Music Unwound Thematic Programming for orchestras, festivals, and schools

MUSIC UNWOUND is a ten-year-old national consortium of orchestras, festivals, and schools funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities. The NEH has invested $1 million to date. The director is Joseph Horowitz. The video artist is Peter Bogdanoff.

The current consortium members are the Buffalo Philharmonic (lead partner), the Brevard Music Festival, DePauw University, the El Paso Symphony, the Las Vegas Philharmonic, the New Hampshire Music Festival, the North Carolina Symphony, and the South Dakota Symphony.

The consortium funds thematic programming linking orchestras and schools. There are four topics in play:

  • “Dvorak and America”
  • “Copland and Mexico”
  • “Charles Ives’s America”
  • “Kurt Weill’s America”

Music Unwound festivals typically include a symphonic program with a script and a visual track, plus extensive ancillary activity. The programs are adaptable according to venue. They are also available to orchestras outside the consortium.

All four topics were chosen with regard to impact and outreach. The Dvorak program links to African-Americans and Native Americans. The Copland/Mexico program links to Hispanic audiences. The Weill program links to the theme of immigration. The Ives program stresses the relationship to Emerson and Thoreau.

The DVORAK program (produced some two dozen times by such orchestras as the New York Philharmonic and the Pacific Symphony) keys on the New World Symphony and explores its close relationship to Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha.

Here, for instance, is how Dvorak turned an Indian dance into a Scherzo:

Here is how the Death of Minnehaha infiltrates the famous Largo:

The full “visual presentation” for the Largo and Scherzo may be seen here:

Here is how Music Unwound explores the relationship between “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and the symphony’s first movement:

A typical first-half presentation of “Dvorak and America” (with host, singer/actor, and a continuous visual track) looks and sounds like this:

The COPLAND/MEXICO program uses Copland’s Mexican sojourn to introduce the master Mexican composer SILVESTRE REVUELTAS. The second half presents an iconic 1935 Mexican film, Redes, with cinematography by Paul Strand and a great Revueltas score (performed live).

Here is an excerpt from Redes:

Here is how Music Unwound introduces Revueltas in the context of rural bands and street cries:

The IVES program shows how “Camptown Races” and other popular songs are deployed in his Second Symphony.

Here is how Music Unwound links Ives’ Yale education to his Symphony No. 1:

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