Afro-American Fragments
Trio for Bass Clarinet, Cello and Double Bass
after Langston Hughes

1: Afro-American Fragment (1930)
2: American Heartbreak (1951)
3: Sunday Morning Prophecy (1942)
4: From Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951)
a: Harlem
b: Dream Boogie
c: Good Morning
d: Island
5: Madam and the Phone Bill (1943)
6: In Explanation of Our Times (1955)

Composer's note

For the past six or eight years I have been gravitating from writing in purely abstract musical forms to those that involve more programmatic aspects. Working with poet/author John Chenault on Ghost In Machine in 1994 was such a satisfying experience that we looked forward to working together in that medium again. The following year we began a new series of pieces for solo double bass and text that illuminate the lives of some of our great jazz musicians. To date we've produced Ode to a Giant (Dizzy Gillespie) and Mingus, Live in the Underworld (Charles Mingus).

When working on Ghost In Machine I also had the experience of working with some long-time friends and colleagues for whom I had never written featured solos. After Ron Aufmann and Norman Johns dived into their roles in Ghost with such great skill and fervor, adding immensely to the success of the work, I thought it would be great fun to collaborate with them in a chamber music setting.

Since these opportunities don't often come knocking at one's door, you sometimes have to create them yourself. We talked among ourselves and decided that the Cincinnati Symphony Chamber Music Series would be a great venue for us. But what to play? There isn't much repertoire for clarinet (or bass clarinet), cello and bass. In fact, I don't think there is any! Of course the solution was obvious: What we needed was something new. We talked about what kind of piece I should write and decided that even though Ron plays both clarinet and bass clarinet we would stick to the three lower instruments. I felt up to the challenge and looked forward to writing.

Originally, we were all thinking of a work solely for the trio, but as the blank page stared back at me my mind kept wandering in different directions. Perhaps something with electronic sounds on tape? It's a medium that I enjoy very much, but no, too much trouble getting the sound just right. How about a text? That appealed to me so I called John Chenault to see if he'd like to do something new. He said that he'd love to but was busy on a screenplay and asked if I could wait about a year. A year!? The premiere is already scheduled and it's only six months off! I went back to the first idea, just the trio, no text, no tape, no program and finally got started. I wrote for a few days and took a look (and listened, via piano) at what I had produced. Nope, it still isn't "happening."

Then one blistering day in July I found myself at the public library. It was pleasantly cool inside so I began to browse. I picked up a little volume of poetry: Selected Poems of Langston Hughes and flipped through the pages stopping here and there to read a poem in it's entirety. I had read some Hughes years ago and remembered how he captured the "feeling" of Harlem - where I had frequently worked in the 1960s - so vividly. After reading a few of his "blues" poems and smiling at a couple of "Madam" poems I happened upon In Explanation of Our Times. At first I thought he must have written this in the mid- sixties, just before he died, but it was written a decade earlier in 1955. I thought not only was he ahead of his time back then but sadly how "contemporary" the poem still is in 1996. I read it again, then proceeded to Montage of a Dream Deferred, a substantial collection written in 1951. As I read I started to mentally mark some of the poems in Dream Deferred. Somewhere along the line I began to scribble down titles. When the list grew to about 20, I realized I had my text!

I rushed home with a larger volume: The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, and began to work. Perhaps the most important decision that had to be made - other than what poems to use - was how I could combine the poetry and music so that the audience would get the text without having to either know it in advance or (horror of horrors!) reading it during the performance. Of course I also wanted to create an interesting piece for three guys to play - since at this point neither Norman nor Ron knew what I was up to. I considered having the poems read just before we played each piece but discarded that as too disjointed. I settled on treating the text almost as a 4th line of music, not to be sung, but to be spoken - sometimes with and sometimes apart from the other lines.

