Museum Offers A Classical Christmas

The Catalina Island Museum will make history on December 13th with a performance by an ensemble of the Stanford Symphony Orchestra. For the first time, Avalon’s Casino Theater will be filled with the music of such renowned composers as Antonin Dvorak, George Gershwin and Aaron Copland. The program’s theme, “Sounds of America,” will showcase the willingness of our nation’s composers to absorb influences from outside traditional European symphonic music, and incorporate sounds that are often rooted in American jazz, “Negro Spirituals” and Native American song.

After achieving fame in Europe during the late nineteenth century, the Czech composer Dvorak was commissioned by a wealthy American to perform and compose in the United States.  He promoted the idea of incorporating elements of popular music into the symphonic tradition, creating a music that truly represented the American character.

The work he executed while in America—such as the “American Quartet that will be performed Friday evening–reflects a heavy reliance on indigenous forms like folk music and “Negro Spirituals.” It was sources like this that Dvorak promoted as representing the future of music in this country.  His unquestioned position as an established and respected composer provided Americans with the license they needed to investigate untraditional sources.  

After World War I, many American composers attempted to distance themselves from European tradition, which they now viewed as corrupt and on the decline.  

Inspired by Dvorak, they now searched for forms of music that were rooted directly in the American experience.  They sought inspiration in the jazz and blues music that emanated from the juke joints of Harlem rather than the concert hall.  George Gershwin was one of the first to incorporate into “serious” compositions not only jazz elements but the music of Tin Pan Alley and the Broadway stage.   

By 1929, Gershwin’s work was being performed by symphony orchestras throughout the country and was enjoying enormous popularity with the American public.

But to many critics, Gershwin’s music seemed too popular to be taken seriously as symphonic.  Aaron Copland, however, had studied in Europe, and he achieved international acclaim for his work before the age of 30.  He continued the movement toward incorporating influences such as folk, jazz and blues.  

He traveled widely, which influenced him greatly, and the distinctive strains of Mexican folk music soon surfaced in his compositions.  But his monumental achievement was “Appalachian Spring,” which the Stanford University ensemble will present as its final piece of the evening.  An acknowledged masterpiece of American symphonic music, the piece was commissioned by the dance pioneer Martha Graham.  The piece serves as a score to Graham’s ballet, which follows the life of American newlyweds in the Pennsylvania frontier.  

The piece is lush, resonant and reflects an emotional range seldom heard before.  It seemed to emanate directly from the mountainous landscape of Appalachia, and represents one of the purest evocations of nature ever put to music.  It has been called a “Milestone of the Millennium,” and earned Copland the title of a “truly American composer.”

The Catalina Island Museum’s Holiday Concert highlighting the “Sounds of America” is at 7 p.m. on December 13, in the Avalon Casino Theatre. In the true spirit of the season, all residents and visitors are invited to enjoy the Holiday Concert at no charge.

Tickets are going fast! Tickets may be picked up at the Catalina Island Museum, requested by phone at 310-510-2414 or by visiting the events page at www.CatalinaMuseum.org. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. Seating is limited and tickets are required.  Limit 5 tickets per person.

Prior to the Holiday Concert, visit the Catalina Island Museum’s annual Holiday Open House from 4 pm.. to 7 p.m. Attendees will enjoy free admission to the museum and its special exhibition, Avalon: 100 Years of Bizarre, Fascinating and Colorful History, 10% – 50% off every item in the Museum Store and a free tasting by Steve’s Steakhouse. During this event members of the museum will receive their normal 15% discount on top of the already reduced prices throughout the museum’s store.

The Catalina Island Museum is Avalon’s sole institution devoted to art, culture and history.  The museum, its digital theater and store are located on the ground floor of Avalon’s historic Casino and are open 7 days a week, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

For more information, the museum may be reached by phone at 310-510-2414 or at its website: CatalinaMuseum.org.

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