The Oh-So-Wild West Celebrated by Cal Phil

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n the soul of a nation, there often beats at its core an intense nostalgia for the days when state boundaries were still being drawn, when the state itself was in the midst of an embryonic or evolutionary process, an often wild and even violent period that would eventually lead to what the modern nation would become. The British have their Arthurian legends and the dramatics of their fledgling empire during the Elizabethan period. Japan has its Edo period samurais and shoguns. And the United States has the Wild West.

The period was one that saw the then-still new nation double in size, sending hundreds of thousands to search for a new life – and perhaps wealth – in the vast expanses that opened up west of the Mississippi. But in the rush to develop, extract, exploit, grow and eventually urbanize, the infrastructure that held things together back east lagged behind the vast waves of settlers. Chief among these was the reach of the law. The Wild West remains famous – or perhaps infamous – for its lawlessness, the brutality with which disputes could be settled, for its “eye for an eye” blood feuding world.

It’s also a period that evoked a powerful pull on the artists and writers of the U.S. Just think of Larry McMurtry, Cormac McCarthy, Oakley Hall and John Ford. Its composers have been no less taken with the West, with Aaron Copland virtually inventing symphonic music flavored with Western themes.

The California Philharmonic Orchestra (Cal Phil) will be presenting a program this upcoming weekend devoted to music that sought to capture the wide vistas and the wildness of Western life in the 19th century U.S.

The Saturday, July 12 concert will not only continue its 18th season, but also celebrates the third year of the orchestra’s residency at Santa Anita Park.

Victor Vener, the orchestra’s music director, commented that the venue has been a perfect fit for both orchestra and audiences, complimenting the views of the surrounding San Gabriel Mountains, themselves silent witnesses to California’s own Wild West period.

“Audiences absolutely love [the venue],” he said. “You have the San Gabriel Mountains looming over you. Because the audience is seated below the stage, their focus is allowed to be trained straight onto the stage. It’s like sitting in a big, grass-covered room. It’s one of the many advantages of the place.”

The orchestra’s program on Saturday will consist not only of Aaron Copland works, but also film scores by Elmer Bernstein and Ennio Morricono for Western movies.

Music from the stage and screen is a cause close to Vener’s heart, who  cited a comment made by former Hollywood Bowl Orchestra principal conductor, John Mauceri, about how Broadway saved classical music.

“Throughout the ages, people lived in these little boxes they called ‘tradition,’” Vener opined. “For a long time, your typical concert consisted of music [composed] by long ago dead men. No women, of course. And nothing from the stage or screen. It was very elitist. Today all that is slowly crumbling.”

The Cal Phil’s “Cowboys and Copland” concert will take place on Saturday, July 12 beginning at
7:30 p.m. at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia. The program will be repeated on Sunday, July 13 at Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles starting at 2 p.m. To obtain tickets and for more information, visit, or call (626) 304-0333.

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