The final decision to be made was whom to get to perform the text. Ghost In Machine came to the rescue again. Preparing for the premiere of Ghost involved many issues other than musical ones. For one thing we needed someone to tape the entire spoken text so that actor Paul Winfield could learn it in the context of the music. Since Ghost contains many visual elements, a stage director was also needed. Both of these assignments were handled by actor/director Charles Holmond. A few phone calls and much cajoling got Charles on board.

Click to view or download a PDFsample of the Music

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Catalog Information

For more information on Langston Hughes

Casey At The Bat

An American Folk Tale for Narrator and Orchestra

Program note by Larry Dickson

Ernest L. Thayer’s "Casey at the Bat" is the most famous sports poem ever written. It was published on June 3, 1888, in a humor column of the San Francisco Examiner. Thayer used only his pen name of "Phin" when the poem first appeared and seemed unconcerned about claiming any specific authorship. A Harvard graduate with a major in philosophy, Thayer maintained that his Casey poem was a mere trifle and consequently he was greatly surprised at the tremendous popularity of this light verse. By 1900 "Casey at the Bat" was well known throughout America, but the identity of its creator remained a mystery to the general public. When several impostors claimed to be the author of "Casey at the Bat," Thayer remained indifferent about asserting his rights as its originator.

The poem’s rise to popular acclaim at the turn of the century was largely due to the efforts of DeWolf Hopper, an actor-singer-comedian who, in 1899, was appearing in a comic opera in New York City. Hopper had learned that members of the Chicago White Stockings and the New York Giants were going to attend one of his performances. For this occasion he decided to include something to please the baseball players. A friend offered him a tattered newspaper reprint of Thayer’s poem clipped from the Examiner months earlier and Hopper memorized it immediately. That evening he recited it between acts of the opera and the audience was delighted. Thereafter, the recitation became a part of Hopper’s repertoire; he later estimated that during the course of his career, he had performed the poem over 10,000 times. It was not until some five years after he began reciting "Casey" that the young actor learned the identity of its author. Following one of Hopper’s performances of the poem in Worcester, Massachusetts, Thayer’s home town, the two met for the first time. The poet was never interested in claiming any payments for either the republication or the theatrical reading of "Casey at the Bat" and continued to consider the poem a minor accomplishment despite its widespread acclaim.

"Casey at the Bat" became the source of numerous verse parodies and sequels, many of which are documented in Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Casey at the Bat (1967). The poem has also influenced a number of fiction writers as well, from Frank Deford’s comic "documentary," Casey on the Loose (1989), to Bernard Malamud’s serious novel The Natural (1952), whose mythic Roy Hobbs strikes out, just like Casey. It is not difficult to understand the appeal of Thayer’s poem because his subject is so deeply rooted in the American consciousness--baseball. The sport combines the romance of the pastoral (the green paradise of the playing fields) with democratic principles of brotherhood and fair play. Baseball is an accessible game, inexpensive to play and watch, and a favorite of that vast working-force population which made the sport "America’s game." Thayer has provided us with the added drama of two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, as well as the tragic twist of Casey’s fate.

Frank Proto’s 1973 musical setting of "Casey at the Bat" captures both the fun and the drama of Thayer’s original. Proto’s piece incorporates all the swagger, humor and rising tension of the poem, while offering clever musical touches calculated to entertain his listeners. The rich orchestral colors and vibrant rhythms of Proto’s score are perfectly suited to the Thayer text, allowing for a unique blend of spoken word and symphonic complement. The jazz elements in Proto’s composition seem particularly appropriate here, for surely baseball and jazz are the most American of subjects.

