Copland’s Appalachian Spring is a fairly well known and loved bit of Americana and a ballet piece in its own right. This past spring, the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra at the Clarice Smith Center gave a performance of that piece I believe will be with me the rest of my life. I was overjoyed to discover today that it is up on youtube. I do not doubt the recording won’t compare to having been there, particularly when by necessity the technical aspects of dance and concert both must make compromise when performed by the same people simultaneously. But watching Liz Lerman’s choreographed piece again still leaves me crying, both for the memory of the entire experience and the story told by the two lead dancers.
The performers had to memorize a twenty five minute piece in addition to simple choreography, to the extent that doing something wholly unfamiliar with your instrument, such as swinging one’s contra-bassoon, can be called simple. This fit the frontier nature of the piece quite well, as you’d multiple people circling around said contra-bassoonist in a way evocative of line dancing or see the brass sections standing together to represent part of the town waking up. The two dedicated dancers acted both as the leads and to an extent the conductors, walking through and at times directing the action. The skill set and blending of art forms is perhaps most like a marching band, but the tone and mix of instruments is starkly different than any such band I’ve ever seen.
For a more elegent review, I recommend Anne Midgette's review in the Washington Post:
On Sunday afternoon at the Clarice Smith Center, the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra offered a literally moving performance. Playing Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” from memory, the musicians stood, and walked, and swayed, and danced, and even lifted each other and their instruments. From the very first notes, when the players offered quiet arpeggiated awakening phrases from one side of the stage, gently bathed in quiet blue light, the performance felt powerfully, viscerally emotional. Freeing all the latent creative forces in those usually still players brought a powerful sense of release. I finally realized, in a kind of epiphany, that this is what “moving” really meant…
Or best of all, just watch it for yourself.
Source: Tickets from my mother who saw the show with us. Thanks Mom!