Reprinted from yesterday late editions.
David Amram had an interesting idea when he decided to base his new composition, "The Trail of Beauty," on "poetry, prayers and speeches of native American peoples" and to use motifs from Indian music liberally in his composition.
It was, however, an idea that others have had, at least in part, before him. That was evident, Monday at the Kennedy Center, when the Philadelphia Orchestra gave the work its Washington premiere. Sometimes it was evident in a cadence, a fragment of a phrase that could almost have been an allusion to Dvorak. But it stood out particularly at the beginning of the work's second movement. "Thanks to the Earth Where Men Dwell," when the bass drum began softly, joined by the tom-tom, bells and other percussions and finally the winds in a rhythmic orgy that recalled every cowboys-and-Indians soundtrack ever composed.
This music exists, of course, on a totally different level, and its relation to more commercial uses of similar motifs was more one of exorcism than of evocation; that point emerges when you see the work as a whole, particularly the opening section (which returns at the end) evoking the total life-cycle in its relation to natural beauty. "Haunting" is the word for this music, and even more for the long passage in the final movement which uses Chief Seattle's words to express the Red Man's relation to the land, with an admonition to the white usurper: "The very dust on which you now stand . . . / At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent / They will throng with the returning hosts / That once filled and still love this beautiful land."