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  June 1-June 8, 2003

Rachel Portman's 'Little Prince'
Debuts at Houston Grand Opera
Film composers write music that helps tell a story so it seems intuitive to think that a good musical storyteller would have a leg up when it comes to creating opera.  With the possible exceptions of Korngold, who wrote his best operas before going Hollywood, and Andre Prevein, whose opera-writing attempt wasn't very good, it is hard to think of a film composer who has successfully made the transition.  The latest to try is Rachel Portman, whose score for the 1996 version of Jane Austen's Emma won an Academy Award and whose music for The Cider House Rules (1999) and Chocolat (2000) won Oscar nominations. 

Portman's The Little Prince, based on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's enchanting  story of a boy from a tiny star and a pilot whose plane has crashed on an African desert, opened Saturday in Houston.  Directed by Francesca Zambello, who recently directed Les Troyens at the Metropolitan Opera, The Little Prince production has been designed for smaller opera companies and touring. It uses a 26-member chamber orchestra. The set, which is dominated by undulating sand dunes, requires no elaborate installation. 

The libretto, by Nicholas Wright, is in English and performed with surtitles,  Performances will be June 2, 4, 6, 8m, 11, 13, 15m, 17, 19, 20 and 22m. 

Portman was born and grew up in Haslemere, Surrey. She began composing at Charterhouse School, while studying piano, viola and organ. In 1979 she took up an exhibition to read music at Worcester College, Oxford University. It was during her time at Oxford that she became increasingly interested in writing music for theatre and film. 

     After leaving Oxford, Portman was offered her first professional job by David Puttnam, who asked her to rescore a Channel Four ‘first love’ film called Experience Preferred But Not Essential. Following its success, a string of dramas and films for BBC and Channel Four Television followed, including Mike Leigh’s Four Days in July, Shoot to Kill, the winner of the best TV Theme for Movie of the Week; Precious Bane, Jim Henson’s Storyteller, Ethan Frome, the BAFTA award-winning Oranges are not the Only Fruit, and The Falklands War. This proved to be an invaluable period during which Portman  gained a wealth of experience working with some of the best English directors and producers of our time.

In 1990 she wrote the score for Mike Leigh’s acclaimed feature film Life is Sweet, shortly followed by Charles Sturridge’s Where Angels Fear To Tread. In 1992 she broke into American feature films, with Used People, directed by Beeban Kidron. Following up with films such as Benny and Joon, The Joy Luck Club, Sirens, The War of the Buttons and Only You by 1994, firmly established her success and popularity. Her recent scores include Smoke, directed by Wayne Wang, To Wong Foo..., by Beeban Kidron, Marvin’s Room, by Jerry Zaks, Addicted to Love, by Griffin Dunne, Palookaville, produced by her husband Uberto Pasolini, and Emma, directed by Doug Mc Grath, for which she won an Academy Award in 1997.

     In 1999 she wrote the score for John Irvin's adaptation of his novel The Cider House Rules directed by Lasse Hallstrom, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score. Rachel then went onto be nominated for a Grammy and an Ivor Novello Award for this film. She also won the Flanders International Film Festival Award 1999 for Ratcatcher directed by Lynne Ramsay. Another film released this year was The Closer Your Get directed by Aileen Ritchie and produced by Uberto Pasolini.

      In 2000, Portman teamed up again with Lasse Hallstrom, this time for  Chocolat, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, and  also nominated for an Academy Award.

