Program notes on the 'Copland V. Bon Iver':

I’ll never forget hearing Bon Iver for the first time. It was the song ‘Woods’, which opens strikingly with a single, unaccompanied and heavily auto-tuned voice. A reflective four-line phrase is sung and then repeated in full, but with the addition of a vocal harmony. This happens over and over, each time a harmony being added, almost like a trance-inducing incantation, until it is an immensely powerful chorus of this uncanny and supernatural voice. This was a voice to be listened to.

 

The summer before I attended the Curtis Institute of Music, I picked up an LP of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring with Leonard Bernstein conducting. I fell in love with the piece that summer, listening over and over, with giddy anticipation that I was about to attend the same school as Bernstein. All through my years at Curtis I would listen to that record. I’d lay down on the floor of my apartment, close my eyes, and dream of conducting the work with a major orchestra someday.

 

Lasting impressions, deep connections. This music is more than just music to me, just like your favorites are to you. In combining them I bring two beloved friends together, to commingle, become familiar, explore what they have in common, and share stories. How special that I can facilitate and be a party to that.

 

The origins of my working with vocalists goes back even further, to my days in high school singing in and arranging the music for a barbershop quartet. Following that, for four years at the University of Illinois I sang in and directed a distinguished a cappella group called The Other Guys. It was these choral scenarios that gave me my first conducting experience (indeed Bill Prokopow later sung in and directed that same group).

 

So again I am bringing two beloved parts of my life together- the chorus, which I was so immersed in during my high school and undergraduate years, and the orchestra, which I’ve been working with ever since.

 

I tell you all this to illustrate this point: any creative artist is simply using A) the techniques he or she has developed and B) the means at his or her disposal to bring into form something original, that is representative of their unique artistic journey.

 

Something Michael Tilson Thomas said to me about Mahler comes to mind, referring to the latter’s interpolation of folk music and (then considered) bizarre orchestral effects: ‘he was using the sound world of the orchestra to represent the music that he heard in his daily life.’ That is what any composer is doing, and that is what these mash-ups are. 

 

This particular piece was actually the first mash-up I attempted, in 2012. The premiere went well enough with the Indianapolis Symphony that it opened up the opporunity for an even bigger endeavor the next time out, which became the Brahms V. Radiohead. The Copland V. Bon Iver has sat on the shelf since then, in favor of newer and more skillful works, but I always thought it might become something special if I gave it a rewrite. Last summer I did just that, adding several Bon Iver songs and making the piece more synthesized and cohesive as a whole.

 

In that way this one is particularly special to me, because it again illustrates a journey- from that first attempt in 2012 until now. How amazing that Bon Iver and Aaron Copland can take me from my high school quartet to The Other Guys to my Curtis apartment to Indianapolis and then right here to Pittsburgh- and that I can share the journey with all of you.

 

What a journey it has been. I do hope you enjoy.

 

Steve Hackman

1/7/16

 

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