Archive for the “Orchestral” Category

 

The National Symphony Orchestra has been hosting composer John Adams over the past two weeks in presentations of his own works as well as works of the 20th century American, Russian and English repertoires.  Last week he presented works by Copland, Barber, and Elgar as well as his own The Wound Dresser.  This week, Adams and the NSO were joined by violinist Leila Josefowicz for a performance that included Adams’ electric violin “concerto,” The Dharma at Big Sur, and the Washington premiere of the Dr. Atomic Symphony.

 

The program began with Benjamin Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes” from his opera, Peter Grimes.   While the opening “Dawn” interlude began on somewhat shaky ground, Adams quickly proved himself a capable conductor of this repertoire.  The composer has been doing a lot of conducting over the past decade and it’s beginning to show.  His confidence as a conductor, particularly one of pre-WWII 20th century music, has grown by leaps and bounds and the NSO’s playing under him reflected this.   Whenever Adams conducts, however, he always presents his own work (it is part of the attraction, after all) and where in Britten and Stravinsky he is confident and capable, in his own work Mr. Adams is simply superb. 

The Dharma at Big Sur, not so much a formal concerto for six string electric violin so much as a rhapsodic evocation of cross-country travel , California mythology, and the poetry and prose of Jack Kerouac.  This is a powerful work, conveying a joyful energy that is simply infectious.  The violin carries the bulk of the musical argument in the piece, with very few tutti moments offering rest from some highly energetic, virtuosic music, and Ms. Josefowicz astounds in her role as Kerouac’s musical manifestation.  Her playing is a revelation and she simply OWNS this part.  One hopes that she and Adams will come to record the piece sometime, not so much to replace the original 2006 recording with Tracy Silverman, the violinist for whom the work was written, but to complement it, as Ms. Josefowicz brings an exuberant energy to the piece that is just on the edge of wildness, where Mr. Silverman’s recording seems much more sedate by comparison. 

After intermission, Mr. Adams and the orchestra took on Stravinsky’s early, slight orchestral showpiece, Feu d’artifice (Fireworks).  They handled the work expertly, certainly, but it is a work that has failed to make much of an impression upon me through the years as little more than a youthful work by a composer on the verge of greatness.  Indeed, the second half was really all about the Dr. Atomic Symphony, a reworking of material from Adams’ 2005 opera, Dr. Atomic.  While the symphony obviously owes a great deal to the opera (and Adams, both in his speeches to the audience in between numbers and in the program notes, rather redundantly stressed the musical connections with the opera’s plot) it is certainly worthwhile as a free-standing work and does not really need any programmatic allusions to make its point.  This is a harrowing symphony, full of a wild energy that proves the dark contrast to The Dharma at Big Sur’s sublime apotheosis, and the NSO and Adams gave it a duly appropriate reading which deservedly brought the house down.  And while the symphony makes a visceral impression, it is also governed by a Sibelian formal logic that makes it an important addition to the somewhat dormant American symphonic tradition.  It will hopefully prove to be one of Adams’ truly major works. 

The National Symphony Orchestra, Leila Josefowicz, violin, under the direction of John Adams, will repeat this program on Friday, May 21 at 1:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 22 at 8:00 p.m. at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

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Making the classical aspects of the burgeoning indie classical movement abundantly clear, crossover albums are now crossover marketing musical scores. Via his website, composer Owen Pallett has released a limited edition score for the music on Heartland, his latest Domino recording.

Owen Palletts Heartland

Joined by the Czech Symphony Orchestra and a host of guests (including composer Nico Muhly) Pallette has crafted his most consistently engaging music to date. In some critical circles, indie classical has, rightly or wrongly, been under the microscope for making pop into a ‘longhair’ genre, robbing it of its immediacy in favor of overt sophistication. I’d submit that this vantage point doesn’t give enough credit to indie audiences, who seem to be just fine grappling with orchestral arrangements by Pallett and electronic experiments by Animal Collective alike.

What’s more, recordings like Heartland amply demonstrate that one can, if they’re talented, craft sophisticated music that has just as many catchy hooks as a three-chord, three-minute anthemic single. A case in point is the loop-laden and jaunty “Lewis Takes off his Shirt;” the music, and the video below, suggest that pop can indeed combine sophistication with immediacy, and that its orchestral incarnation can be downright cheeky!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7G-cqAehehA[/youtube]

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For those of your with a case of ‘artifact avarice,’ the full orchestra score for Heartland is $46 and has been printed in a limited run of 300. In addition to the music it also provides lyrics and a chart of diagrams of patches for the ARP 2600.

