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Violinist Philippe Quint will be a featured performer for New West Symphony’s “Our American Roots,” Feb. 26-27, 2022. Photo by John Gress

PICTURED: Violinist Philippe Quint will be a featured performer for New West Symphony’s “Our American Roots,” Feb. 26-27, 2022. Photo by John Gress

by Mike Nelson

How does one celebrate the nation’s “roots,” musically speaking?

By drawing from a landscape of sound and sight that offers a passionate and thought-provoking concert for an audience — a live-and-in-person audience, no less — ready to enjoy music that celebrates our connection to one another.

With that, New West Symphony (NWS) will offer “Our American Roots” in performances Feb. 26 and 27 at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks and Rancho Campana Performing Arts Center in Camarillo, respectively. 

The selections include two pieces that are “reflective” in more ways than one: Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” and Joan Tower’s “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman,” each accompanied by big-screen artwork by Joe Sohm, dubbed America’s photo-historian for his spectacular visual presentations of Americana. 

Sohm — a resident of Ojai whose “Visions of America” was performed by NWS in 2013 — has assembled two new video installments for the “Fanfares.” The result, said NWS Music Director Michael Christie, is “a cinematic concert with orchestral sounds.”

“Joe’s imagery is bright and stunning, and he incorporates changes of image with a crispness similar to the fanfares themselves,” said Christie. “His energetic artwork captures the American story, and it should be very complementary to the music.”

Christie described the pieces as fascinating in their similarities. “Tower wrote her fanfares with the exact instrumentation of Copland’s. The forces required to perform these works are exactly the same. No one is getting more or less than the other. So there is a lot of interesting symbolism at play here, which the audience will appreciate.” And, on the eve of National Women’s History Month in March, “it feels appropriate” to feature a pioneering American female composer.

The fanfares wrap around Antonín Dvořák’s “Suite in A major, Op. 98b” (American),written after the Czech-born composer traveled to U.S. urban centers and rural landscapes in the late 19th century, producing a musical tapestry combining American traditional styles with Western European symphonic traditions.

“When we think about immigrants coming to the U.S.,” noted Christie, “a constant thread is their fascination with the variety of landscapes and culture already here, which is what Dvořák gave us in his suite.”

The concert concludes with a pair of selections from America’s great film composers, past and present: Erich Korngold’s “Violin Concerto,” featuring renowned violinist Philippe Quint, and John Williams’ Star Wars Suite

“The pieces by Korngold and Williams retain the symphonic palette of the fanfares,” says Christie. “And having Korngold and Williams side by side is really interesting, because there is similar language and goals in what they created.”

The February concerts mark just the second live performances by NWS after nearly two years of livestream-only shows.

“It was so nice to enjoy a real process again — live rehearsals as well as live performances,” smiled Christie, reflecting on the ensemble’s “Four Seasons” performances in January. “Just to have that interaction again with the musicians in rehearsal, after more regimented recording sessions for livestream concerts, gave us all a great lift. It was also fun to do things a little differently in each performance. And the audience was happy, too.”

Ticket and subscription sales are strong, added Natalia Staneva, CEO. “We’re pleasantly surprised at the response to our events. People see classical music as more of an escape and a chance to relax and enjoy art.”

NWS continues to follow and maintain strict health protocols, including proof of vaccination for, and masking at, live shows. And for those who don’t yet feel comfortable attending in-person, performances are still being recorded for viewing online, with purchase.

“The pandemic has taught us that performances don’t need to be one and done, so a lot more people can enjoy them,” said Christie. “And while we’re constantly listening to the health departments and consulting with medical professionals to ensure safety, we are delighted that people are coming to see and hear a thriving ensemble in concert.”

“Our American Roots” will be performed on Feb. 26, 7:30 p.m. at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, and on Feb. 27, 3:30 p.m. at Rancho Campana Performing Arts Center, 4235 Mar Vista, Dr., Camarillo. For tickets and more information, call 805-497-5880 or visitnewwestsymphony.org/2021-22-season-2/our-american-roots/