What's Recent

An Interview with Tobias Picker
Handmaid Tale's Debuts in English
Rautavaara Joins B&G 
Who's Afraid of Julia Wolfe
Derek Bermel's Soul Garden
 The Pianist: The Extraordinary 
True Story of Wladyslaw Szpilman
John Adams' Atomic Opera
A Bridge Not Far Enough
Turnage Signs With B&H
Sophie's Wrong Choice
Copland's Mexico
On Being Arvo
Rzewski Plays Rzewski
Praising Lee Hyla
David Lang's Passing Measures
Three Tales at BAM
Naxos at 15
On the Transmigration of Souls
Dead Man Walking
David Krakauer's The Year After
Steve Reich/Alan Pierson

Our writers welcome your comments on their pieces.  Send your witty bon mots to jbowles@sequenza21.com and we might even publish some of them here.  And, don't forget--if you'd like to write for Sequenza21 (understanding that we have no money to pay you), send me a note. JB

Lure 'Em In With Something New When times are tough, how do you lure in audiences? "Two theories are doing the rounds. One says the only way to lure back the crowds is by going shamelessly populist. The other, unhelpfully, states the opposite: that you are most likely to prise open wallets when money is tight if you offer them something unusual, unrepeatable and unmissable. There can be no argument as to which camp the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra belongs in. In an amazing four-day festival in Birmingham from Thursday it offers (in conjunction with its sister ensemble, the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group) no fewer than 18 big, bold, bracing blasts of contemporary music, most of them composed in the past five years." The Times (UK) 05/27/03 

Contemporay Music Over The Net Want to explore contemporary music, but don't have the opportunity to catch it in a concert? The American Music Center has a service called NewMusicJukebox, and "this month it’s featuring an unusually intriguing webcast from Juilliard’s Focus 2003 Festival titled 'Beyond the Rockies: A Tribute to Lou Harrison at 85'." 
New York Sun 05/30/03 

The Case Of The Conductor Who Stabbed Himself Onstage "David Tilling, of Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, thrust the baton through his hand while rehearsing Land of Hope and Glory, by Elgar. He finished conducting the piece but then collapsed. Some of his bandsmen feared he was having a heart attack. A few may even have been aware of a disturbing precedent: at a concert in a Parisian church in 1687, the composer Jean-Baptiste Lully stabbed himself in the foot while conducting. Gangrene set in and killed him..." The Guardian (UK) 05/27/03 

Grabbing For A Younger Demographic "Times are definitely changing in some of Canada's symphony and opera halls. On a Saturday night these days, it's hard not to notice the huge number of concertgoers in their teens and 20s. Many of them have never heard live classical music before. Some have never heard classical music, period. But lured in by cheap tickets for those under 30, they are quickly becoming converts. This is a vital renewal process for cultural institutions that have traditionally been seen as stodgy and elitist. And winning over potential new subscribers is also an economic necessity at a time when dwindling arts funding has left several Canadian orchestras on the brink of financial collapse." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/31/03 

Met Broadcasts - Stripping The Theatre Out Of Opera? So the Metropolitan Opera's radio broadcasts are endangered. That is sad news, writes John Rockwell. But along with the many benefits the broadcasts have produced, they have also distorted Americans' sense of (and taste for) opera. Onne might suggest that "millions of American opera lovers have been tilted toward a perception of opera as a voice-driven auditory experience. For them, the best stage production is imaginary: it doesn't so much adhere to the intentions of the composer as remain neutrally compatible with a listener's own made-up stage pictures. And in the comfortable confines of the home or the car, the music is usually heard without libretto or titles, as a sensual experience in melody, harmony and a foreign tongue." The New York Times 06/01/03 

Classical Music: Reports Of My Death...Are WRONG! Stories abound about how classical music is sinking into obscurity - death, even. But "in the things that matter most, classical music is actually healthier than for decades." The evidence, writes one critic, is compelling. "For a start, London is more than ever the uncontested classical capital of the world, with some 20 professional orchestras and five music colleges. Many of the world's great soloists choose to make their home there, as do home-grown musicians in great quantity and quality. In 1985, for example, the Association of British Orchestras had just 12 members; now it has 50. Up to half of this growth has come from new orchestras." The Economist 05/30/03 

Moving San Francisco Across Europe What does it take to move the San Francisco Symphony across Europe on its $1.8 million tour? "In between transatlantic flights on commercial airliners, the tour schedule includes six chartered flights, two train rides (including one on Eurostar, the new high-speed train that runs from London to Brussels through the Channel Tunnel) and three bus trips for short run-outs to cities such as Brighton and Dusseldorf. But that's just the humans. Running in tandem, in two climate-controlled trucks, is the cargo - almost 11 tons of evening clothes, cellos and basses, trombones and bassoons and harps and cymbals." San Francisco Chronicle 05/26/03 

 Last Week's News

Meet the Composer’s 2003 COMMISSIONING MUSIC/USA program, the nation's preeminent commissioning program for the support of new music, awards $200,000 to 24 organizations to support the commission of new works by 17 composers.

