A heavy-duty dose of Americana this week in the form of The National Gallery Orchestra, under the leadership of Music Director Richard Bales and featuring a veritable feast of American composers, most of whom a lot of us are not familiar.
The concert, broadcast by National Public Radio in June of 1982, opens with a performance of Summerstock Overture by Samuel Adler. It’s quickly followed by a performance of the film score to Our Town by Aaron Copland. After that, a world premier performance of 612 for Piano And Chamber Orchestra by Frederick Koch, who also plays the piano. Followed by two short works by conductor Richard Bales; In Memory Of Leopold Stokowski, followed by Aaronesque, in honor of Aaron Copland on the occasion of his 80th birthday. After the Bales pieces, Symphony Number 1 by Beatrice Laufer and in conclusion, two marches by John Philip Sousa.
The American conductor and composer; Richard (Henry Horner) Bales, attended Episcopal High School in Alexandria, and then went on to study music at at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York (Mus.B., 1936), at the ]uilliard Graduate School in New York (1938-1941), and conducting under the late master conducto Serge Koussevitzky at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood (summer, 1940).
In 1935 Richard Bales made his conducting debut with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.; then was conductor of the Virginia-North Carolina Symphony Orchestra (1936-1938). In 1942 he became the first music director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and in 1943 founded the National Gallery Orchestra. He organized, promoted and presented Sunday concerts for more than four decades. He retired from the National Gallery in the summer of 1985 after 42 years as assistant director for music. In that period, he was responsible for 1,786 free concerts in the museum’s Garden Courts, and he raised the National Gallery Orchestra from a fledgling ensemble to a level of musical eminence. He was a prominent figure in the Washington area for over fifty years. He also was music director of the Washington, D.C., Cathedral Choral Society (1945-1946). In 1960 he received the Alice M. Ditson Award. During his long tenure at the National Gallery of Art, he introduced numerous works by American composers, both old and new.
Richard Bales was also very well known for his compositions of music relating to the American Revolution and the Civil War. The most well known are The Confederacy, The Union, and The Republic. The latter has been performed at every presidential inauguration since 1955. He composed over 35 pieces of work, been a guest conductor for many of the nation’s best orchestras, performed for presidents and foreign heads of state and received numerous honors and awards.
Richard Bales died on June 25, 1998 at the health care center at Lake Ridge. He had Parkinson’s disease.
Beatrice Laufer (b New York, April 27, 1923) studied composition with Marion Bauer and Roger Sessions and orchestration with Vittoria Giannini. She has composed in a variety of instrumental and vocal genres. In 1952 she received permission to convert Eugene O’Neill’s play Ile into a one-act opera. The story tells of a sea captain’s obsession with whaling and its destructive effect on his wife, leading to a threat of mutiny. Sung in Swedish, Ile was first performed at the Royal Opera House, Stockholm, on 28 October 1958 and received ten further performances there. The first American production, directed by Phyllis Curtin, was at the Yale School of Music (1977). It was videotaped for the National Public Radio festival of one-act operas and broadcast in 1980. In June 1988, Ile had ten performances in Chinese at the Shanghai Opera House. The music, in keeping with O’Neill’s stormy style, is dramatic and colorful….
And that’s a sample of what’s in store for you when you hit the play button and settle down for a listen. Fascinating stuff – hardly, if ever played, but worth checking out and forming your own opinion on it. Some of it is over-the-top, some is light and frothy, some is self-conscious and some demands repeat listenings and a chance at further exposure in the concert halls.