The piece opens with tape recorded crowd noise from a baseball park. After an electronic chorale and the sound of a vendor hawking "cold beer," the narrator recites Thayer’s famous first line: "It looked extremely rocky for the Mudville nine that day." A slow vamp reminiscent of "My Man’s Gone Now" from Porgy and Bess (Mudville’s two batters are also gone now!) portrays the crowd’s dejection about the game situation. A jaunty waltz signals rising hopes when two home team players reach base. Indeed, when Blakey tears "the cover off the ball," the orchestra responds with the necessary percussive outbursts. The success of the two base runners--with Blake on second and "Flynn a-huggin’ third"--culminates in a glorious major chord from the entire symphony. Now it is time for Casey to make his entrance. He advances to the plate with a 12/8 blues accompaniment, at first cool (in the piano) and then more spirited (in the brass). Here the narrator sounds like a bluesman speaking instead of singing. A funky trumpet solo in plunger mute is played in the style of what the composer characterizes in his score as the "screamin’ blues." Then exotic electronic sounds plus a contrabassoon announce the following crescendo to Casey’s first strike. In contrast to the agitated musical outbursts that accompany the crowd’s desire to "kill the umpire," there emerges an absolutely beatific passage recalling Dvorak’s "New World" Symphony and, ironically, its "Goin’ Home" theme, a sly musical pun in the baseball context. Another orchestral climax ends in Casey’s second strike. Now comes the big build up: a faster 12/8 section of ascending strings leading to Casey’s momentous swing. In a tongue-in-cheek ending that Thayer himself would have appreciated, a jazz piano plays a slow, bluesy "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" as the now philosophical, reflective narrator tells us what happened.

As for Proto, he has hit a musical home run.

see A "history" of Casey

Casey At The Bat

An American Folk Tale for Narrator and Orchestra

Program note by Audrey Lelash

Born in Brooklyn, prolific composer Frank Proto's many published compositions include over a dozen concertos, a cycle of musical portraits of popular American composers, many chamber works, and many arrangements for classical and popular soloists

Originally a Brooklyn Dodger fan, Proto successfully accomplished the difficult transition to the Cincinnati Reds, and was delighted when a setting of Casey at the Bat was suggested to him as a vehicle for the talents of baseball great Johnny Bench. Ernest Thayer's mock-heroic rendering of the Mudville tragedy has been a part of American folklore since its appearance in the San Francisco Examiner in 1888, and it was popularized in dramatic readings by the famed actor DeWolf Hopper.

Although it captures the joy and desperation of the true baseball fanatic, modern aficionados will note some pleasantly archaic touches - Casey must signal to the pitcher in accordance with an old rule by which the batter had to signify his readiness for the pitch as well as his preference for a high or low ball - a ruling since removed from the books.

Proto scored his atmospheric accompaniment for narrator, including symphony orchestra, jazz soloists, a two-track stereo tape featuring crowd noises recorded at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium, and electronically synthesized sound. He is quick to admit that his approach to Casey's dilemma was influenced by the music that he heard around him. By using extra-symphonic means, such as the blues section, synthesizer, and crowd noises, he feels that he has captured the quality of surreal excitement and larger-than-life vitality prevailing at a ball park the visceral appeal that can punctuate what is often a slow and strategic contest between pitcher and batter that has caused baseball to be known as "the thinking man's game." Any critic who is also a baseball fan will be quick to recognize the authentic ambiance of Casey at the Bat, although realizing at the same time that Casey's appearance is greeted by the very cheer that followed Pete Rose's 2000th base hit.

Baseball and Cincinnati

Casey at the Bat unites two long and honorable Cincinnati traditions, major league baseball and classical music - or, more specifically, the Cincinnati Reds and the Cincinnati Pops. In 1859, the first professional baseball team, known as the Cincinnati Red Stockings, barn-stormed across the country, compiling an amazing record of fifty-six victories and one tie, and establishing a precedent that resulted in the formation of the National Association of Professional Baseball Players, soon to become the National League. Cincinnati was later expelled for condoning Sunday baseball and excessive liquor consumption in the grandstand - even at that early period Reds fans were notably enthusiastic - and afterwards reinstated. Subsequent Reds highlights included the 1919 World Series, Johnny Van der Meer's consecutive no-hitters in 1939 - a feat still to be duplicated - and the exciting 1940 World Series with Detroit. Other innovations were instituted by General Manager Larry McPhail - they included the first major league night game in May 1935 and the first regular broadcast of baseball games, which brought in a greater audience and starred the golden voiced, unflappable, and literate Red Barber.

