'New World' gold
As St. Patrick's Day quickly approaches, we turn our thoughts to leprechauns, green clovers, pots of gold, parades, and Irish folk dancing.
We also think about the people of Irish heritage who emigrated to the United States at the turn of the century in search of a new, and better, life. The American Dream was alive and thriving, and viewed as that glorious pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Antonin Dvorak came to America in 1892, not so much in search of a new life, but at the request of philanthropist Jeanette Thurber, who offered him a small pot of gold (20 times his salary in Prague) if he would come and be the director at her new school, The National Conservatory of Music, in New York City.
This conservatory was one of the first music schools to be established in the United States and was focused on providing affordable music education, including persons with physical disabilities and African-Americans. During its time of operation, the conservatory trained more than 3,000 students.
It was during his tenure as director of the National Conservatory of Music, that Dvorak wrote his famous Symphony No. 9 in E minor, "From the New World," Op. 95, B. 178, popularly known as the "New World Symphony," a work influenced by the Hiawatha legend, and spiritual melodies of African-Americans.
Many do not know that Antonin Dvorak spent his summers in Spillville, Iowa. Surrounded by farmland and nature, he was able to become immersed in a simpler life quite different from the bustling activities of New York City. Dvorak had always been drawn to nature and folk music. This influence is present in all of his compositions, but especially in the "New World" Symphony.
It is interesting to note that during the years that Antonin Dvorak was director of the National Conservatory, Irish-born composer Victor Herbert was a faculty member at the school.
Victor Herbert emigrated to the United States in 1886 and was known and respected as a cellist, composer and conductor. His composition, "Irish Rhapsody," captures some of the most famous and beautiful melodies of his home country and was written in 1892 for the Gaelic Society of New York. This was the same year that Dvorak was writing his 9th Symphony, "From the New World."
Both of these pieces of music are featured on the concert program of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, 8 p.m. March 16 and 3 p.m. March 17, Miller Symphony Hall, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown, as we pay tribute to St. Patrick's Day and all those who have come to American seeking a better life.
Featured in this concert is violinist Ji Won Song, winner of the ASO's National Schadt String Competition. Ji Won won an $8,000 pot of gold as she competed last year against violinists from all over the country for the coveted first prize of the Leigh and Edwin Schadt String Competition, and an opportunity to be a soloist with the Allentown Symphony.
Ji Won, a student at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, will perform Tchaikovsky's beloved Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35, written a mere 12 years before the other pieces on the program.
Hearing these pieces together on the same concert program makes one realize just how intertwined the world really is regarding the influence of folk music on classical composers. We feature an Irish composer who grew up in Germany, writing in America, using Irish themes; a Russian composer writing in Switzerland incorporating gypsy fiddling tunes and melodies based upon a Russian dance called the Trepak; and a Czech composer who loved folk music, writing in America, and greatly influenced by American spirituals.
The comingling of cultures is what America is all about: "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." The Allentown Symphony celebrates this sense of freedom and the melting pot of cultures from around the world with music - as we perform Dvorak's Symphony No. 9, "From the New World," Victor Herbert's "Irish Rhapsody" and Tchaikovsky's famous Violin Concerto.
Diane Wittry is Music Director and Conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra and Artistic Director (U.S.A.) of the International Cultural Exchange Program with the Sarajevo Philharmonic, Bosnia.
Ticket information for concerts at Miller Symphony Hall: Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; AllentownSymphony.org, 610-432-6715