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March 27, 2001

Modern Composers[Music of] Michael Kamen: The New Moon in the Old Moon's Arms. The New Moon in the Old Moon's Arms -- Symphonic Poem, National Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin, conductor; Mr. Holland's Opus -- An American Symphony, The BBC Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin, conductor. (Decca, CD # 289 467 631-2) 2000.

The story of American composer Michael Kamen's career reads like a movie. He was born in New York in 1948 and after showing musical talent at a young age, he attended New York's High School of Music and Art (remember the movie Fame?) and Julliard. He was featured by Leonard Bernstein in one of the New York Philharmonic's Young People's Concerts, and encouraged by Bernstein to pursue a career in composition. In the last 25 years, Kamen has become one of the most prolific and most popularly successful American composers. He has composed scored for over seventy movies and television programs, written and produced some phenomenally popular rock albums, and written ten ballets for some of the leading U.S. dance companies. He has been nominated for Oscars for two songs written for movies, and won acclaim for his score for the 1996 movie Mr. Holland's Opus.

The present recording from Decca contains the premiere recording of some of the music that Kamen composed for Mr. Holland's Opus in symphonic form, subtitled An American Symphony. The work is in five movements. The first and second, titled "Iris" and "Cole's Tune," introduce Mr. Holland's wife and son. The third movement, "Marking Homework," show the high-school music teacher practicing scales and quoting samples of classical works for his pupils -- the pupils whose education is the real opus of the movie's title -- and the final section "derives from the performance of Mr. Holland's [composition] by grateful students in recognition of the lasting influence that [he] has had upon their lives."

The other work on the present album is the title piece, "The New Moon in the Old Moon's Arms." Though the title comes from an expression of the Iroquois of New York state, the piece was inspired by the long-since-vanished Anasazi people of the southwestern U.S. Kamen says he was inspired to write the work on a visit to Arizona, where he was moved by the power of the surviving petroglyphs depicting the daily lives of the Anasazi who inhabited the area a thousand years ago. "The music," according to the liner notes, "illustrates the changeless emotional quality of the human spirit as we travel through time." The composer has tried to represent the spirit of the ancients as they entered the last millennium, and also of the present generation as we enter the new millennium, both with no certain knowledge of what the future holds except that it will present new challenges that they and we must rise to or perish. Kamen seems to be optimistic that we will not go the way of the Anasazi -- the final movement, "2000 A.D.," is a powerful statement of his belief in progress. Let us hope he is right. Overall, the piece is a fine melding of classical, contemporary, and "world" elements into a work that is both comfortable and uplifting.

You can hear Michael Kamen's symphonic poem "The New Moon in the Old Moon's Arms" on WHIL-FM (91.3) Thursday, March 29 at 7:00 p.m. as part of their weekly series of music from after 1950.

-- J. Green


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