At the same time that Cincinnati was first attaining baseball prominence, it was becoming the classical music capital of the Midwest, for its large German population had become accustomed to hearing and performing symphonic and choral works, By 1872, a lively choral tradition had developed into the May Festival, directed by Theodore Thomas, who went on to fame in Chicago. On January 17, 1895, the Cincinnati Symphony gave its first concert, under Frank Van der Stucken, who during his twelve-year tenure invited Richard Strauss to guest conduct, presented the American premiere of a Mahler symphony, and paved the way for his famous successor, Leopold Stokowski. Notable conductors since have included Fritz Reiner, Eugene Goossens, Max Rudolf, Thomas Schippers, Michael Gielen, and Jesus Lopez-Cobos.

Program notes from the Compact Disc American As Apple Pie.
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conducted by Erich Kunzel
Vox CD3X 3035

See review
Catalog Information

Four Scenes after Picasso
Concerto No. 3 for Double Bass and Orchestra

1: Chat saississant un oiseau (Cat Catching a Bird) - 1939
2: La femme qui pleure (Weeping Woman) - 1937
3: Les premiers pas (First Steps) - 1943
4: Le charnier (The Charnel House) - 1944,45

Composer's note

The Concerto No. 3 was written between December, 1996 and April, 1997. It is scored for a chamber orchestra of 2 Flutes (with the 2nd player doubling Piccolo), 2 Oboes, 1 Clarinet, 1 Bass Clarinet, 1 Bassoon, Percussion, Harp, Piano (doubling Celesta) and Strings.

During our 1996 winter meeting, the members of the International Society of Bassists board of directors, myself included, were tossing around ideas for the 1997 Convention. As is usual, we were searching for ways to make this convention a bit different from previous events. One of the ideas we explored was presenting some new music for the bass. While introducing new works has always been an integral part of our conventions, usually in the form of solo or chamber music pieces, we wanted to up the ante a bit by presenting something in a larger form. David Anderson was scheduled to replace me on the board that year. We knew that he had developed a close working relationship with Hal Robinson, principal bassist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and was planning a new concerto for him. For my part, I volunteered to write a new work for François Rabbath. It would be our fourth collaboration over the past 20 years, and I must admit, I was as excited at the thought of working with François again as I was the first time we met.

In thinking about what kind of piece to attempt, I was torn between working on a purely abstract work or something involving a program. Several of my more recent pieces, including Ghost In Machine - an American Music Drama for Vocalist Narrator and Orchestra and Afro-American Fragments - Trio for Bass Clarinet, Cello, Bass and Narrator after Langston Hughes have been program based and I enjoyed the experience very much. So why not another? But what? I considered using a text but besides my favorite collaborator - John Chenault - who provided me with the text and lyrics to Ghost In Machine and the poetry to Ode to a Giant and Mingus - Live in the Underworld being busy, I decided that having a text read by a narrator when I already had such an extremely strong soloist would make things too confusing.

I had recently been revisiting photographer David Douglas Duncans's book Picasso's Picassos. Having gone through this treasure many times, admiring the brilliant photos of the 100 or so masterpieces that Picasso kept for himself, I zeroed in on Duncan's text this time. He spoke of spending much time with the master during 1956 not only photographing these works, but talking with Picasso in the relaxed atmosphere of his villa La Californie on the French Riviera. Picasso related many of his thoughts to Duncan about his mood during the time he was working on some of his most well-known works. This in turn whet my appetite to know more about the man and his life. I thought, here is my program, what a fantastic subject, the paintings of one of the century's greatest artists!

