Dvorak exposed at George Mason University

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Entertainment,Music,Marie Gullard

There is a fascinating back story to Czech composer Antonin Dvorak's "Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95; From the New World." It begins with the composer's extended stay in the early 1890's in the little U.S. town of Spillville, Iowa; and its culmination - at least for this upcoming Sunday afternoon -- is found in the Harris Theatre on the campus of George Mason University.

It is here, in an All Dvorak Concert, that audience members can immerse themselves in the life and music of the composer through the performance of four of his works by the Mason Symphony Orchestra, along with a visual presentation and discussion of Dvorak's "American" music by renowned speakers, including Joe Horowitz and Angel Gil-Ordonez.

"Dvorak, in the 1890s was invited to be the head of a newly founded National Conservatory of Music in New York City," explained GMU Musicologist Tom Owens. "He was thought of as ... the premier Bohemian Czech. The hope was that he could draw on that experience to show American composers how they might be able to [write] American classical music."

In concert
'All Dvorak Concert'
» Where: Harris Theatre, Geroge Mason University's Center for the Arts, Braddock Road and Route 123, Fairfax
» When: 4 p.m. Sunday
» Info: $10, 1-888-945-2468, music.gmu.edu

Dvorak spent summers in an Iowa community of Czech immigrants called Spillville, and it was here that he became interested in Native American and African American music as source material and inspiration for the two works he would produce -- the "New World String Quartet in F" and his renowned "New World" symphony.

A series of images make up a visual presentation during the Largo and Scherzo movements of the piece. These are designed to evoke the artistic trends at the time Dvorak was composing, drawing on American art and daily life. Designed to give the music a more rich context, it provides an aesthetic for the eyes and ears of the audience.

The concert begins with Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, No. 1 and No. 2 to illustrate the composer's Bohemian, Czech nationalist style. The "New World" will follow, illustrating the "American" Dvorak. Audiences will be able to hear a marked difference, as will be emphasized in the panel discussion to follow. After intermission, the orchestra and soloist, Kenneth Law presents the composer's "Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104," written after his American stay and toward the end of his life. This concerto premiered in London in 1896 to great accolades.

GMU's well thought out program brings Dvorak's life and work full circle and allows us to experience the personal inspirations and influences behind the music that has become a staple in the Classical cannon.

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