THIS LAND - Liner Notes
by David Amram
As I sit here in the delicious silence of upstate New York, in the Spring of 2014, I am listening to the recording by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra's performance of THIS LAND: Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie. As I hear the final set of variations of THIS LAND, all inspired by Woody's occasional wanderings through the streets to New York City's urban mosaic of neighborhoods, I flash back fifty eight years ago, to a cloudy afternoon in 1956 on the Lower East Side of New York City. That was when and where I first met Woody Guthrie. Ahmed Bashir, a friend of Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, and Charles Mingus (with whom I was playing at that time), took me over to meet Woody at his friend's apartment a few blocks from mine.
Ever since that day we first met, more than a half a century ago, I always hoped that someday I would get the chance to go to his hometown of Okemah, but with my crazy schedule I never had the opportunity to do so. In 2005, shortly after Nora Guthrie asked me to compose a full-scale symphonic composition to honor Woody's classic song, This Land is your Land, I was invited to perform at WoodyFest, the annual summer festival in Okemah. I was now able to make a connection, since that first meeting with Woody over a half a century ago, to the ensuing years during which I played countless times with his old friend Pete Seeger and his protégé Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Spending time in Okemah and Tulsa made me appreciate even more the times I spent with Woody's late wife, Marjorie in New York, and the numerous concerts I have participated in with his son Arlo and other members of the Guthrie family over the years.
All these experiences helped me when composing THIS LAND: Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie. The opening Theme and Fanfare for the Road has the percussion introduce the actual notes of Woody's song This Land is your Land, played by the marimba, followed by a fanfare, expressing Woody's desire to go out on that open road.
THIS LAND: SYMPHONIC VARIATIONS ON A SONG BY WOODY GUTHRIE, was commissioned by the Guthrie Family and Woody Guthrie Publications. It premiered September 29th, 2007 by the Symphony Silicon Valley in San Jose California, conducted by the brilliant young American conductor Paul Polivnick. The piece has been performed numerous times since its premier. In September of 2012, it was recorded in Denver in this live
performance by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra as the featured piece in a concert honoring Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday. Click here for details on each Variation.
THEME AND VARIATIONS ON RED RIVER VALLEY FOR FLUTE AND STRINGS In 1990, Rod Kennedy, the founder of the Kerrville Texas Music Festival, commissioned me to compose a piece for Texas flute virtuoso Megan Meisenbach and conduct a group of string players from the neighboring San Antonio and Austin Symphony Orchestras, to be premiered out of doors June 6, 1991 at the Quiet Valley Ranch, to celebrate their 20th anniversary. The Festival wanted the theme to reflect the beauty of indigenous folk lore of the American West in the same way that Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Borodin, Dvorak, Bartok, Ellington, Ives and Gershwin celebrated their respective cultures.
In 1976, fourteen years prior to composing Theme and Variations on Red River Valley for flute and strings, I performed at the Kerrville festival. On the final day of the festival, singer-songwriters Bobby Bridger and Gary P. Nunn took me to spend a memorable afternoon in Lukenbach, Texas (population 7) with Hondo Crouch, Lukenbachs' indefatigable founder, owner, mayor, retired rancher, teacher, actor and a full time host, story teller and "Imagineer" (The title of his job description on the calling card he gave me).
As the day, afternoon and night of merry making took place, Hondo held court, entertaining the throng of old friends, farmers, ranchers, musicians, artists, tourists and anyone who showed up, as he sang and improvised for hours, including a stunning half hour version of "Red River Valley".
Fourteen years later, in 1990, when I was asked by the Festival to compose a piece for flute and strings based on a Western theme, I knew which song to use. The renowned flutist Julius Baker recorded it for Newport Classic Recordings released in 1993 and it was performed at the Kennedy Center Oct 22, 1995 in
a concert which I conducted with the National Symphony, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the chamber orchestra version of Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, a favorite piece of the Guthrie family.
From the composition's stately beginning through the various statements of the theme and the ensuing variations, I tried to paint an orchestral picture of the remaining beauties of the western United States.
For artists like Jack Kerouac and myself, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas were magical places we could only dream of seeing some day when we were growing up in the 1930s during the Great Depression and watching old Western movies. We were both lucky to go out West later on in our lives. This CD honors the enduring legacy of both Woody Guthrie and Hondo Crouch, two of the magicians who shared some of that magic of this part of the country with the world, and whose work still inspire so many people today.
-David Amram, Putnam Valley NY, April 26, 2014