|Music by Fellows of the American Academy in Rome
fellow of the American Academy in Rome in 1935, wrote in a letter about the piano sonata he composed during his residency "I wrote this amid the rotting splendor of Rome, but all the time my spirit was teeming defiantly with America." These words
impart an essential benefit of
Johnson's European study: exile from America generated a particularly American music.
I was fortunate to be invited for a creative residency in Rome as a visiting performer during various periods from 1997-1999, on the cusp of the twenty-first century. I researched library holdings for scores, recordings, letters, and other clues to the work of American composers since the 1920s. I was gratified to be immersed in the intense efforts of many of the giants of American music, as well as composers of lesser fame whose names were new to me. Reading through scores and listening to recordings, I became fascinated by the hits as well as the misses of composers throughout the century. One could track the trends and follow the lines of creativity. But most gratifying was discovering the unique voices of composers in fascinating works that remained largely unknown. Of the works I wished to bring to light, prepare for performance, and record, many were unpublished; virtually all of those that were once published are now out of print.
I began to think about doing a concert series as a way of preserving and promoting the music I was unearthing. The idea took hold, and I was joined by a vibrant music committee of John Harbison, Robert Beaser, Paul Moravec, and Kathryn Alexander.
The four-concert series "Americans in Rome," debuted at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in the fall of 2002. Twenty-six dedicated musicians performed the works of 36 American composers. The offerings of this series, such as a ten-song set entitled An American Academy in Rome Songbook, speak to the larger communal significance of the American composer family. And there are many more discoveries to be mined!
On the heels of the success of these concerts, I am currently directing a four-volume CD set for Bridge Records, containing premiere pieces by the composers represented in the series.
"Donald Berman Shakes Off Some Roman Dust"
In 1997, the American pianist Donald Berman forced open three old file cabinets in a musty attic above the Janiculum, the highest hill within walled Rome, and found enough years of work for each of his 10 fingers...Berman is a terrific pianist... In short, an impressive resurrection.
San Francisco Classical Voice (June 2009)
"I cannot think of another set of recordings that so deftly and thoughtfully attempts an overview of the evolution of American art music, in all of its range and great energy."
Fanfare Magazine (May/June 2009)