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Straz author Bill Faucett says it's time for a revival for Boston composer George Chadwick

In George Chadwick’s music, “There are all these really neat influences, but they coalesce to create an individual style,” says biographer Bill F. Faucett.

Courtesy of Bill F. Faucett

In George Chadwick’s music, “There are all these really neat influences, but they coalesce to create an individual style,” says biographer Bill F. Faucett.

There was a time when George Whitefield Chadwick was a name to reckon with in classical music. He was part of a group of early American composers known as the "Boston School," and as head of the New England Conservatory, he had a leading role in the development of music education in the United States.

Chadwick (1854-1931) wrote hundreds of works, but they are rarely performed nowadays, though his music for symphony orchestra in particular is well worth a listen.

"I think he is due a revival," says Bill F. Faucett. "There is a distinct American character to his music, but you can also hear some Richard Strauss, some Wagner, some Dvorak. You can hear Brahms in some of the thick orchestrations. There are all these really neat influences, but they coalesce to create an individual style."

Faucett should know. He is author of a new biography, George Whitefield Chadwick: The Life and Music of the Pride of New England. He has also written other, specialized books on the composer and prepared the scores of Chadwick works for publication.

By day, Faucett is on the administrative staff of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. There he is director of endowment and planned giving, primarily raising money for the center's endowment, valued at $58 million.

Faucett's book (Northeastern University Press, 432 pages, $39.95) is surely the most comprehensive account of Chadwick's life and times. Occasionally, the narrative lapses into academic prose, with dryly technical annotation of the music, but its portrait of Boston's thriving musical life at the turn of the 20th century is fascinating.

"I do a little bit of heavy music description, but I tried to make it understandable," says Faucett, who has a doctorate in musicology (his dissertation was on Chadwick's symphonic works) from Florida State University. "It's got a lot of Boston cultural history. It kind of toes the line between scholarly and popular history."

There is also a new CD of Chadwick's music released this year on the Dutton Epoch label, with Keith Lockhart conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra in four works: the overture Adonais (the score was edited by Faucett), the tone poem Cleopatra, the single-movement A Pastoral Prelude and the Sinfonietta in D major. Faucett wrote the liner notes.

Lockhart, of course, is music director of the Boston Pops Orchestra, with whom he conducted Jubilee, the first movement from Chadwick's Symphonic Sketches, in 2011.

Historically, the Boston Symphony Orchestra was the greatest advocate of Chadwick's music, no surprise given his Yankee lineage and position at the New England Conservatory. "His legacy would have been completely different had it not been for the Boston Symphony," Faucett says.

The BSO, founded in 1881, performed Chadwick works often in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but not much recently. The last time was 2003, when guest conductor Neemi Jarvi led his Symphony No. 3.

Jarvi has been a Chadwick champion, making three recordings of his works in the 1990s on the Chandos label with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, for whom he was then music director. Conductor Jose Serebrier is another Chadwickian, having made two recordings of his orchestra works with the Czech State Philharmonic.

As a measure of how far out of fashion Chadwick's music has become, Faucett can recall hearing his works in live performance only twice: the overture Thalia in a concert by the New England Conservatory Orchestra and Jubilee by the Florida Symphonic Pops.

Chadwick's biographer identifies several works that he thinks that orchestras and chamber musicians ought to look into programming.

"I think Tam O'Shanter, written right on the cusp of World War I, is his best and probably his most important work," Faucett says. "It's an effective piece. And by then he was an old man and really had some powers of creativity. The overture Melpomene is a real crowd pleaser. I think the Third Symphony is terrific. In chamber music, he wrote six string quartets, and his major work for piano was a quintet for piano and strings."

Area groups receive NEA grants

The National Endowment for the Arts announced its largest round of annual grants last month, and 23 Florida organizations got awards. In the bay area, the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts received $20,000 to help support its Community Reflections Program, which includes such programming as Momix Dance Company, violinist Hilary Hahn and Indian musicians Zakir Hussain and Shivkumar Sharma. VSA Arts of Florida in Tampa was given $10,000 to support a performance by vocalist and composer Scott MacIntyre, who has a vision disability, for the annual AccessiBull at the University of South Florida.

Sarasota Opera was awarded $30,000 for its production of the Carlisle Floyd opera Of Mice and Men, part of the company's American Classics Series. The largest grant to a Florida organization, $50,000, went to the New World Symphony in Miami Beach.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8716.

Straz author Bill Faucett says it's time for a revival for Boston composer George Chadwick 12/15/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 7:14pm]

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