Aaron Copland and the CSO
By Meghan Berneking
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s relationship with arguably the most “American” of all composers, Aaron Copland, dates back to 1928 when the CSO performed the “Scherzo” from his Symphony for Organ and Orchestra under the direction of then-Music Director Fritz Reiner. Since then, the Orchestra’s relationship with Copland has blossomed with commissions, recordings and hundreds of performances of the late composer’s music over the years. Copland himself conducted the Orchestra in 1974 (a program that included Lincoln Portrait narrated by actor Ray Middleton) and again in 1976. Most notably, the CSO, under former Music Director Eugene Goossens, tapped Copland to compose a short work as part of a 1942–43 fanfare commissioning project intended to boost morale during WWII. Copland’s contribution, Fanfare for the Common Man, has since become a mainstay of orchestral repertoire and a frequently invoked work in the broader culture. The CSO also gave the world premiere of Lincoln Portrait in 1942.
Copland’s music seems to fit this Orchestra’s unique “Cincinnati sound,” whether it’s being performed at a CSO or Pops concert, a Young People’s Concert or on an international tour.
In recent years the CSO has paid homage to Copland during several high-profile performances. At Louis Langrée’s inaugural concerts as Music Director in 2013, Dr. Maya Angelou narrated Lincoln Portrait in a compelling performance that included stirring photochoreography displayed above the stage. The concert was recorded and released on Mr. Langrée’s first commercial recording with the CSO, Hallowed Ground.
Major events in the life of the Orchestra have also featured Copland’s music, including the grand opening of Riverbend Music Center in 1994 with the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, narrating Lincoln Portrait, and more recently Copland’s music has been part of the wildly successful LUMENOCITY concerts. His Variations on a Shaker Melody from Appalachian Spring was featured in 2013 and Fanfare for the Common Man opened LUMENOCITY in 2014. The acclaimed Cincinnati Pops album, Copland–The Music of America, also won a Grammy Award in 1998.
The CSO’s rich relationship with Copland and his music is testament to the Orchestra’s determination for greatness. With decades of commitment to extraordinary artistry, the CSO and Pops have forged artistic bonds with some of the world’s most influential musicians. In the process, the Orchestra has helped put Cincinnati on the map as a key player in the development of American orchestral music. By taking risks on up-and-coming composers, being a place of experimentation through world premieres and fresh collaborations, and looking to artists like Aaron Copland, the CSO furthers its mission to seek and share inspiration well into the future.