SMSO Presents “Casual Classics - American Sounds”

Bradley A. Wong
Helen Lukan

Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra

513 Ship St., St. Joseph, MI



SMSO Presents “Casual Classics - American Sounds”


Director of Western Michigan’s School of Music, Brad Wong, is “delighted to return to St. Joseph to play in the Casual Classic Concert” series. Kicking off the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra’s summer season will be American Sounds featuring SMSO Principal Pianist Helen Lukan and Wong on Thursday, June 7th at 6pm at the Heritage Museum and Cultural Center.  Wong and Lukan will be performing iconic classics by “Composers who integrated the music of our culture – jazz – with classical elements and influenced musical style in the concert hall, music theater, and cinema.”


As Wong shares, “The program starts with several of Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs. Although these are from a collection of folk melodies that Copland arranged for voice and piano and the clarinet essentially plays an unaltered version of each melody, his treatment of the piano lines are so inventive that the music works well for clarinet and piano. The first of the songs we will do is ‘Simple Gifts,’ the tune that is so prominent in one of his most well-known works, Appalachian Spring – which coincidentally is played first by the solo clarinet in that work. That will be followed by the beautiful lullaby, ‘The Little Horses,’ and then the amusing ‘I Bought Me a Cat’ in which the singer mimics various barnyard animals – I’ll do my best!”


“The second work on the program is an arrangement of a violin and piano suite by William Grant Still, who is often called the ‘Dean of African-American Composers.’ He was a remarkable man and composer who deserves more exposure and recognition. In addition to adding significantly to the chamber music and orchestral repertoire, he was the first African-American in this country to conduct a major orchestra and a radio orchestra, and to have an opera produced by a major company. The work that we will perform was originally a suite for violin and piano from the 1940’s, with the music inspired by specific works by visual artists. The beautifully lyrical ‘Mother and Child’ is based on Sargent Johnson’s lithograph of the same name. ‘Gamin’ is inspired by a bronze sculpture by Augusta Savage, and is in a jazzier, syncopated style.”


Helen Lukan will then play one of George Gershwin’s classic works for solo piano, the Three Preludes. She has this to say about the work:


“Gershwin was a true innovator! He drew upon the best of the American music tradition to create something new in piano repertoire. The Three Preludes offer a little of something for everyone: Jazz, blues, and classical strains. Playing Gershwin’s preludes gives me a lot of personal satisfaction!”


Wong further describes, “These pieces will be followed by two original compositions by Bill Douglas, a composer/performer known for the diversity of his musical styles. His music is intended to evoke compassion, nobility, and joy. It is always uplifting, and Helen and I are delighted to play two of the many works that Douglas has written for clarinetist Richard Stoltzman.”


“The program will conclude with the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano by Leonard Bernstein, his first published work. While Bernstein admitted that as an early work it has a bit of a student element to it, he always had a fondness for it. It also foreshadows the compositional style that Bernstein became known for - a sweeping sense of lyricism and an energetic dance-like rhythmic vitality.”


Tickets for the performance are $35 and can be purchased online at, by calling the SMSO office at 269-982-4030, or by stopping in at the office at 513 Ship Street, St. Joseph. Ticket pricing includes light summer supper and wine.


The concert series is being dedicated to the memory of Priscilla U. Byrns.



WHAT: Casual Classics - American Sounds featuring Helen Lukan and Bradley A. Wong 

WHERE: The Heritage Museum and Cultural Center, 601 Main Street, St. Joseph, MI 49085

WHEN: Thursday, June 7, 2018 at 6:00pm


 TICKETS availableonline, by calling 269-982-4030 or at the SMSO office 10am- 5pm: 513 Ship Street, St. Joseph.

$35 per person. Includes light supper and wine

$95 for entire Series of three concerts



Aaron Copland                                  Old American Songs

1900-1990                                            I. “Simple Gifts” (Shaker song)

                                                II. “The Little Horses” (lullaby)

                                                III. “I Bought Me a Cat” (children's song)



William Grant Still                             Suite for Clarinet and Piano (originally for Violin and Piano)

1872-1927                           II. Suggested by Sargent Johnson’s “Mother and Child”

Arr. By Alexa Still                              III. Suggested by Augusta Savage’s “Gamin”



George Gershwin                            Three Preludes for Piano

1898-1937                           I. Allegro ben ritmo e deciso

                                                II. Andante con moto e poco rubato

                                                III. Allegro ben ritmo e deciso


Bill Douglas                        Two Pieces for Clarinet and Piano

b. 1944                                  I. “Begin Sweet World”

                                                II. “Feast”


Leonard Bernstein                           Sonata for Clarinet and Piano

1918-1990                           I. Grazioso

II. Andantino - Vivace e leggiero


For more information, contact the Symphony office at 269-982-4030 or




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