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River Oaks Chamber Orchestra ends its season with a legend, a cutie pie and a surprise

If I had to name one composer that defined and branded the sound of American classical music, it would be Aaron Copland (1900-1990). Agree?

Not everyone may be familiar with his name, but I'd argue that almost all are acquainted with this colorful music, beginning with the catchy tune associated with the "Beef...it's What's for Dinner" advocacy commercials of 1994, making a comeback in 2000, taken from a movement of his ballet Rodeo. Then there is Fanfare for the Common Man, thought of as the epic flourish that exemplifies the spirit and triumph of mankind, associated with the opening theme of CBS Sports Spectacular in 1979. You would also recognize the pastoral folkish melodies of Simple Gifts from the closing of Appalachian Springs, which premiered in 1944. 

His compositional range was outstanding, ranging from legendary masterworks and highly emotive compositions to humorous and lighthearted pieces, even experimenting with mathematical serialism. He often cited Igor Stravinsky as his music hero, with Sergei Prokofiev as a close second.   

He also focused on jazz and was intrigued by the idea of creating a new genre: the jazz concerto. Copland's Clarinet Concerto falls in that category.

It was jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman who approached Copland, making no compositional requests, but demanding exclusive performance rights for two years for the sum of $2,000 — a seemingly insignificant amount given the breath of the piece and its importance in American classical music history. Copland wrote it between 1947-49 while living in Rio de Janeiro.

Can one hear Latin American influences? Perhaps. The piece is rather saucy. 

This weekend, the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra brings back conductor Robert Moody (can I say cutie pie?) and features principal clarinetist Nathan Williams as the solosit, showcasing his silky sound, superhuman control and tireless energy. Also on the program is Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 (if the second movement doesn't get to you, you probably are cold and heartless), two re-orchestrated movements of (dean of the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University and 1985 Pulitzer Prize in Music nominee) José Antonio Bowen's Symphony No. 1, and as always, a surprise piece.

I know the surprise piece. Both Moody and founder/oboist Alecia Lawyer spilled the beans. But I am not telling. 

Armed with a camera and a microphone, I headed to The Church of St. John the Divine and crashed a rehearsal. I think they are used to it by now.

The River Oaks Chamber Orchestra presents its Season Finale this weekend, Saturday at 5 p.m. at The Church of St. John the Divine, and on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens. General admission tickets are $25, with discounts available for students and seniors on Saturday, and discounts for MFAH members available for Sunday's performance. 

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