Austin Symphony Orchestra plays the music of Edward Burlingame Hill
It was an evening of micro premieres and revivals at the Austin Symphony Orchestra’s concert this past weekend at the Long Center.
Peter Bay and the ASO, after months of preparations, unveiled several new works by the late American composer Edward Burlingame Hill that were buried by history.
This was the second installment resulting from a research project, a collaboration between Bay and Austin archival librarian Karl Miller.
Last year, the ASO gave the world premiere of Hill’s fourth symphony, which was recorded and will hopefully be released later in 2014. This concert was recorded for the same record.
Whereas the first Hill concert competed for attention with a Tchaikovsky concerto, this latest installment had the focus more squarely placed on Hill, with three fairly short pieces for piano and orchestra featuring soloist Anton Nel.
Hill’s three piano pieces were relatively brief divertimentos and concertinos.
We first heard the world premiere of “Concertino No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra Op. 44.” Hill wrote this work in 1938-39, and it sounds very much of its time; you could hear touches of Gershwin, Debussy and maybe a little Satie. But Hill wrote a sparkling piano part that always felt slightly removed from the orchestra. The strings of the orchestra flutter away, while the piano dances very much to its own tune.
In between the Hill installments were familiar works by Edvard Grieg, the sort of music everyone’s heard, whether they know the name of “The Hall of The Mountain King” or not. Grieg’s music, not unlike the Tchaikovsky pairing from last year, is lyrical, colorful and buoyant. This is all familiar stuff in the repertoire, perhaps overly so, but the ASO’s interpretations were warm and clean.
Nel returned twice, for a divertimento and a second concertino (“No. 1 Op. 36”) and the effect of all three was a swath of romantic, somewhat delicate music that flirts with a variety of influences.
It’s impossible to guess whether music can successfully connect with audiences decades after it’s written, but Hill’s music continues to be worth listening to. Once the ASO’s album is released, and Hill’s music is more thoroughly absorbed with a modern, high quality recording, we might start asking whether a revival of this music might take hold.
But what’s really encouraging is that, unlike so many recording projects that come about every year by major orchestras and ensembles, the Hill recordings are not a vanity that’s been put on tape dozens of times before.
And those who’ve heard these concerts in Austin, it’s fair to say that up to this point, the yeoman’s labor of the ASO has done nothing less than contribute to the library of American musicians and its listeners for posterity