A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

The Santa Monica Symphony performs March 13.

The best ticket in town this week is free!  Saturday night Tavis Smiley joins Music Director and Conductor Allen Robert Gross and the Santa Monica Symphony to perform Aaron Copland’s iconic “Lincoln Portrait” along with other masterworks by William Grant Still and Charles Ives, making this a truly all-American event.

Now in his 18th year as Music Director, Gross has elevated the Orchestra to the echelon of the leading community orchestras in the country – and this concert is an outstanding example of the superb programming and quality.

The imaginative program includes Ives’ Variations on “America”; Still’s Symphony No.1, “Afro-American”; and Copland’s “Billy the Kid” Suite and “Lincoln Portrait.”

The Charles Ives Variations are a masterpiece of musical Americana, and we will certainly smile as we hear this American original dancing to his own tune.  Another American original, African-American composer and Los Angeles native William Grant Still is a beautiful choice for the program, his uniquely American treatment of harmony and melody we now recognize as seminal, wonderfully comfortable and familiar, like an old childhood friend.

Tavis Smiley should be great in the narrator role for “Lincoln Portrait,” in which Copland assembled excerpts from Lincoln’s speeches and writings along with musical references from classic American folk.  I usually find that Copland’s music sweeps my attention away to “that place just right,” thus overpowering the speech, but Tavis is capable of the role. He has a great persona and voice, and I expect his interpretation will be unique.

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 13, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Arrive early to hear the pre-concert talk with Raymond Knapp at 6:30 p.m. Check out the program notes here: https://www.smsymphony.org/program3.html.