As you leaf through that coffee-table book of magnificent black-and-white landscape photography by the great Ansel Adams, what soundtrack is playing in your head? Some sort of traditional folk music, perhaps? If classical is more your speed, you might be thinking of Aaron Copland or the slightly edgier Charles Ives. But how many of us would choose jazz?
Well, the folks at the Ansel Adams Trust did. The very first time that these guardians of the iconic photographer’s legacy allowed his work to be used in a concert setting was as backdrop for an orchestral arrangement by Chris Brubeck of a 22-minute piano symphony written by his father, cool jazz master Dave Brubeck, at the age of 88. A true collaboration between the elder and younger Brubeck, Ansel Adams: America was commissioned in 2009 by the Stockton Symphony, headquartered not far from Yosemite National Park, the site of Adams’ most famous images.
Easterners who grew up watching the “New York Minute” snippets of Manhattan street life set to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” on TV may picture him as the quintessential sophisticated urbanite, but he actually grew up on a cattle ranch in the Sacramento Valley and has reminisced on National Public Radio about driving his mother to Yosemite for outings as a teenager. The connections between the two artists doesn’t end there: Adams himself trained seriously as a concert pianist, and confessed to the BBC in 1976 that many of his friends had advised him to stick to music instead of pursuing photography as a career.
Riddled with melting-pot musical references, like snippets of Mexican dance tunes, Ansel Adams: America combines Brubeck’s trademark offbeat time signatures with timeless themes that evoke the grandeur of the Western frontier. It’s a rare treat to be able to sit in a concert hall and immerse yourself in this music while watching projections of more than 100 of the images that inspired it, so the Hudson Valley Philharmonic (HVP)’s performance of the piece – Dave Brubeck’s final symphony – at the Bardavon 1869 Opera House on Saturday is not to be missed.
Also on the program are a couple of other enticements: a heaping helping of Igor Stravinsky’s off-the-wall masterpiece, The Rite of Spring, plus a performance of Antonin Dvorák’s Concerto for Cello in B minor featuring Su Jin Lee, winner of the 2014 HVP String Competition.
The program titled “Brubeck’s America” begins at 8 p.m. this Saturday, April 11; arrive by 7 p.m. if you’d like to catch the pre-concert talk with HVP conductor Randall Craig Fleischer. Admission ranges from $32 to $54, with $20 student rush tickets on sale one hour before the concert (subject to availability). Tickets can be purchased at the Bardavon box office at 35 Market Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072; the Ulster Performing Arts Center box office at 601 Broadway in Kingston, (845) 339-6088; or via TicketMaster at (800) 745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com.
“Brubeck’s America,” Hudson Valley Philharmonic, Saturday, April 11, 8 p.m., $32-$54, Bardavon, 35 Market Street, Poughkeepsie; (845) 473-2072, www.bardavon.org.