Now in its 15th year, Meet the Composer’s commissioning programs have facilitated the creation and multiple performances of over 700 works by many of America’s most important contemporary composers, including such works as John Adams’ opera Death of Klinghoffer and Andre Previn’s opera A Streetcar Name Desire; orchestra works like John Corigliano’s Symphony Number 1, Philip Glass’s Concerto Fantasy and William Balcolm’s Symphony Number 6; multimedia pieces such as Meredith Monk’s Mercy and Paul Dresher’s Sound Stage; dance collaborations such as Lou Harrison’s Rhymes With Silver (Mark Morris Dance Group) and ZakirHussain’s Flammable Contents; and ensemble works such as Tan Dun’s Concerto for Six Players, Steve Reich’s Drumming, John Harbison’s Flashes and Illuminations, and Julia Wolfe’s Early That Summer.

"Meet The Composer is pleased to continue its deep commitment to commissioning new music from distinctive and visionary musical voices of our time with the 2003 Commissioning Music/USA awards," says MTC president Heather A. Hitchens. "This year's organizations and composers have proposed an exciting array of projects that will add significantly to the repertoire and connect with audiences across the country."

A Few Highlights of the 2003 Grants

>a 26-scene music theater piece called "What to Wear?  by Michael Gordon, with a libretto by Richard Foreman, and performed by Ensemble Moderne

>a 15-minute piece by Kamran Ince for the Relache Ensemble

>a sextet by Terry Riley for the Kronos Quaret on the occasion of his 70th birthday

>a 30-minute piece by David Lang for cellist Maya Beiser based on Jewish mystical texts about the afterlife

>a 15-20 minute multi-movement piece by Fred Ho for Imani Winds, the first all African-American wind quartet, based on the spirit of Josephine Baker

Meet The Composer was founded in 1974 as a project of the New York State Council on the Arts. Led by the visionary composer John Duffy, Meet The Composer sought to enable composers to make a living writing music, and to increase their visible presence as creative artists. In its first two decades, Meet The Composer has grown to become a national organization, serving composers of every kind of music throughout the United States. 

Through a range of commissioning, residency, education, and audience interaction programs, Meet The Composer has revolutionized the environment for composers in this country, establishing broadly accepted standards of payment and opening the doors for them to work in cultural institutions of all kinds. 

Meet The Composer's mission is to increase opportunities for composers by fostering the creation, performance, dissemination, and appreciation of their music. 

(See Full Details)

NWEAMO 2003: The Exploding Interactive Inevitable 
October 3-5, 2003: Portland, Oregon (B-Complex) October 10-12, 2003: 
(San Diego State University) 

Miller Theatre: 
2002-03 Season at a Glance

Previous Interviews/Profiles
Simon Rattle, Michael Gordon,Benjamin Lees, Scott Lindroth, David Felder, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Erkki-Sven Tüür,John Luther Adams, Brett Dean, Judith Lang Zaimont, Meyer Kupferman, Evan Chambers, Poul Ruders, Steven R. Gerber, Gloria Coates, Tobias Picker

Previous Articles/
Busoni The Visionary
The Composer of the Moment:  Mark-Anthony Turnage
Electronic Music
Voices: Henze at 75
Henze Meets Emenim
On Finding Kurtag
Charles Ruggles:  When Men Were Men
Ballet Mécanique
The Adams Chronicles

Record companies, artists and publicists are invited to submit CDs to be considered for our Editor's Pick's of the month.  Send to: Jerry Bowles, Editor, Sequenza 21, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, NY, NY 10019 
Advertising and Sponsorship Information
             EDITORS PICKS 

Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2
Composer:  Alan Rawsthorne
Performers: Peter Donohoe, Ulster Orchestra, Takuo Yuasa

The complete package--two complex, important  and demanding piano concertos by England's most underrated modernist, played to dazzling perfection by the world-class pianist Peter Donohoe.  The chance of running into a treasure like this  is why classical music collectors get up in the morning. 

