Dean Dixon - Torch bearer and cheering section for American Music of Mid-Century.

Dean Dixon, Carol Brice, Vivian Rivkin – The American Music Festival – 1947 – Past Daily Weekend Gramophone

Dean Dixon – Torch bearer and cheering section for American Music of Mid-Century.

Dean Dixon and The American Youth Symphony – Carol Brice, Contralto – Vivian Rivkin, piano – American Music Festival – February 11, 1947 – WNYC Archives.

Something fun, unusual, historic and somewhat frustrating this weekend. A broadcast via the New York City Municipal station WNYC from February 11, 1947 of The American Music Festival, a rather adventuresome and far reaching festival comprising some 200 live broadcasts of various performing groups and individuals all carried by WNYC.

The concert begins with the William Billings Overture by William Schuman – followed by the first movement of Symphony Number 2 by Johan Franco – a world premier. Contralto Carol Brice with her brother, Jonathan Brice, piano with a group of four songs. It’s followed by Pianist Vivian Rivkin and the orchestra in a performance of Concertino by Norman Dello Joio. The concert concludes with a performance of The United Nations Cantata for Chorus and Orchestra by Richard J. Newman and featuring the David Randolph Chamber Chorus along with Dean Dixon and the Youth Symphony.

Certainly a concert of primarily unfamiliar works all performed by a group of very enthusiastic American artists under varying conditions – first; the announcer manages to talk over most opening bars – the engineers are caught off guard several times and loud passages tend to get over-modulated when not sounding like they were recorded two doors down – second, the piano used by Vivian Rivkin would have benefited from a tuning and sounds remarkably like an upright. The American Youth Symphony is no New York Philharmonic, but A for effort anyway (hey, we wish we all sounded that good when we were in high school). The most frustrating part is the extent of damage these original discs endured in order to survive. My best guess is extensive exposure and/or water damage, causing the characteristic swish and thump at the most inopportune places.

That said, this is an important document of works which have either gone into obscurity or have gotten their first performances – in some cases both. That they exist at all is something of a miracle under the circumstances. In a perfect world they would be lovingly preserved – but it’s not to be.

With all the caveats in mind, it is still very much worth a listen and could, just maybe, be a catalyst to new performances in the future. But for now – enjoy as much as possible. And it provides further evidence that Dean Dixon was a major force on the podium and needs to be revisited.

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