From The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Jan. 19, 1989
Musician Amram Shares His Passion for Music in 'Conversations'
By Derrick Henry
An interview with musician David Amram - who has performed with symphony orchestras, jazz greats and folk musicians all over the world and who ranks among the 20 most performed composers of concert music in the United States - promised to be fascinating.
The first impression of the ruggedly handsome Philadelphia native is that he is a bit unorthodox. For his interview at his Atlanta hotel, he arrived wearing a conservative two-piece gray suit, but instead of a tie; around his neck, there was a hefty string of exotic chains and beads. Another - and lasting - impression is that here is a 58-year-old man with enormous zest for life, a man whose passion for music in all its permutations knows no bounds.
Mr. Amram is in town for the premiere Thursday of his newest work, "Conversations," commissioned by the five-member Atlanta Chamber Players. "Eleven years ago, the Atlanta Chamber Players sent me a tape of their performance of my 'Discussions,'" he recalls, nearly exploding with excitement. "I listened and said, 'Wow!' Everything is there, and it is so musical. As a composer, I'm fortunate to have my works played at all. But to have them played so musically, with so much phrasing and spirit, so much enthusiasm and dedication, is a joy."
Mr. Amram says he is extremely pleased with the rehearsals of "Conversations." "It's important that composers have the opportunity to work with performers. There are certain things you can't write down. Performers can help composers to see things in a different way. Perhaps they will interpret a passage in a manner you didn't anticipate, or will take a tempo that turns out to be more correct than the one you've written down. A composer learns a lot from working with and listening to performers."
"Conversations," a work in three movements lasting some 15 minutes, represents Mr. Amram's attempt to produce a piece that can be enjoyed by adults but understood by young people. The work is "dedicated to my children Alana, Adira and Adam Amram and for young people to enjoy the subtle beauty of chamber music."
Each movement was inspired by one of his children. The "Prologue," says Mr. Amram, "begins with a loud chord that lingers and. repeats" throughout the movement. "It portrays my 4-year-old son, Adam, pounding the piano," he explains. The slow movement, "Lullabye," for the composer's daughter Adira, revolves around "a lullaby my wife Lora Lee used to sing. There is an indigenous feeling of blues."
The final movement, for his daughter, Alana, is a set of variations built upon a melody Mr. Amram wrote in 1957 for a production of Shakespeare's "Macbeth." It's a melody I often played at home on the piano. My oldest daughter liked the tune, so I wrote a series of variations that goes through different idioms and gives all the instruments in the Atlanta Chamber Players (violin, viola, cello, flute, piano) a chance to shine."
Even a brief account of Mr. Amram's musical accomplishments makes one dizzy. He served as a French horn player in the National Symphony of Washington, D.C., and has performed with the bands of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and other jazz giants. Besides the horn, Mr. Amram plays piano and guitar, plus numerous flutes, whistles and percussion instruments - in all, more than 50 instruments. His travels as musical ambassador for the U.S. State Department have taken him to some 25 countries, where he misses no chance to perform folk and indigenous music with the local musicians. Mr. Amram also conducts extensively, currently working with 14 orchestras in the United States in addition to the Montreal and Toronto symphonies. He has written an autobiography, "Vibrations," and is now at work on a new book.
His compositional activities are no less mind-boggling: He was the first composer-in-residence with the New York Philharmonic (1966-67), wrote incidental music to more than 20 Shakespeare plays for Joseph Papp's Shakespeare in the Park productions in New York's Central Park (1956-67) and has composed extensively for other media, including the film scores to "The Manchurian Candidate" and "Splendor in the Grass." His extensive catalog of concert compositions includes two operas and dozens of works for orchestra, chamber ensemble and voice.
Though Mr. Amram has participated in numerous recordings, he much prefers live concerts. "Nothing can replace being there," he says. "You don't know the outcome; you can see the scenario developing. And the presence of the audience, of which you are a part, influences the performance."
Musicians and other performing artists occupy an essential role in contemporary life, he contends. "Handicraft and handmade artifacts are disappearing from our society," Mr. Amram says. "Performing artists and athletes are among the only people left that allow us to see that kind of personal expertise."
Atlanta Chamber Players. Performing the world premiere of David Amram's "Conversations," plus Copland's Piano Quartet and Dvorak's "Dumky" Trio. At 8 p.m. Thursday in Hill Auditorium at the High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St. $13; students and senior citizens $6.50. 872-3360.