More than a century ago, Charles Ives - the poster boy for maverick composers - began writing music of startling originality. Ives's singular music will be celebrated during the New York Philharmonic Festival: Charles Ives‹an American Original in Context, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of Ives's death. (For a schedule, visit the Philharmonic Website, newyorkphilharmonic.org, or see page 22.) As the name suggests, the festival (May 11-29) places Ives's music alongside works by his European contemporaries and Americans whom he has inspired, such as John Adams and Aaron Copland. The latter recalled discovering Ives's music in the late 1930s: "There we were . . . searching for a composer from the older generation with an 'American sound,' and here was Charles Ives composing this incredible music‹totally unknown to us." Copland's Piano Concerto, played by Garrick Ohlsson, will join works by Ives, Debussy, and Varèse on the first program (May 11-13), conducted by David Robertson, who will also lead a chamber program at Columbia's Miller Theatre on May 24.
The May 15-20 program, led by Alan Gilbert, is a study in nationalism, and showcases folk-inflected works by Mahler and Copland along with Ives's Symphony No. 4, rich with hymn tunes.
The composer and conductor John Adams, who credits Ives with having "a huge influence on my own composing," leads a program (May 21, 22, and 25) that places Ives in an American context. Four short works by Ives are followed by a set titled Songs of Ragtime and Reminiscence, by popular composers including George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, sung by soprano Audra McDonald.
These pairings, Mr. Adams says, "reveal the debt that Ives owed to ragtime and other popular musical forms of his era." Following intermission, Adams conducts his own Harmonium and the world premiere of Easter Eve 1945, a New York Philharmonic commission in association with the San Francisco Opera.
Music Director Lorin Maazel wraps up the festival, May 27-29, with a program pairing Stravinsky's Pétrouchka and Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left-Hand (played by Leon Fleisher) with Ives's Three Places in New England.
Kevin Filipski is a frequent contributor to Playbill.