characteristic generosity, he found time to listen, criticize and praise their new works, leaving them with a sense of encouragement.

Between "Billy the Kid" and the quartet, Smit has chosen works for voice and piano that reflect what Smit calls "a history of the American art song in this century."

Rees and Smit will perform songs by Marc Blitzstein, William Schuman, Arthur Berger, David Raksin, Elliott Carter, Lukas Foss (who will be present), David Diamond, Ned Rorem, Israel Citkowitz,, David del Tredici, Alexei Haieff, Gail Kubik, Irving Fine, Harold Shapero, Louise Talma, Virgil Thomson, Leonard Bernstein and Smit himself.

In dedicating this evening to the composer--reportedly not well enough to leave his home in Peekskill, N.Y., to participate in any of the many festivities surrounding his birthday--Smit frames his program notes with these greetings to the composer:

"This program, lovingly chosen, expresses my thanks to Aaron for his everlasting music and our long, perfect friendship. . . .

"From all of us here tonight to you, dear Aaron, a happy, healthy fourscore and 10!"

The program takes place in the County Museum of Art's Bing Theater. In addition to Rees, Smit and Stern, the performers are violinist Elizabeth Baker, violist Kazi Pitelka and cellist Roger Lebow.

At USC, the six-part Copland Festival continues on Wednesday with a chamber music program to be performed by violinist Eudice Shapiro, soprano Janice McVeigh and pianist Alan Smith. It concludes, Dec. 6-9, with four student performances of Copland's opera "The Tender Land," conducted by Larry Rachleff, with stage direction by Frans Boerlage.

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