The Music Men

Two mismatched musicians make sense together, playing in the key of life

"A lot of jazz and ragtime and other pop-oriented musicians have had that same aspiration," Thompson says. "They wanted to lift that music out of a popular context and into the concert hall."

The influence of composers like Johnson on later American music cannot be overestimated, Laureano believes. The concert will open with the overture to Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, which "couldn't have been written without Johnson and people like him doing what they were doing," he says.

The program will also include Ravel's Introduction and Allegro for harp and orchestra. This lush and demanding work was commissioned by Sébastien Erard, inventor of the modern pedal harp, as a way of showing off the new instrument's capabilities. The brief solo passage in Ravel's piece calls for all seven pedals in quick succession, in each of their three positions. The solo will be played by Greta Wangensteen, whom Laureano characterizes, as a "future star."

The stars of the not-too-distant future may not have the encouragement that Wangensteen enjoys, Thompson cautions. "These kinds of opportunities will disappear if we're not vigilant," he says.

Perhaps the greatest threat of the cost-cutting mentality is to the development of self-expression. Asked why so many jazz-players are multi-instrumentalists like himself, Thompson replies that the jazz player's first job is to communicate, and that having more than one arrow in one's musical quiver is an aid to communication.

Laureano is quick to add, however, that classical musicians are not, in the denigrating phrase sometimes used by jazz players, "paper men," simply because they read their parts from printed music.

"Even though we're not improvising our parts [as jazz players do], we're improvising a sentiment," he says. "A good classical musician will bring a piece of music to life in such a way that if you come to two separate performances, you hear two different sets of risks taken."

Thompson believes the most important component in any style is "real music," as opposed to "frivolous ephemera, which dies its own natural death after a brief popularity."

"If it's real music," he says, "it will work; it doesn't matter when it was composed or where it comes from."

 

Scott Robinson is a frequent contributor of music reviews for Minnesota Parent.

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