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Karl Haas and Louisville Youth Orchestra
By Theresa Johnson
"H-E-L-L-O, everyone." Renowned pianist/conductor Karl Haas received a heartfelt round of applause as he delivered his familiar greeting to a capacity crowd at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. "World Without Walls" was presented by Dr. Karl Haas and the Louisville Youth Orchestra on Monday, November 12, at Whitney Hall.
An adjective aptly describing Dr. Haas and the Louisville Youth Orchestra is durable. Dr. Haas' brainchild, Adventures In Good Music, has been broadcasting daily, uninterrupted on public radio for the past 30 years. The Louisville Youth Orchestra has been in the ball game for as many years – 33. Its beginnings date to the Fall of I958, with Rubin Sher as conductor. Fifty young musicians rehearsed at the old Academy on York Street. Today there are three orchestras (Symphony, conducted by Daniel Spurlock; Repertory, James Bates; and Concert, Rosalyn Harbst) with more than 160 musicians. The goal of the orchestra, according to Spurlock, is to provide the best quality musical experience possible for our young people. We hope that we do that."
"A quality musical experience" was had by all on Monday evening. Haas choreographed the program as carefully and lovingly as any given program from "Adventures." The theme for the performance, as the title implies, was a world without walls. Through a musical "sampler" of different composers around the world, Haas illustrates that music is a universal language, a shared human experience that knows no language or cultural barriers – no walls.
We began our whirlwind tour in Italy with Rossini's "Overture to the Barber of Seville," conducted by Spurlock. To those unfamiliar with classical music, this is the overture often associated with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.
Following the Youth Orchestra's rousing performance of this overture, Haas came on stage and performed his signature piece from Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique." IHow did Dr. Haas choose this selection for his "Adventures" series?
"When I was a little child I used to sit down on the floor by the piano and watch my mother play it."
At first he considered the piece temporary until he thought of something better. Well, folks, thirty years later he is still playing it.
Other selections performed include Beethoven's "Three Bagatelles," Gershwin's Prelude from "The Three Preludes for Piano," Claude Debussy's "Clair de lune" and Aaron Copland's Hoedown from "Rodeo." The evening closed with Tchaikovsky's impassioned "Marche Slave."
Germany's entry for this evening, "Three Bagatelles" by Beethoven, took me completely by surprise because these were lively, light-hearted musical sketches not characteristic of Beethoven. Haas commented that Beethoven often composed lighter, shorter pieces in between his symphonies.
Haas demonstrated his musical versatility in Gershwin's Prelude, from "Three Preludes for Piano." In this selection, American-born composer George Gershwin masterfully blends the clarity of form and thematic process of classical technique along with the spontaneity of jazz – not an easy feat for a composer living in an era when jazz was still a relatively new art form.
From the shores of America we jumped back over to Europe again, this time to France and the light-as-air music of Claude Debussy. What Renoir was to the art world during the Impressionism period, Debussy was to the music world. He was the Renoir of the piano, and Dr. Haas diligently captured the very essence of Impressionism in Debussy's beautifully meditative "Clair de lune." The lilting phrasing and rambling melody . . . ah . . . I could actually envision a pond bathed in sun-splotched beauty, surrounded by fuzzy, pastel-colored trees.
I must confess my real "hidden agenda" for attending "World Without Walls" was to hear the music of Aaron Copland. Any score – I love them all. I wasn't disappointed either. The Louisville Youth Orchestra did a good job in performing Hoedown, a frenzied, feverish dance score taken from the Agnes de Mille ballet, "Rodeo." This is a highly lyrical, rambunctious piece showcasing Copland's ability to carve out an American idiom.
How does Copland create such a distinctive sound for a country that is the proverbial melting-pot of different cultures? According to Dr. Haas, Aaron Copland accomplished this by composing music that captures America's "wide open spaces." His music explores Westem and, in the case of "Appalachian Spring," rural landscapes. His music exalts simple, country living and traditional folk ballads.
Our final destination was Russia and Tchaikovsky's "Marche Slave." A highly emotive score (but then what by Tchaikovsky isn't?), this work builds to a tempestuous crescendo, like a musical snowball gathering strength. In "Marche Slave," the strong string section provided that relentless momentum characteristic of this score.
And so ended "World Without Walls." If you missed this event, you really missed out on something special. In a country teetering on the edge of war, a major recession and – here in Kentucky – a possible earthquake, Karl Haas, this Johnny Carson of the classical music world, filled me with his incurable optimism. He sees that proverbial glass of milk as both half empty and half full (though mostly full): "We have international cooperation alongside of international dangers.
Culturally and politically, walls are falling all over the world."