I crossed a fairly big bridge at the age of nine when my family moved to South America (La Paz, Bolivia), where we stayed for nine years. I had to learn a new language, a new culture, and how to live at 13,000 feet! It was a lively culture with many saints' days celebrated through music and dance, but the large Inca population in Bolivia was generally poor and there was little chance of moving up in class or work position.
When I returned to the United States, I was proud to have free choices, upward mobility, and the chance to try to become who I wanted to be. I also enjoyed the basic luxuries of an American citizen that we so often take for granted: hot running water, blankets for the cold winters, floors that are not made of dirt, and easy modes of transportation, among many other things. So when I started composing this piece, the song "America the Beautiful" kept coming into my consciousness and eventually became the main theme for the work. The beauty of the song is undeniable and I loved working with it as a musical idea. One can never take for granted, however, the strength of a musical idea as Beethoven (one of my strongest influences) knew so well. This theme is challenged by other more aggressive and dissonant ideas that keep interrupting, unsettling it, but "America the Beautiful" keeps resurfacing in different guises (some small and tender, others big and magnanimous), as if to say, "I'm still here, ever changing, but holding my own." A musical struggle is heard throughout the work. Perhaps it was my unconscious reacting to the challenge of how do we keep America beautiful.
Read Greg Sandow's note and listen to Joan Tower's comments and a clip of the piano reduction of Made in America
from the American Symphony Orchestra League.
...a sort of theme and variations on 'America the Beautiful,' with the theme peeking out from behind clouds of striking rhythm and stringent dissonance.
Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 23/10/2010
Made in America World Premiere recording
Tambor World Premiere recording
Concerto for Orchestra
Naxos CD 8559328
Made in America resulted from a commissioning project involving 65 smaller-budget American orchestras; it was designed to challenge without intimidation, and to be accessible as opposed to simplistic. The work typifies Tower’s splendid ear for sonority and her subtle harmonic sense, not to mention her ease and authority operating within the American symphonic syntax as defined by Copland and his circle…
More virtuosic demands permeate Tower’s 1991 Concerto for Orchestra, where soloists and smaller instrumental groups assert both their individual profile and facility to engage in chamber-like combat with their neighbors.
...the Nashville Symphony boasts lusty strings, hefty brass, and strong, decisive percussion players. The latter, in fact, brilliantly dominate throughout Tambor, and will prove hard to beat (pun intended) should another maestro dare to challenge this premiere recorded version. Naxos’ first-rate engineering mirrors the music’s excitement and immediacy. Enthusiastically recommended!
Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com, 12/06/2007
A landmark moment in American music came during the Sunday afternoon concert of the Glens Falls Symphony. Joan Tower's new composition, Made in America, saw its world premiere.
It will soon be taken up by more than 60 other small orchestras around the country. The project...is the largest consortium commission in the history of American orchestras.
One of today's most widely performed composers, Tower has a well-established style propulsive rhythmic landscapes with vibrant orchestration. Made in America hewed closely to that model but with an added element. Fragments of the melody of "America the Beautiful" are subtly woven throughout the piece. The familiar tune gave a thread of beauty, possibly hope, to Tower's tense and edgy sounds...The score's feeling of industry and striving made it very American.
Joseph Dalton, Albany Times Union
Joan Tower's Made in America is a piece jointly commissioned by and for smaller American orchestras, with substantial support from such blue-chip operations as the American Symphony Orchestra League, Meet the Composer, and the Ford Motor Company Fund.
...The piece came home to the Pro Arte [Chamber Orchestra] and it is terrific. Tower uses the opening of "America the Beautiful" as her basic thematic material, and in a way the piece is allegory the tune meets many hostilities and challenges but never gives in; instead it assimilates everything it encounters. The style lies somewhere between Copland and Stravinsky, and the music is written by a master orchestrator who knows how to make an ensemble sound good. And while the design may appear schematic as one describes it, Tower is too experienced, gifted, and cagy to fall into that trap: It functions according to a purely musical logic as well.
Richard Dyer, Boston Globe
Made in America
Santa Barbara Symphony/Kabaretti
11 November 2006; Santa Barbara, CA
...Ms. Tower’s piece is a marvel of evolving orchestral textures and shapes, tension and release. Harmonically, the score oscillates between consonance and dissonance, but never dryly or schematically....This is exciting stuff — a celebration of the power of the orchestra as a medium and, somehow, a particularly American vernacular.
Josef Woodward, Santa Barbara News Press