Video: Apropos – Lara Downes & Leonard Bernstein

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The intrepid Lara Downes gave a recital of many of her “anniversaries” for Lenny (Bernstein) on June 1, 2018 at Trinity Wall Street and included Apropos, written for her at Copland House last August.

This compact miniature is an imagined conversation between Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. The opening and closing melody takes the theme from Copland’s Piano Variations (a piece Bernstein loved to play at parties where the guests, sipping cocktails, were expecting less intrusive background music). At the heart of Apropos is a bouncy, jovial (and at times serious) dialogue, inspired by the letters Copland and Bernstein exchanged. (Apropos begins at 1:03:50 – Lara introduces it at 1:00:00)

The Porch Over the River

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Wendell Berry’s prophetic words in “The Porch Over the River” describe a pastoral scene which becomes darkly reflective of our human footprint. It’s as though the sounds of the river, frogs, phoebes, and trees are momentarily interrupted by the passing sound of traffic or the distant whine of a jet engine. But our focus returns to the river and trees.

This setting for baritone, clarinet, and piano traces the poems reflective nature, beginning with a figure in the piano that is both moving and static, like a river. As the protagonist looks upwards, a more complex middle section develops over a ground bass (a repeated, descending bass line in the piano), culminating in music that seems to touch the “high dark marked by the flight of men.” Her gaze returns to the river and trees, once again always moving and always still.

Commissioned by clarinetist Carrie RavenStem, The Porch Over the River premieres May 20, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts by A/tonal with baritone Chad Sloan and pianist Jessica Litwiniec Dorman.