Judging by the way our traffic cratered between 11:30 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. today, most of you probably saw the above clip of Itzhak Perlman, Anthony McGill, Gabriela Montero, and the super-cheerful Yo-Yo Ma performing at the inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama. The piece they performed, Star Wars composer John Williams’ “Air And Simple Gifts,” used as part of its foundation the melody to “Simple Gifts,” a 19th-century Shaker hymn that was used by American composer Aaron Copland in his 1944 ballet Appalachian Spring. As it turns out, Williams’ homage not only sounded pretty, it served to avenge some red-baiting that kept Copland off a pre-inaugural bill many years ago.
Although Williams chose to use the Copland material because President Obama counts that composer among his classical favorites, there’s another significant point here. In 1953, a pre-inaugural concert by the National Symphony Orchestra at Constitution Hall, a concert attended by then president-elect Eisenhower, was to have included a performance of one of Copland’s most popular works, A Lincoln Portrait. But a Republican congressman (from Illinois, by the way) objected, suggesting that Copland was too liberal and maybe even Communist-friendly, so the piece was pulled from the concert. Inserting the touch of Copland into the Obama inauguration, Williams told Variety last week, offers “a completed circle of events that is nice to think about.”
Awesome. Although it’s kind of a bummer that they couldn’t figure out a way to fit Weezer in.