REVIEW: Accompanied by A Far Cry, NPR’s Rob Kapilow made an enthusiastic return to Boston with an American classic for Celebrity Series of Boston’s ‘What Makes it Great’ series
Though NPR’s famous composer, conductor, author, and music commentator Rob Kapilow has unveiled quite a few eye catching music details over the years with Celebrity Series of Boston from Swing to Broadway to carols and much more, perhaps the most interesting takeaway from Aaron Copland’s classical music composition Appalachian Spring is that it is not about Appalachia nor is it about spring.
Making his return to NEC’s golden and gleaming Jordan Hall in person for the first time in front of an audience since the pandemic, NPR’s Rob Kapilow covered some fascinating music territory in What Makes it Great? with Rob Kapilow and a Far Cry Inventing America Part 2 Copland’s Appalachian Spring: An American Voice for Classical Music on Sunday, February 5 at Jordan Hall in Boston, Massachusetts. The show ran for 120 minutes with a 15 minute intermission. Click here for more information on Rob, here for more on A Far Cry, and here for more information about Celebrity Series of Boston.
Kapilow guided the audience through Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring with greater technical zeal and an interactive approach than he has in some of his past performances. Part teacher, humorist, and historian, Rob Kapilow has been performing the What Makes It Great series for approximately 15 years, expertly uncovering a new way to connect to a vast array of music and encouraging the listener to experience this music in an entirely new way from technical composition to its emotional impact.
As beautiful and fanciful as Appalachian Spring sounds, it is neither about Appalachia nor spring and was entirely imagined by Copland who was a Jewish immigrant from Brooklyn. What is so wondrous about this 40s piece is how Copland creates this imaginary and extraordinary world, a piece which was originally called House of Victory, and how it has been historically associated with America over the years. Kapilow uses a bit of a different approach for this particular work by expounding on the technical and mechanical side of the piece and inviting the audience to actively participate in the song’s musical patterns and rhythms. Appalachian Spring is also associated with lyrics and it is a based on the Shaker melody, Simple Gifts, and Rob spends a wealth of time on the mechanics of the piece and how it ties together. It is a method that would thrill classical music fans, music enthusiasts, and musicians alike. He even exposes the subtle intricacies of Copland’s inherent confidence, style, and how to identify it in Copland’s other works.
Adorned in suits, ties, and gowns, Grammy nominated and self-conducted chamber orchestra A Far Cry worked seamlessly with Kapilow as he broke down each aspect of the piece, a feat not easy to do with Kapilow’s specific stops and starts. A Far Cry has made its way around the world since they started in 2007 and what sets this orchestra apart from others is the open communication between each musician. A Far Cry reflected just how important it is to remain in sync with the group, especially since they must connect without a conductor. Their camaraderie and chemistry as they play is compelling to witness as they direct each other with each note.
Copland’s Appalachian Spring has a unique zest, playfulness and peppy thrill of nature through harp and chime as well as calm with a western tinge as Rob explains its historical significance and just why the piece is so enjoyable through each note’s placement, rest, and orchestration.
Appalachian Spring was a childhood favorite for Kapilow’s which was perfectly clear through his personal and humorous anecdotes and the natural and engaging enthusiasm he exhibited throughout the production. Rob is always teaching something new to even some of the most trained and learned music enthusiasts. It was easy to see he has missed the live audience and judging from the audience’s resounding applause and standing ovation, they have missed him too.
Celebrity Series of Boston continues its digital and in person season which includes Jason Moran and the Big Bandwagon on February 17, Dreamers Circus on February 24, Aoife Donovan on March 17, and David Sedaris on April 2, and the return of Alvin Ailey on May 4. Click here to see Sleepless Critic’s past review of Dreamers Circus. Click here to see the full list of Celebrity Series of Boston’s upcoming events.