Rob Kapilow on Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”: Simply Terrific
By Glen Creason
Any review of one of Rob Kapilow’s amazingly instructive concerts has to be comprised of three parts. The first part deals with the wonderful teaching abilities of Kapilow, the second is what makes the subject music great and lastly the playing of the actual piece by the assembled musicians. On this Wednesday night at the Performing Arts Center Kapilow chose the evergreen composition “Appalachian Spring” by the great American composer Aaron Copland and was assisted by 13 members of the Pacific Symphony. Kapilow often asks the question to the audience “got it?” and most certainly the enthusiastic crowd at this show totally seemed to get it and then some.
Kapilow has an easy charm and breezy teaching manner that comes at you at 78 r.p.m. but his warmth and love for the music makes classical music as fun as a popcorn movie on a rainy day. In this case, as the Lakers folded at Staples, we the lucky folks of Cerritos were instructed, thrilled and moved to a tear or two unlike the downcast basketball fans outside in the real world. It also helped that Kapilow chose the much beloved “Appalachian Spring” which never gets old and when touched by this master-teachers hand becomes even more special and wonderful. It was explained that Copland wrote the piece for a ballet created by the great Martha Graham and wished to make it “seemingly simple but only seemingly simple.” Certainly the melody of “Simple Gifts” that appears and reappears in the piece is from the Shaker hymn written in 1834 by a church elder. The Shakers believed that simple was beautiful all on its own and what Copland does with just this chord and an old melody is exhilarating. It was also good enough to gain the composer the Pulitzer Prize for composition in 1944. Despite the fact that Copland had never been to Appalachia and wasn’t even sure of the title of the piece until Ms. Graham named it before the premiere he wanted to portray the pioneer American spirit in this rustic musical landscape. Copeland was interested in the essence of this idea and not the reality so what comes out of the piece is a great optimism based on this pure simplicity. Even though Aaron Copeland was a very reserved and dignified soul a close friend described him as “he never stopped being a child.”
At Cerritos, Kapilow worked hard, harder than some Laker big men and showed the intricacies of this seemingly simple composition. At one point he had over one thousand audience members “air conducting” the one chord that begins the ballet. As he has done over 180 times for classical compositions Kapilow took it apart, piece by piece and then puts it back together to a lovely whole. After the teacher shows the audience how each component is cleverly constructed and how true genius takes risks to reach these heights of greatness the entire auditorium is salivating to hear the piece played. This was one of those shows where folks were anxious to get back into their seats for the second half so they could hear the “Appalachian Spring” in whole cloth after Kapilow explained how it was constructed. The thirteen members of the Pacific Symphony did not fumble the ball and played inspired after getting their appetites whetted for the Copeland. With superb performances by the flautist and first violin along with every single other member of the ensemble Copeland’s great work never sounded so good. Bravo, maestros!