But which paintings to use? Picasso's working life spanned more than three quarters of a century! Some of his earliest as well as his latest work can offer inspiration. After some study and thought I decided that I would try to find several paintings that were in some way related to each other. When I first began "laying out" the piece I thought that I might use more paintings than the four that I settled on. I was thinking along the lines of a Gunther Schuller's Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee, a splendid set of orchestral pieces inspired by a wide range of Klee's work. However, I decided that I would like to have a closer knit relationship among the paintings than just the name of the artist or the style he happened to be working in. After more study I zeroed in on the years around World War II. Picasso was at the height of his artistic powers and he was politically active.

In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, Picasso began voicing his thoughts through his art. Between January and June he produced a group of nine etchings - The Dream and Lie of Franco - that mocked the Spanish dictator. It was at this time that he also painted his most famous work, Guernica. Created for the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 Paris Exhibition, the giant mural was inspired by the bombing of the Basque town of that name by German bombers flying for Franco. This senseless attack on a town that had no strategic value for the armies of Franco, but had a deeper meaning for the more than half million Basques galvanized many against the totalitarian voice of Franco's Fascism. During most of the next decade much of Picasso's work reflected his words: "Painting is an instrument of War."

The Weeping Woman, painted in Paris during the fall of 1937 is not only a portrait of Dora Maar, Picasso's new love at the time, but perhaps an omen of the danger and disaster shortly coming. The jarring, harsh colors emphasize the woman's facial expression of grief and despair. The pained expression is accented by the striking difference of her lighthearted garb while the overall intensity is further accented by Picasso's familiar Cubist technique of painting two eyes on the same profile.

Picasso painted Cat Catching a Bird in April, 1939. The grotesque rendering of an overstuffed tomcat with fully bared teeth is his depiction of Hitler, while the bird is a portrait of the rest of humanity.

Picasso's mood, while understandably dark during the war years, did manage to lighten up on occasion. His playful First Steps produced in 1943 shows a caring mother with her steadfast child, which is actually a portrait of his maid with her baby.

At the end of the war when the world had discovered the true depth of the Nazis terror Picasso painted the Charnel House. In contrast to Guernica and Cat Catching a Bird which shriek at the viewer, Charnel House whispers. The muted hues - done in oil and charcoal with only grays, black and white, on a 6.5 by 8 foot canvas, - depict the devastation of the holocaust of war.

Like most of my recent work which make use of extra-musical sources, I would like the concerto to work as an abstract piece. To this end I've followed - though sometimes loosely - some rather conventional forms. Where the programmatic aspects are concerned, I attempted in some cases, to make a literal translation of what I saw and in others to make an interpretation of what I imagined might exist beneath the surface. Where I did one or the other I'll leave up to the imagination of the listener.

Catalog Information for solo bass part
Catalog Information for orchestra score
Recording Red Mark CD-Plus

Click to view or download a PDF sample of the Music

The Story of Herman

A Football Fable for Two Double Basses, 2 Percussionists, Narrator and Tape
Text by Tim Sullivan

Composer's note

The Story of Herman (1988), while basically a fun and entertaining piece, is the most complex work on this (This Bass, She's Not Electric!) disc. The charming poem by Tim Sullivan about a "mythical" hero (Herman Hudson) coming to Tinytown to save their football team is set in a myriad of styles from plain and folksy to the electronic avant garde.

The tape part was produced with the Synclavier Digital Music System using both "sample" technology and FM synthesis. Virtuosity abounds in both the bass and percussion parts.

Catalog Information


Music for Piano, Double Bass and Tape

Composer's note

Nebula was composed in 1975. It is in two main sections with these two sections being made up of five sub sections. The first main section is twelve tone, with the opening piano cadenza presenting the material upon which the entire piece is built. The solo bass enters and develops along the same lines at the Piano. The second sub section begins with the entrance of the tape, still developing and exploring the same material. The third sub section begins with the solo bass alone. It is then joined by first one, then two "processed" basses for an interplay which is partly improvised and partly notated within the tone row. A very gradual transition is made starting with the entrance of the Piano and (on tape) the electric bass and cymbals. This ultimately becomes a twelve bar blues (Main section two). At first the "live" piano plays "against" the taped rhythm section (electric piano, electric bass and drums). But after one chorus the blues finally settles down with the processed bass and the live bass trading first four bar phrases then two bar phrases. Another long transition follows leading into the last sub section, which is a return to the serial material of the beginning. The live players are asked to leave the stage while the tape finishes the final thirty to forty sections alone.

