I hate to seem parochial but ever since I saw the New York Philharmonic's program for their North Korean concert, my thoughts have shifted from the political to the merely aesthetic. This leads me to ask the question -- was Gershwin's An American in Paris really the best American work Lorin Maazel could come up with?
Since the orchestra is an invited guest, some repertoire would be inappropriate to play for our North Korean hosts, regardless of its charms e.g. John Adam's The Chairman Dances.
I'll also concede it's probably not a good idea to clear the hall on such an auspicious occasion with American modernism or other contemporary music of a less than soothing nature, as in Elliott Carter, some John Cage oddity or the latest Michael Gordon work.
Bit while it may have been a deliberate choice to favor an American work that was neither brash nor boasting about American life, I can think of several works that are better representations of our country, complicated as it is:
- Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring (even if it was actually written prior to being titled)
- Philip Glass' Koyannisqatsi (ok, it's not orchestral and represents the less than appealing side of modern life but is still a reasonable approximation)
- Charles Ives' Symphony No. 2 (representational of America at least in Ives' mind and surprisingly appealing)
But my real complaint is that we all know* An American in Paris is not even Gershwin's greatest orchestral work.
*Ok, I exaggerate. Honorable people have been known to disagree with my assertion. Plus Wikipedia reports AAIP was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic.
And since we are on patriotic musical topics, one of my favorite Stravinsky works is his arrangement of the Star-Spangled Banner, even if it did get him arrested in Boston.
Update: Fixed a title typo. Also listened to a synthesizer arrangement of An American in Paris by an artist I won't mention since it may be the least appealing music I own.