Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Aaron Copland's "The Second Hurricane" (Bernstein, 1960) is a fitting work to hear now

Along the lines of recent postings about the challenges posed by hurricanes and various other natural disasters – and the call for “radical hospitality” –  I found a 1998 Sony CD of Leonard Bernstein’s recording with the New York Philharmonic of Aaron Copland’s “The Second Hurricane”, a 45-minute “play opera” popular with high schools, composed in 1936, and performed in April 1960, when I was a junior in high school.

The “values” behind the work, however, sound particularly applicable now.  The work is scored for soloists, chamber orchestra, and two small “choruses” of parents and students.   The work is narrated by Bersntein himself, with a rather gentle voice.  In the story, a hurricane has truck a southern island community in 1935.  Some high school students, prominent members of their class – talented and popular – “volunteer” to go help assist the victims. They actually fly to the destination – and in 1935, during the Great Depression, flying was a real novelty.  But the plane is forced to land in a remote area of the island as a second hurricane approaches.
The kids suddenly find themselves “selfish” in their concerns about their own survival and comfort, and have to pull and work together, almost like members of a new military unit – to make it.  Is this a story about “unit cohesion”?
The music is rather lightweight and consonant, with a cheery ending.
The performance on the CD is preceded by the 16 minute a cappella performance of Aaron Copland’s “In the Beginning” (based on Genesis), with Martha Lipton, mezzo-soprano, and the Chorus Pro Musica, a mono recording made in May 1953.  

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