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Timeless Beauty and Vibrant Energy

Timeless Beauty and Vibrant Energy

Samuel Barber's (1910-1981) Adagio for Strings is a musical gem that has resonated with audiences for decades. Known for its emotional depth and hauntingly beautiful melody, this piece transports listeners to a realm where every note carries the weight of human experience. Originally part of the second movement of his String Quartet, the Adagio has found its way into the hearts of many through its transcendent orchestral arrangement.

In January 1938, Barber sent an orchestrated version of it to Arturo Toscanini. The conductor returned the score without comment, which annoyed Barber. Toscanini told him later that he was planning to perform the piece and had returned it simply because he had already memorized it. On Nov. 5, 1938, a selected audience was invited to Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center to watch Toscanini conduct the first performance; the recording of the broadcast is now in the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. Reviewing the premiere performance in 1938, Olin Downes noted that with the piece, Barber "achieved something as perfect in mass and detail as his craftsmanship permits."

Adagio for Strings can also be heard on many film and television soundtracks, including The Elephant Man, Platoon, and Lorenzo's Oil. It has also been used as a salve for many painful events, including the funerals of Princess Grace of Monaco and Albert Einstein; and to honor victims of the September 11 attacks and COVID-19. Leonard Bernstein conducted it at four consecutive New York Philharmonic concerts in memory of Barber shortly after his death in 1981.

George Gershwin's (1898-1937) An American in Paris offers a stark contrast, infused with the vibrant energy of city life. Inspired by his experiences in the bustling streets of 1920s Paris, it is a kaleidoscope of sound that captures the rhythm and spirit of urban existence. The jazzy, syncopated melodies transport listeners to Paris, where the hustle and bustle of city life are translated into musical brilliance. 

Gershwin based An American in Paris on a melodic fragment called "Very Parisienne," written in 1926 on his first visit to Paris as a gift to his hosts, Robert and Mabel Schirmer. Gershwin called it "a rhapsodic ballet"; it is written freely and in a much more modern idiom than his prior works.

Gershwin explained in Musical America, "My purpose here is to portray the impressions of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city, listens to the various street noises, and absorbs the French atmosphere." He even brought back four Parisian taxi horns for the New York premiere of the composition, which took place on December 13, 1928. In our performance, we will be using the “original taxi horns,” which have different pitches than what most recordings have.