The electronic sounds were made with an Arp Model 2600 Synthesizer.

Nebula was commissioned by and dedicated to Barry Green, former principal bassist of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

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Music for Viola, Double Bass and Tape

Composer's note

Reflections was composed during the summer of 1979. It is dedicated to Herbert and Caroline Marcus of Cincinnati. The first performance took place in their home on November 18, 1979. The performers were Larrie Howard, viola and Frank Proto, bass.

Although played without pause, Reflections is in five distinct parts:
1: Elegy - for the solo instruments alone.
2: Dialogue 1 - for each instrument with tape.
3: Dance and Improvisation - for both instruments with tape.
4: Dialogue 2 - for each instrument with tape.
5: Coda - for the solo instruments alone.

The pairing of the viola and the double bass is so natural that one has to wonder why there are so few works of substance available for the two. The Sonata in D Major by Sperger and the Symphonia Concertante by Dittersdorf immediately come to mind, but there seems to be a two hundred year hiatus between these classical works and the present.

My purpose in composing Reflections was not anything so dramatic as trying to fill a void in the literature or protesting two hundred years of neglect. It was simply to have something for two friends to play other transcriptions that are great fun but just whet the appetite for something original. The first part, Elegy, was written with just this thought in mind. Something that one could "read" at a chamber music session. Not much preparation before-hand being necessary. This worked out according to plan, but in making preparations for a full length viola/double bass recital we reasoned that something more substantial than a three minute elegy was needed.

Luckily I had some free time available with no pressing deadlines around the corner. Additionally, I hadn't written a work incorporating electronic sounds since the cello concerto in 1977 and was looking for an excuse to get back to the headphones, phase inverters, delay lines and razor blades. What better opportunity?

Work progressed slowly, as it always does when working with tape. Decisions on how to present the two instruments in an electronic setting had to be made. The idea of amplifying the instruments was considered, discarded then finally adopted, if for no other reason than for us to be heard! As the work took shape my ideas about it became more grand. What started out as a little "fun" piece was becoming a major quasi "concerto" with the "orchestra" on tape. Indeed, this chamber music piece was now being thought of as a work for a large hall with the most elaborate of sound systems. I had to get control of my thoughts since we were committed to playing the first performance in a friend's living room. So I decided to compromise with myself and create a chamber but grand piece suitable for a large living room or a small concert hall.

One of the ideas that I had from the start of the project was to present both instruments with parts that "sing." These "string" qualities, which are so often given to the violin and cello but much less to the viola and bass, are inherent to all of the string instruments and I can see no reason to avoid their use simply because a (current) fad might dictate so.

Another idea that followed me from start to finish had to do with "what really is chamber music?" To me it is music first for the players and second for the listeners. It should be something that the musician will enjoy playing. If the listener (not-player) is also satisfied, then all the better, but since chamber music is most often played in someone's living room with little or no audience present, then I think that the obligation to the player should come first.

While most players who have performed Reflections have enjoyed the experience, there are many who will not attempt it for one very obvious reason. It is not a piece that one can "read" through to see what it sounds like. Except for the opening elegy, quite a bit of time must be spent coordinating the individual parts with the tape, and while there is a great deal of interpretive freedom, particularly in the two dialogues, a great deal of time and study must go into memorizing all of the sounds that are on the tape. Once all of this is accomplished Reflections should be a piece for fun, both for the players and hopefully for the listeners.

The electronic sounds were made with Arp Model 2600 and Prophet 5 Synthesizers.

Catalog Information

Sonata "1963"

for Double Bass and Piano

Composer's note

The Sonata "1963" was written while a student at the Manhattan School of Music. I needed another piece to fill out my graduation recital program and thought I'd try writing one myself. This might be labled Op. 1 since although I had been active an an arranger for five or six years previous to that (1963), I had never attempted anything original in a longer form before.

