Documentary about Louisville Orchestra puts new music in the spotlight

Posted on: September 17, 2010

In Friday’s (9/17) New York Times, Andy Webster reviews “Music Makes a City, Owsley Brown III and Jerome Hiler’s enlightening documentary about how Louisville, Ky., became a locus for contemporary music in the mid-20th century. In striking synchronicity, a mayor, a conductor and a robust postwar generation of composers intersected to make the city a hub for visionary composition. Louisville had been battered by a flood and the Depression when Robert Whitney, a young Chicago conductor, arrived in 1937 to build what became the Louisville Orchestra. When it hit financial trouble, Charles Farnsley, the mayor and a believer in the Confucian notion that high culture attracts wealth and power, boldly proposed commissioning works from modern composers while honoring the traditional repertory. Their efforts drew local and international acclaim. By 1953, with a major Rockefeller Foundation grant, the orchestra was bringing in 46 originals a year, by the likes of Ned Rorem and Elliott Carter (both articulate on camera), and had its own record label, First Edition. … the music is given ample room to speak for itself, in lyrical landscape montages. Viewers unfamiliar with artists like Lukas Foss and Gunther Schuller will find themselves agreeably challenged. And stirred.”

Posted September 17, 2010