While Copland’s hugely successful celebration of the American West, Rodeo, has become an American classic, Dance Panels is barely known despite working beautifully as a concert work. Based on popular Mexican melodies, the glittering, even exotic El Salón Mexico is one of Copland’s most frequently performed works. Of his rhythmically complex Danzón Cubano, inspired by a visit to a dance hall in Cuba, in which there were two orchestras playing at both ends, the composer himself wrote: “I did not attempt to reproduce an authentic Cuban sound but felt free to add my own touches of displaced accents and unexpected silent beats.” GRAMMY® Award-winning conductor Leonard Slatkin’s recording of Copland’s Lincoln Portrait (8.559373-74) received “the kind of performance that brought tears to my eyes” (Audiophile Audition).
Listen to an excerpt from Rodeo
About the Music
Rodeo – Ballet in One Act (1942)
Copland produced three ballet scores between 1938 and 1944, and all three helped to establish him as a vital and special voice in 20th-century American music, one who could reach out and touch the average listener in a way that no-one had done previously and few have done since. Billy the Kid, Rodeo and Appalachian Spring created a uniquely American sound by using indigenous rhythms and songs, along with a palette of wide open harmonies which somehow managed to suggest the frontier days of the early American West. His most popular works are now part of our everyday lives.
Billy the Kid and Rodeo are both celebrations of that American West, but Rodeo also managed to give us a new way of looking at ourselves and relations between men and women. When Copland was first approached by dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille to write what would be his second “cowboy ballet,” he was initially reluctant, remembering the success which Billy the Kid had in 1938, and wondering if he could repeat it. In fact, their first meeting was decidedly unfriendly and antagonistic, but a seed of some sort was planted, and Copland called her back the very next day with a request to get together again. The result of this collaboration became a landmark in American dance history. The actual commission for the ballet came from a most unlikely source, namely the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a company with a solidly classical repertoire grounded in 19th-century European tradition, and which had moved to the US during World War II. This was part of Copland’s initial hesitation, as he could not imagine this company handling a modern American style of dancing. (For the record, Antal Dorati, former music director of the DSO, was at one time music director of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.)
Rodeo, subtitled The Courting at Burnt Ranch, was first performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in October of 1942, and was a huge success, garnering no fewer than 22 curtain calls from a standing, cheering audience. The ballet tells the story of the Cowgirl, a tomboy in search of love. Agnes de Mille later admitted that this character, who is a misfit among the people in her community, was based on her own life as a young woman. As she said, the Cowgirl “…acts like a boy, not to be a boy, but to be liked by the boys.” This Cowgirl, who is accomplished in all of the skills of a cowboy, wants to be attractive to the Head Wrangler on a ranch, and initially tries to impress him by being one of the boys. He is unimpressed by this, but at the end of the ballet, when she changes from her cowboy clothes into a lovely dress and shows a decidedly more feminine character, he falls for her in a big way. The ballet ends with the two of them engaging in a flamboyant kiss in the middle of the dancing. In de Mille’s words, it was “The Taming of the Shrew with cowboys,” and it is worth noting that she danced the role of the Cowgirl in the original production. In a later television interview, she said, “The theme is old, American and basic: how to get a suitable man.”
Enough cannot be said about how much de Mille’s stunning, ground-breaking choreography contributed to the enormous success of Rodeo, and in so doing, revolutionized the whole concept of what ballet could be. The niece of legendary film director Cecil B. de Mille, she created a unique and eye-popping style of dancing for the men derived from horseback riding and cattle roping. She initially had great difficulty finding dancers for the new work because the technique of classical ballet did little to prepare them for the vigorous and sometimes awkward movements her choreography demanded.
About the Artists:
Internationally renowned conductor Leonard Slatkin is currently music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and of the Orchestre National de Lyon and principal guest conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He is also the author of a new book entitled Conducting Business. His previous positions have included a seventeen-year tenure with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, a twelve-year tenure with the National Symphony as well as titled positions with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, Philharmonia Orchestra of London, Nashville Symphony Orchestra and the New Orleans Philharmonic. Always committed to young people, Leonard Slatkin founded the National Conducting Institute and the Saint Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra and continues to work with student orchestras around the world.
Born in Los Angeles, where his parents, conductor-violinist Felix Slatkin and cellist Eleanor Aller, were founding members of the Hollywood String Quartet, he began his musical studies on the violin and studied conducting with his father, followed by training with Walter Susskind at Aspen and Jean Morel at the Juilliard School. His more than 100 recordings have brought seven GRAMMY® Awards and 64 GRAMMY® Award nominations. He has received many other honours, including the 2003 National Medal of Arts, France’s Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and the League of American Orchestras’ Gold Baton for service to American music.
The internationally acclaimed Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which celebrated its 125th anniversary in December 2012, is known for trailblazing performances, visionary maestros, collaborations with the world’s foremost musical artists, and an unwavering commitment to Detroit. Esteemed conductor Leonard Slatkin, called “America’s Music Director” by the Los Angeles Times, became the twelfth music director of the DSO during the 2008–09 season and acclaimed conductor, arranger, and trumpeter Jeff Tyzik was appointed Principal Pops Conductor in November 2012. The DSO’s performance schedule includes Classical, Pops, Jazz, Young People’s, Neighborhood concerts, and collaborations with chart-topping musicians from Smokey Robinson to Kid Rock. A commitment to broadcast innovation began in 1922 when the DSO became the first orchestra in the world to present a radio broadcast and continues today with the free Live from Orchestra Hall webcast series. Making its home at historic Orchestra Hall at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, one of America’s most acoustically perfect concert halls, the DSO actively pursues a mission to impact and serve the community through music.
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