The work is in four movements with the only audible break coming between the second and third. It explores many of the characteristic techniques that the instrument is capable of employing but too infrequently called upon to use, lyrical playing and unimprovised jazz pizzicato being just two.

Although the piece calls for two players equally at home with both the jazz and traditional idioms - something that is still the exception rather than the rule even in 1997 - it has still managed to become a favorite program closer among recitalists.

Catalog Information

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A Portrait of George

Our Love Is Here To Stay
Love Walked In
Nice Work If You Can Get It
A Foggy Day
Strike Up The Band

Program note by Richard Freed

After Porgy and Bess was produced, George and Ira Gershwin went on to create songs for three films: Shall We Dance?, Damsel in Distress, and Goldwyn Follies. The last two of these were not released until after George's death, which occurred in July 1937, when he was still at work on Goldwyn Follies. Both of these valedictory scores contain some of his very finest songs, and Gershwin himself was happily aware of their quality; he spoke of "Love Walked In," one of the last of them, as his "Brahmsian" song.

A Portrait of George is the third in Proto's cycle of musical portraits of American composers, its two predecessors being A Portrait of Stephen Foster and A Portrait of the Duke (Ellington). The work is essentially a fantasy on five Gershswin tunes - with a few others cited along the way - for symphony orchestra with a jazz ensemble; four of the songs that constitute the basic material are from the last two film scores, while the fifth is one that was originally written for the stage but has been used in a number of films.

A Portrait of George was composed for the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, which gave the first performance on September 15, 1978. Gershwin's songs, Proto remarks, "have that timeless quality that can make them adaptable to almost any style of American popular music. My approach was to fashion a work that would challenge the orchestra both musically and technically. I've tried to avoid the band with strings' feeling that is so often used in this type of setting, in favor of an overall orchestral sound." By way of prelude, aptly enough, is the theme of the second of Gershwin's three preludes for piano solo, which serves as a sort of ritornello thinking the five main sections - rather in the manner of the "Promenade" in Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. As we work into the first of the five songs, "Love Is Here to Stay" from Goldwyn Follies, there is a passing allusion to "Someone to Watch Over Me." The second section is based on "Love Walked In," here given a treatment that is anything but "Brahmsian."

It is interesting that Proto makes reference to "I Got Rhythm" (the big tune from Girl Crazy) in his treatment of "Love Walked In," for Gershwin himself alluded to it in the next song in this sequence, "Nice Work if You Can Get It" (from Damsel in Distress). Gershwin, like the public, was enchanted by "I Got Rhythm"; he wrote a set of variations on the tune for piano and orchestra some four years after Girl Crazy was produced, and even later couldn't resist making reference to it in another song. Proto's arrangement, a setting for bass solo (with an introduction for harp and flutes) is in the manner of a variation leading only gradually to outright revelation of the theme itself.

"A Foggy Day (in London Town)" (also from Damsel in Distress) comes next, with an elegant fluegelhorn solo. The last of the five songs, "Strike Up the Band" (from the musical of the same name), is given a most imaginative workout, in something closer to symphonic style: following a percussion display, the theme is given out by the English horn, not vivaciously, but rather solemnly, and it is taken up by the strings, in the minor, in such a way as to suggest parallels with "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," a tune believed to have originated as a battle song in the form of a dirge. This mood is not allowed to last very long, however, and the true, exhilarating nature of the Gershwin tune breaks through in a virtuoso jazz frame; this treatment breaks off suddenly to allow for a final nostalgic return of the prelude, following which the "Strike Up the Band" theme leads into a grandiose statement of a motif from Rhapsody in Blue, and the two entwined bring the Portrait to a jubilant conclusion.

Program notes from the Compact Disc American As Apple Pie.
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conducted by Erich Kunzel
Vox CD3X 3035

See review