Variations – A House Concert with David Amram 2/9/19

Gilpin Street House Concerts presented an intimate musical conversation with David Amram who was in Denver for the annual Neal Cassaday Birthday Bash at the Mercury Cafe after a January 28th conducting date at Carnegie Hall.  He was Bernstein’s choice for the first composer in residence with the New York Philharmonic, is a preeminent French Horn player and a constant performer at Farm Aid. His chamber music compositions from 1958-2017 are featured on the 2018 Colorado Symphony recording, So in America. Selections from the album were performed last fall by Amram, Yumi Hwang-Williams and Sara Parkinson.  When Ellin Rosenthal introduced David Amram she said “David radiates creativity. David is music.”

The evening began with spontaneous variations on Amazing Grace on flute.  “Music is here,” Amram said before launching into one of his characteristic tales of his 3rd week in New York with Charles Mingus playing on an out of tune piano and fighting to get paid for the gig. Since those early days he has continued to play chamber music  “with the same spirit of Charles Mingus; musicians playing together.”

He described Tchaikovsky as a composer who “wore his heart on his sleeve” and how Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony ‘ was programmatic in the way that he cast nature as integral to the musical lexicon.  Amram’s compositions “reject topography.” He does not follow one genre. His 1971 two record album No More Walls is like Amram: classical chamber music and world music rooted in jazz. When the vinyl was reissued on CD Amram said,  “In music, as in life, if it’s good, it stays good.”    

Selections at the house concert also included the composer at the piano performing his theme from the film Splendor in the Grass, Pull my Daisy from the Jack Kerouac film with ad lib lyrics that paid tribute to the hostess and When I’m Gone by Phil Ochs. The latter is a nostalgic song that is indelible when delivered by the 88 year old Amram.  He explained his return to these songs, “Music is a place where we celebrate the past.” So many songs and so much protest in the Summer of Love and David Amram reminded the listeners that the Louis Armstrong song, What a Wonderful World was written during 1968.  His rendition of the song with spontaneous variations was ‘wonderful.’

  • Watch the documentary David Amram: The First 80 Years
  • Look for his 2008 book: Upbeat: the Nine Lives of a Musical Cat
  • and his 2002 book Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac

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