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BMOP to Highlight Irving Fine


Irving Fine 1947 (Irving courtesy Fine Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress)
Irving Fine 1947 (Irving Fine Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress)

Lying between the work of living composers and the established repertoire of the past is a no man’s land of music by the recently deceased whose legacies are not yet enshrined but also not yet forgotten. This Friday in Jordan Hall, the Boston Modern Orchestra project will take on music by three such composers—Irving Fine, Harold Shapero, Arthur Berger—all members of the midcentury “Third Boston School” who are now gone, but are still very much in the living memory.

The concert celebrates the centennial of Fine’s birth and is being presented in collaboration with his family, the Irving Fine Society, and Brandeis University. While several of Fine’s chamber pieces and much of his choral music are nearly standard repertoire, his orchestral pieces are more rarely performed. This concert offers a rare chance to hear some of this music as BMOP and the collaborating organizations work to preserve a legacy.

“These guys were all part of the same group,” explains BMOP director Gil Rose, one centered on Brandeis in the 1950s which included Fine, Shapero, and Berger, in addition to Lukas Foss and Leonard Bernstein. All were inspired by the work of Stravinsky. “They have sort of a lyrical, neoclassical, modernism,” Rose describes. “They were incredible craftsmen.”

While the careers of several of his colleagues lasted into the 21st century, Fine died suddenly of a heart attack in 1962 leaving behind a relatively small catalog. Just weeks before his death, he conducted his first and only symphony with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood. This piece will be the capstone of BMOP’s program. “It’s a major symphonic piece, perhaps his magnum opus,” says Rose. “It’s intensely symphonic and shows his range.” Also on the program are two lighter works by Fine, Blue Towers, which Rose says channels the pops music of Leroy Anderson, and Diversions for Orchestra, which is a kind of pastoral suite.

The composer’s eldest daughter, Claudia Fine, is on the board of the Fine society and offers some memories of her father. “He was a very detailed and somewhat obsessive person, in a good way,” she recalls. “I remember him going through the whole orchestration of the symphony and sort of banging through it.”

Fine’s family lived in Natick, where he had a studio in the house. “There were French doors that went into a sun porch on the ground floor, and he had two grand pianos in there. They had to put a beam under the floor to support them. He had a great desk he made himself, file cabinets, books, and he would spend a lot of time in there.”

Fine’s heritage and line of work set him apart in the suburbia of the late 50s, even as he was a fixture in the Boston musical community. “Natick was a pretty small town then. Being Jewish, being an academic—it felt like being an outsider,” his daughter says. But he spent many summers in a rented house near Tanglewood in the company of other musicians. “Lukas Foss had a little house at the bottom of the hill, and Aaron Copland would come by sometimes as well.”

The Fine Society is run by Nicholas Alexander Brown, a music specialist at the Library of Congress, who attended Brandeis as an undergraduate. His attention is now on building momentum for Fine’s legacy and making his orchestral music more easily available on recording. BMOP, in fact, is beginning work on an album of Fine’s complete orchestral works for release on the BMOP/sound label next year. “In the past decade Fine’s legacy was only being protected by people who knew him, we want to expand that to more people of the next generation,” Brown says.

Fine conducting at Tanglewood, 1962 (courtesy Irving Fine Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.”
Fine conducting at Tanglewood, 1962 (courtesy Irving Fine Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.”

Yet the greatest fan and advocate of Fine’s music is still his daughter, who will be in attendance at the performance. “When I hear my father’s music, it’s a very powerful association,” she says. “As a child I thought it was dissonant—I was listening to Frankie Avalon then—but to me now it’s very melodic.”

Also on the program are Harold Shapero’s Serenade in D for string orchestra and Arthur Berger’s Prelude, Aria, and Waltz for string orchestra. The concert is on Friday, May 16, at 8:00pm in Jordan Hall. Nicholas Alexander Brown, Music Director, and founder of the Irving Fine Society, gives a pre-concert talk at 7:00.

See related review here.

Benjamin Pesetsky is a Cambridge-based composer who’s recently been in residence at the Banff Centre and the Hambidge Center. Before that he attended Bard College where he studied with Joan Tower and George Tsontakis and earned a B.M. in composition and a B.A. in philosophy.

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  1. This is great. As a 1960s Brandeis student I came quickly to love the elegant, lovely orderliness and wit of these guys (Shapero’s and Berger’s piano pieces!); for the record I must add the name of Yehudi Wyner, who’s still active.

    Comment by David Moran — May 16, 2014 at 8:49 pm

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