Honorary Composer Member Paul Moravec in review

Sunday, December 10, 2006 11:36 AM

From the Wall Street Journal, December 10, 2006.

“The Musician Next Door: How to make youngsters care about artistic pursuits”

By Terry Teachout

Last Sunday I went to a concert by the Amelia Trio, an exciting young chamber-music group whose fresh-faced members teamed up with the great clarinetist Richard Stoltzman to perform “Tempest Fantasy”, a piece by Paul Moravec that won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for music. Mr. Moravec, who lives in New York City, was there as well, and he talked to the audience about his piece, explaining in a clear, no-nonsense way how its various themes were musical portraits of the characters in Shakespeare’s play. As Mr. Moravec spoke, the musicians played the themes associated with Ariel, Prospero, and Caliban. Then they played the whole piece from start to finish, and when they were done, “Tempest Fantasy” received the kind of standing ovation that any composer of modern music would die for.

It occurred to me as I listened that what Mr. Moravec had to say about “Tempest Fantasy,” illuminating as it was, was no important than the mere fact that he was willing to get up on stage and talk about his work in so plain-spoken and unassuming a manner. Most concertgoers, after all, have never met a major classical composer, much less heard him tell a self-deprecating joke.

All at once I remembered another Sunday afternoon years ago when I tuned in one of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts. The topic was American music, and at the end of the program Bernstein introduced an ordinary-looking man in a business suit who proceeded to conduct the finale of a symphony he’d written. The man, Bernstein explained, was Aaron Copland, and the piece was his Third Symphony, one of the permanent masterpieces of American art. Young as I was, I got the message loud and clear: Art doesn’t just drop from the skies. It’s a normal human activity, something that people do for a living, the same way they paint houses or cut hair. It is a message that every artist in America should be sending as clearly – and frequently – as possible.