Extempore II
A modern Mass for the 
Feast of St Michael
based on the medieval melody L'homme armé 
Performers:  Orlando Consort / Perfect Houseplants
Harmonia Mundi Franc 

Jazz meets medieval and, for once, avoids a train record. This album is the second volume in a collaborative project between the Orlando Consort, a classical vocal ensemble, and British jazz quartet Perfect Houseplants . In both medieval classical music and jazz, improvisation is an essential skill and both groups exhibit lots of imagination.



Composer: David Lang
Conductor: Carlo Boccadoro
Ensemble: Sentieri Selvaggi

A major new work for seven musicians,  "Child" is a powerful meditation on childhood and memory. Sweet and simple on the surface, gentle musical fragments float by, leaving faint traces of darkness in their wake. The result is at once dramatic and personal, intensely introspective and piercingly beautiful.  This is Lang's most controlled and complete work to date, pointing the way to a new maturity filled with enormous possibilities.

Written in five separate parts for some of Europe's finest groups, "Child" is recorded here by the Italian ensemble Sentieri Selvaggi. 

In the White Silence
Composer:  John Luther Adams
Performer(s): Adams, Weiss, Oberlin Contemp Music Ens
 New World Records 

 In the White Silence (1998) is an example of Adams' concept of "sonic geography," through which he attempts to realize the notion of music as place and place as music and reveals his obsession with the "treeless, windswept expanses of the Arctic"  and specifically refers to Adams’s fascination with the color of white, a dominant feature of Arctic landscapes. As Adams explains in his preface to the score: "White is not the absence of color. It is the fullness of light. As the Inuit have known for centuries, and as painters from Malevich to Ryman have shown us more recently, whiteness embraces many hues, textures, and nuances." 

Four Songs of Solitude; Variations; Twilight Music
Composer: John Harbison
Performer: Janine Jansen, Lars Wouters van den Oudenwijer, et al.

John Harbison was born in New Jersey in 1938 and is now established among the most prominent American composers, his output including symphonies, string quartets, and three operas.  I find his music generally too gnarly by half but admire his technical abilities which are on sharp display in these well-performed chamber pieces.



Symphony Number 5
Composer;  Roy Harris
Performers: The Louisville Orchestra. 
Robert S. Whitney, Lawrence Leighton Smith, conductors, Gregory Fulkerson, violin
First Edition - #5 

Roy Harris wrote 11 or 14 symphonies in his long career, depending on who's counting but only one of them remains treasured--the extraordinary one- movement, 18-minute Third Symphony, which is the statement the composer was born to make.  Most of his odd-numbered symphonies are worth a listen and No. 5 just may be the best, after No. 3.

Symphony No. 3; Psalm, Kaddish
 Composer: David Diamond
 Conductor: Gerard Schwarz
Performer: Janos Starker

David Diamond is thought of as an American composer although he was trained largely in Europe and has spent much of his life in Italy. The glorious Psalm, completed in 1936, was Diamond's first successful orchestral score.  The  Fourth symphony, completed in 1945, is in four movements and is characterised by its strong rhythmic character, with a breezy scherzo and brilliant finale.  Kaddish, completed in 1958, is   dedicated to Janos Starker. It is an enormously powerful cry to heaven.

Symphony No. 4
Composer: Walter Piston 
Conductor: Gerard Schwarz
 Performer: Seattle Symphony, Therese Elder Wunrow

 Walter Piston achieved considerable success during his lifetime but his work is rarely played these days which is too bad since it is  immediate and appealing and very "American."  The Fourth Symphony dates from 1950, and incorporates  an atmosphere of American folk music, especially in the bright  finale.  The three  New England pieces are dark and brooding.  This recording was first released on Delos in 1992.  If  you don't already have it, pounce. 