Owen Palett’s touring a bunch in support of Heartland. Here are some dates:

04-08 Toronto, Ontario – Queen Elizabeth Theatre
04-10 Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall
04-11 Minneapolis, MN – Varsity Theater
04-12 Milwaukee, WI – Turner Hall
04-13 Columbus, OH – Wexner Center
04-14 Pittsburgh, PA – Andy Warhol Museum
04-15 Washington DC – Black Cat
04-18 Indio, CA – Coachella Festival
04-20 Boston, MA – Institute of Contemporary Art
04-22 New York, NY – Webster Hall
04-24 Baltimore, MD – Metro Gallery
04-25 Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church
04-27 Atlanta, GA – The Earl
04-29 Dallas, TX – Granada Theater
04-30 Austin, TX – The Mohawk
05-05 San Francisco, CA – The Independent
05-08 Seattle, WA – The Crocodile
05-09 Vancouver, British Columbia – The Vogue Theatre
05-10 Victoria, British Columbia – Alix Goolden Hall
05-11 Portland, OR – Aladdin Theater
05-13 Salt Lake City, UT – Kilby Court
05-14 Denver, CO – Larimer Lounge

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My two most recent posts have been about orchestras that specialize in performing contemporary music, ACO and BMOP.  In keeping with that theme, I thought I should also say a few things about the new contemporary music series by the New York Philharmonic, called CONTACT! (I know, I know – that concert was a couple months ago – what can I say, I’m a slacker.) In Music Director Alan Gilbert’s first press conference, he highlighted his plans for a New York Philharmonic new music ensemble this season, and as it turns out, this isn’t just a new music ensemble playing the past century’s greatest hits: they are performing seven pieces by seven composers, all of which are world premieres.  Not bad, Mr. Gilbert.  Not bad at all.

Strictly speaking, the December CONTACT! concert was not a full orchestra performance, but more of the Sinfonietta variety.  Basically one of every instrument represented on most pieces.  I don’t really want to talk about the pieces, but you can find out more about the program and the upcoming April concert here.  I really just want to give a tip-of-the-hat to the New York Philharmonic and other established orchestral organizations like the San Francisco Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, and I’m sure others, for not just recognizing the importance of bringing bloggers in to the concert hall, but also for realizing that blogs are not going away and are worth their attention.  This CONTACT! concert was the first time the New York Philharmonic invited bloggers to a performance and hopefully they will continue to do it in the future.  It goes without saying that they should do this again for the next CONTACT! performance, but it would be great to see the Philharmonic begin inviting bloggers to regular subscription concerts as well.  Here is a link to all of the other blog entries that were written following the December concert by twelve people who were obviously NOT slackers.

Finally, I love that the New York Philharmonic New Music Ensemble (is that really their name or can the ensemble have a shorter, snappier name?) is performing in some different locations around town.  Each of these CONTACT! concerts are being performed once at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and once at Symphony Space.  I have to wonder, though, if there is a better location than Symphony Space.  I appreciate that they may be making an effort to get away from the Lincoln Center campus, but if the renovated Alice Tully Hall is cool enough and hip enough for Alarm Will Sound, ICE, the Bang on a Can All-Stars and the Ensemble Intercontemporain, then isn’t it cool enough and hip enough for the Philharmonic New Music Ensemble?  And, wouldn’t the sound be so much better there?

In the end I think that the Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert, and composer-in-residence Magnus Lindberg should be congratulated on this new (and I’m sure somewhat scary or uncertain) venture.  I look forward to the April performance and especially to what they have in mind for the ’10-’11 season.

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derek_bermel2The 52nd Annual Grammy Awards are on Sunday night, here’s the list of all the classical music-related categories and nominees, and here are the composition-related categories and nominees.  Let’s give a shout-out to the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and to Derek Bermel for their nomination in the category of Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra.

I was able to spend some time talking with BMOP Artistic Director Gil Rose (audio here), and BMOP violinist Gabriela Diaz (audio here) about their experiences working with composers and about what music they are excited about… or at least were excited about back in October when we spoke.

I also noticed that Meet The Composer is making another push for their Music Alive program, which matches up composers with orchestral residencies around the country.  There are not many of these residencies available, but if you work for an orchestra that’s thinking about creating a composer residency, you should visit the Music Alive site.  The reason I mention all of this is because our friends at BMOP have a video up where Gil talks about their three-year collaboration with composer, Lisa BielawaThis link should also take you straight to that video.

Congratulations, BMOP!

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ninakotovaNina Kotova premieres a new work by Christopher Theofanidis this weekend in Dallas. In the second part of looking at the new work, I spoke with the soloist about the piece, and learned more about how the piece came into being. Listen to our conversation:

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The concert takes place Thursday, Friday & Saturday – and more performances coming up in Asia & Europe.

