As Arturo Sandoval blew new life into the Concerto for Kent Bugle with the UMW Philharmonic one March night, the Dodd Auditorium crowd knew they were experiencing something remarkable – an auditory treat almost no one had heard before.
The piece was one of four worthy but forgotten masterpieces publicly performed for just the first, second, or third time during the philharmonic’s March 17 Unearthing America’s Musical Treasures concert. They were rediscovered in the Library of Congress collection thanks to a project of UMW Philharmonic Conductor Kevin Bartram in collaboration with collegiate orchestra directors from around the country.
As president of the College Orchestra Directors Association (CODA) and with the group’s 2017 national conference set to be held in Washington, D.C., Bartram conceived the Library of Congress project as a way to promote intercollegiate scholarship and take advantage of the unique offerings of the nation’s capital.
Teams of scholars pored through the Library of Congress collections, looking for high-quality orchestral works written by American composers pre-1923. Many of the pieces they unearthed were the composers’ autograph originals, manuscripts that required considerable editing to be playable by modern orchestras.
The Kent bugle concerto Sandoval played is one example. Composed in 1834 by Anthony Philip Heinrich, it sat unappreciated in the Library of Congress for decades. Library staff knew it as the oldest symphonic score by an American composer in the library’s extensive collection, but musically it was almost indecipherable.
Even the instrument for which the concerto was written is now obscure. As Bartram explained to the Dodd audience in March, the Kent bugle was a keyed bugle, a complicated instrument that eventually lost out in popularity to valved instruments. At Dodd, Sandoval played the piece on a modern flugelhorn.
Besides the Heinrich concerto, the philharmonic performed three more of the eight works the project has so far rediscovered.
The 1862 Hail Columbia! Festival Overture by Karl Hohnstock had been performed by the New York Philharmonic and then the Boston Symphony Orchestra – then lost to history. The Bedouins was composed sometime between 1908 and 1918 by Charles Hambitzer, a soloist with the orchestra at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and a teacher of the young George Gershwin. And The Louisiana March was composed by Frank Van der Stucken to be played at the 1904 World’s Fair in commemoration of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.
During the concert, Bartram asked three student members of the philharmonic – cellist Bethel Mahoney ’18 and violinists Juliette Guilloux ’18 and Elyse Ridder ’19 – to stand and be recognized for their contribution to the project.
“I made a point of having them not simply serve as assistants but as real researchers,” Bartram said. “They’re clearly more self-confident as a result of this project.”
The work has been tedious. Original manuscripts have been transferred to a computer program, composers studied, and scores analyzed. Hundreds of hours have gone into filling the gaps, adding missing musical notes, and changing phrases to achieve full orchestral sound.
Bartram has also promoted the project in public talks and radio broadcasts. And earlier this year, he took the entire philharmonic to Los Angeles to perform some of the works at the most recent CODA conference.
Besides the pieces played at the March concert in Dodd, the project has rediscovered works written early in the careers of famous composers Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland. But the Dodd concert stuck to the brilliant works of lesser-known composers.
“I believe these composers would be thrilled that their work lives on with this project,” Bartram said.
Bartram also thinks his student researchers and musicians have had a career-shaping experience: “I hope they’ve come away with an understanding that through determined effort, they can make a difference.”
– Lisa Chinn Marvashti ’92 and Laura Moyer