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EAC Symphony & Chamber Orchestras present their annual Spring Concert, Dvorák in America

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EAC Symphony & Chamber Orchestras present their annual Spring Concert, Dvorák in America

By Lori Dugan

THATCHER, AZ—Eastern Arizona College’s Symphony and Chamber Orchestras will present their annual Spring Concert entitled Dvorák in America on Saturday, May 5 at 7:30 p.m. The concert will be held in the College’s Fine Arts Auditorium and will be conducted by EAC Orchestra Director Franklin Alvarez. Admission is $5/person.

The symphony will perform Joseph Bodin de Boismortier’s Concerto in D major, Igor Stravinsky’s Berceuse and Finale from Firebird Suite, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Fourth Brandenburg Concerto in G major, and the evening will culminate with Antonín Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9 in G major From the New World.

Dvorák (1841-1904) was born into poverty in rural Bohemia, but was fortunate enough to be able to study in Prague. In 1892, he traveled to New York to serve as director of the newly formed National Conservatory. He held this position for three years, during which time he spent his summers in a Czech community in Spillville, Iowa. While in America, he composed some of his best-known works, including two quartets, a cello concerto, and his Symphony No. 9 in G major From the New World.

In particular, he was captivated by the music and culture of African Americans and American Indians. “I suggested that inspiration for truly national music might be derived from the Negro melodies or Indian chants,” he writes in Music in America. “I was led to take this view partly by the fact that the so-called plantation songs are indeed the most striking and appealing melodies that have yet been found on this side of the water, but largely by the observation that this seems to be recognized, though often unconsciously, by most Americans.”

One of Dvorák’s students at the National Conservatory was the young African American singer and composer Harry Burleigh. Burleigh sang for Dvorák many of the spirituals and plantation songs he had learned from his grandfather.

Dvorák’s interest in American Indian culture began in Europe, when he read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha, in Czech translation. During his first year in New York he accompanied Jeanette Thurber to a performance of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Dvorák was fascinated by Buffalo Bill Cody, the sharpshooter Annie Oakley, and the Indians in war bonnets who reenacted Custer’s Last Stand and battles between settlers and Native Americans.

From the New World is representative of an important change in Dvorák music. It was one of Dvorák’s first large scale works that tries to show what American national music could be. While it never quotes African American melodies directly, the symphony overflows with themes influenced by Dvorák’s contact with Burleigh and African American song. The first movement features a closing theme similar to Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, and the second movement contains the signature English horn melody reminiscent of the spiritual Deep River.

“This concert is the culmination of a semester of dedication by these gifted students,” said Alvarez. “We are so excited to share this concert with the Gila Valley.”