Orchestral Works 6
Composer: Joaquin Rodrigo
 Conductor: Max Bragado-Darman Performer: Lucero Tena

For a guy who is basically famous for a single work, Rodrigo sure wrote a lot of sparkling, sunny, highly-listenable music.  Not sure how many more of these Naxos has in the works but I'm not tired yet. 

Composer: Giacomo Puccini
Conductor: Alexander Rahbari
 Performer: Masako Deguci, Jose A. Garcia-Quijada, et al.

Like a local wine consumed with good friends and good food not far from the vineyard, regional opera productions of famous operas often have a charm, passion, and character that befies their modest ambitions.  This thoroughly charming rendering of Puccini's most hummable score is one of those unexpected delights.

Pipa From a Distance
Performer:  Wu Man, Stewart Dempster, Abel Domingues

In addition to being a rightous goodlooking babe, Wu Man is probably the best pipa player alive and here she takes on some thoroughly modern pieces with results that range from the soothing to the downright eerie.  There are echos of Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Project (for which Wu Man served as main pipa person) as well as hints of new traditions yet to come. 

Ritter Blaubart
Composer:  Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek
Conductor: Michail Jurowski
Performer: Arutiun Kotchinian, Robert Worle, et al.
Cpo Records 

Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek (1860-1945) is remembered for a single work, the overture to the opera Donna Diana but CPO hopes to change that with  the release of his Ritter Blaubart (Knight Bluebeard), a fairy-tale opera. 

Gretry, Offenbach and Bartok were also drawn to the story of Bluebeard, the mythical figure who kills his faithless wife and then murders the other women he marries. Reznicek's version boasts music filled with atmosphere and keen drama.  Conductor Michail Jurowski leads the Berlin Radio Orchestra and a cast of fine singers in a powerful performance.

The Shock of the Old
Composer:  Common Sense 
Composers' Collective
 Santa Fe New Music - #513 

Consider the possibility  that ancient instruments like the harpsichord, Baroque flute and so on can  be used to play  contemporary music as well and you have the idea behind this very fresh and appealing collaboration between the Common Sense Composers' Collective--an eight-member cooperative based in New York and San Francisco--and American Baroque, an early-music consort that makes its home in the Bay Area.   Remarkable stuff that should make converts on both ends of the musical spectrum.

Darkness into Light
Composer: Composer:  John Tavener
Performer:  Anonymous 4
Harmonia Mundi Franc

Four pieces by contemporary mystic composer John Tavener framed by medieval hymns illustrate the passage from darkness to light in this hypnotic collaboration between Anonymous 4 and the Chilingirian Quartet. The most substantial piece is the world premiere of Tavener's "The Bridgegroom," which is nearly 18 minutes long and spellbinding from start to finish.



Overture to the Creole 'Faust'
Ollantay, Pampeana No. 3
Dances from the Ballet, 'Estancia'
Composer: Alberto Ginastera
Performers:  Odense Symphony Orchestra, Jan Wagner, conductor

 The nice folks at Bridge Records are obviously thinking Latin America these days with their recent fabulous Villa-Lobos release and now this superb collection of music from the great Argentine composer Alberto Ginaestera--played, as was the Villa-Lobos, by the Odense Symphony Orchestra under Jan Wagner.  This is bold and flavorful music served fresh and hot--the way you like it. 

Thirteen Ways
Composers:  Tower, Perle, etc
Performer(s): Eighth Blackbird

You got to love a group that takes its name from one of Wallace Stevens' best poems but you'd love them if their name was Band X.  This  six-member ensemble mixes flutes, clarinets, violin and viola, cello, percussion and piano to create a big sound for chamber pieces.  The composers here--Joan Tower, George Perle, David Schobar, and Thomas Albert--are all given polished and enthusiastic readings.  Absolutely first-rate and highly recommended. 

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