Youth Concerts

wcfsymphony Youth Concerts inspire 4,000 4th-6th graders each April and serve schools from an 8-county radius. These free concerts at the Gallagher-Bluedorn feature the full orchestra in creative and interactive programs. The 2019 Youth Concerts tell the story of Antonín Dvořák’s journey to America and his experience living in Iowa through a stunning visual narrative by artist Gary Kelley. Featuring works from the composer’s time in this country as well as music influenced by his Bohemian roots. Students will learn about the orchestra, key musical concepts, and fascinating aspects of American and Iowa history; a visual art project will also be offered to schools as a voluntary activity.

Performances will take place on March 26, 2019 at 9:30 am, 11 am and 1 pm. This year’s concerts are full and closed to additional registrations. wcfsymphony Youth Concerts are made possible by generous grants from the R.J. McElroy Trust, Guernsey Charitable Foundation and Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa as well as volunteer labor provided by members of Upbeat.
 
 

To The New World

To The New World is a sweeping musical and visual narrative telling the story of Antonín Dvořák’s [1841-1904] historic journey from his native Bohemia to America. Antonín Dvořák was a pioneering figure in the history of European music. His compositions reflected a unique blend of two distinct elements: art music, or what we now generally call ‘classical’ music, and Czech folk song. Dvořák was also unique among European composers of his generation because of his connection with America, a place that was worlds apart from his own homeland. In 1892 the composer traveled from Prague to New York to direct the National Conservatory and during the following summer he journeyed deep into the American heartland for a meaningful sojourn of several months in Spillville, Iowa.

Dvořák’s panoramic experience of America and especially Iowa – and how it affected his music and his feelings about his own homeland – is at the core of this year’s youth concerts. As students hear Dvořák they will be transported through the vivid visual landscapes of the composer’s life through live performances of his music accompanied by Gary Kelley’s evocative visual narrative. Suggestions for teaching topics are included alongside the concert repertoire below. In addition to basic musical concepts, other broad topics that can be brought into classroom preparation include geography, nationality, and identity, all of which intermingle in the life and music of Antonín Dvořák.
 
 

The Music

Symphony no 9 Op. 95 – First movement: Allegro molto
The overture of To The New World, Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony is the most important piece the composer produced in America and is the leitmotif of our musical program. Dvořák himself hinted that the so-called ‘New World’ Symphony was in part an attempt to capture the spirit of African American and Native American culture in music. To that end Dvořák experimented with musical elements such as the pentatonic scale, plagal cadences, drones, and rhythmic ostinato and syncopation (some of which he put to other uses in his earlier Czech-flavored works). The first movement introduces two unforgettable themes heard and transformed throughout the course of the symphony, whose treatment by Dvořák demonstrates his skill at blending traditional symphonic models with musical ideas from his contemporary environment.
 
 

Slavonic Dance Op. 46, no 8 – Presto
The Bohemian sounds of this exciting Slavonic Dance bring to life Dvořák’s cultural background. The composer felt that the set of sixteen characteristic dances from which this piece was taken were among his most representative Czech pieces (he later performed several of them for ‘Czech Day’ at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair). The dances draw on a wide variety of musical styles that Dvořák knew from his study of vernacular music, including the furiant, dumka, polka, sousedská, skočna, odzemek, kolo, starodávný, špacirka and mazurka. Melodic and rhythmic patterns from these pieces can be emphasized in classroom work, as can the basic geographical and historical background of Central Europe in the 19th century.
 
 

Prague Waltzes, B. 99
These delightful and rarely performed waltzes reflect a more urban and cultivated musical style, influenced heavily by Vienna’s cultural and political influence over Bohemia and particularly Prague. They underscore the degree to which Dvořák had become the leading art music composer in the region’s capital by the last decade of the 19th century. Prague Waltzes also show his uncanny ability to take musical elements from all over the stylistic map and fuse them into immediately relatable music.
 
 

Symphony no 8 in G major, Op. 88 – Third movement: Allegretto grazioso
As Dvořák undertook his journey to America he carried along one his most recent works, the Eight Symphony. The piece demonstrates a wide range of influences from the rural and wooded world of Bohemia, including folk music, natural sounds, fanfares, a funeral march and a chorale. It also played a role in American music life in the 1890s, traveling with Dvořák to Chicago for a performance at the World’s Fair in 1893 (with our performance it will have had a presence in the American midwest for almost 125 years!). Students should be encouraged to listen for the variety of musical content and to think about the kind of place Dvořák came from and carried within him as he arrived in America.
 
 

American Suite in A, Op. 98b – Third movement: Moderato (alla Polacca)
Dvořák composed his five-movement American Suite in New York after his summer experiences in Iowa. The third movement’s title may point to its musical roots in Central European music, but the music itself seems particularly suited to the environment he encountered outside his doorstep in lower Manhattan. Elements of late-19th century New York which students can imagine include the city’s bustling street rhythms contrasted with sorrowful scenes of abject poverty.
 
 

Symphony no 9 Op. 95 – Third movement: Molto Vivace
The thread that runs through our narrative is of course the ‘New World’ Symphony, and this propulsive movement underscores its composer’s journey by train to Iowa in 1893. Locomotive rhythm is the central aspect of this music, but its second theme seems to slow time down for a pensive, flowing melody which could easily have come from from an African-American spiritual.
 
 

American Suite in A, Op. 98b – First movement: Andante con moto
The first movement of American Suite presents a series of panoramic musical episodes that pair beautifully with the gently rolling landscape of Iowa. The orchestration in particular – done after the initial suite for piano was completed – helps give the piece a strongly idyllic character. Iowa was indeed an idyll for the composer, who joined a transplanted Czech community in Spillville (one of several in the northeast part of the state). Students should be encouraged to locate Spillville and learn about its history as a Czech enclave.
 
 

Symphony no 9 in e minor – Op. 95 Second movement: Largo:
The culmination of To The New World is the famous slow movement from the ‘New World’ Symphony. We can only conjecture as to the degree to which this movement’s unforgettable themes were directly influenced by music Dvořák heard in this country, but generations of musicians have discovered American inflections in it. And in a remarkable twist the opening brass theme of this movement later became a well-known spiritual called Going Home. Classroom exploration could encourage students to search for more abstract ways in which this music sounds specifically American – for example, the ‘expanse’ of the brass chorale/Going Home compared with the physical expanse of the American midwest, or the intervallic nature of the main melody which seems to echo Native American styles.
 
 

Additional reading

NPR: How The ‘New World’ Symphony Introduced American Music To Itself
American Heritage: Dvořák in America
NYT: The Deal That Brought Dvořák to America
Dvořák American Heritage Association