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Chris Theofanidis

This week, the Dallas Symphony premieres a new concerto written for cellist Nina Kotova. Christopher Theofanidis is teaching at Yale and about to embark on two new operas for Houston and San Francisco. He took some time out last week to let me know more about the work and what he’s been up to!
Listen to the conversation:

mp3 file
Tomorrow, a post with the soloist, who also composes…

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Chris Thile

Labor Day 2009 and while John Clare has an airshift, he also has an interview. Chris Thile is relaxing in New York and making coffee, ready to talk shop. Thile jokes, waxes poetic and has a thoughtful answer for the questions. You see, Chris is about to add to the small repertoire of mandolin & orchestra concertos, with his own Ad astra per alas porci. The world premiere performances are September 17, 19, and 20, 2009 with The Colorado Symphony & Jeffrey Kahane.
In the second part of our interview Chris talks about how the piece came about and if others might perform it: Interview Part 2
Thile has been busy as well with his band, The Punch Brothers, and with a duo project with bassist extraordinaire Edgar Meyer. He’ll keep up the concerto as well, with six more chances for you to hear it, the Oregon Symphony (September 26, 2009; with Carlos Kalmar), the Alabama Symphony (October 29, 2009; with Justin Brown), the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (January 23 and 24, 2010; again with Jeffrey Kahane), the Winston-Salem Symphony (March 13, 14, and 16, 2010; with Robert Moody); the Delaware Symphony (March 19 and 20, 2010; with David Amado);and the Portland Symphony (March 28, 2010; with Scott Terrell).

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[Ed. note: Polly Moller is not just busy telling you about concerts like the one below — while she’s out there pushing for the other guy, I want to mention the she herself has what looks like a great gig, with Pamela Z and Jane Rigler, May 17th at the Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa Street (between Harrison & Alabama), SF. tickets are $10, and you can see more here. Go, Polly! …OK, on with the show…]

Mason BatesSequenza21 readers are a quirky and unpredictable bunch.  But I’m willing to bet that any of them who show up on Wednesday, May 20, Friday, May 22, or Saturday, May 23 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco will not spend the first half fidgeting around, waiting for the marvelous Yuja Wang to take the stage, so they can text their friends about what kind of gown she’s wearing.  No, our readers will be on the edges of their seats ready for the world premiere of The B-Sides by Mason Bates!

The internet got a taste of Bates’ new work on April 15th, when the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, led by San Francisco’s own Michael Tilson Thomas, played the final movement, “Warehouse Medicine”, in Carnegie Hall.  Bates explains in the program notes that his five-movement piece is “informed by the grooves of electronica as well as the modern masters of orchestral sonority, and might also be said to inhabit the ‘flipside’ of the symphonic world – a place where drum-n-bass rhythms meet fluorescent orchestral textures.”

The B-Sides is dedicated to MTT, who commissioned it.  The maestro invited the composer backstage during a concert intermission in November 2007, “between Tchaikovsky and Brahms,” Bates recalls.  “He suggested a collection of five pieces focusing on texture and sonority—perhaps like Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra. Since my music had largely gone in the other direction—large works that bathed the listener in immersive experiences—the idea intrigued me. I had often imagined a suite of concise, off-kilter symphonic pieces that would incorporate the grooves and theatrics of electronica in a highly focused manner.”

Something else Sequenza21 readers are likely to do, if they attend the Friday, May 22 show, is stick around for Davies After Hours. It’ll be hard to resist, with Bates morphing into his alter-ego, DJ Masonic, and joining SF Symphony Resident Conductor Benjamin Schwartz to host a hybrid concert/reception they call Mercury Lounge: Mercury Soul Comes to Davies. DJs and chamber ensembles will offer their reflections on the night’s concert…which oh, by the way, includes Sibelius’ Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Opus 63.

Tickets are available online, and also by phone from the San Francisco Symphony Box Office at (415) 864-6000.

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Music by Wolff, Sciarrino, Kotik, Carter, and Ligeti / Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble, Ostravská Banda, FLUX Quartet; Petr Kotik, Conductor /Alice Tully Hall, May 6, 2009

Conductor/composer Petr Kotik has been an impressive advocate for contemporary music in New York for forty years. Residing in the US since 1969, he has been running the S.E.M. ensemble since 1970: performing a wide range of repertoire, commissioning works and cultivating successive generations of young players into seasoned new music performers. S.E.M.’s orchestral unit has been active since ’92; Kotik’s also been running Ostravská Banda, an international chamber orchestra comprised of S.E.M. players and young European counterparts, since ’05. Both of these groups, as well as the FLUX string quartet, another youngish ensemble devoted to new music, were featured on Wednesday night’s Tully Hall performance: a program of brand new chamber music and three contemporary works that seem destined for the core repertory.

Christian Wolff’s Trio for Robert Ashley (commissioned for the concert) employed three of the FLUX members – violinist Tom Chiu, violist Max Mandel, and cellist Felix Fan – in a fragmentary multi-movement piece. Indeed, its juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated musical materials set the tone for an evening devoted to unorthodox formal presentation. Sustained notes were set against skittering, Webernian motifs. Single lines evaporated into pensive rests while vigorous tutti were all too ephemeral; evaporating into the silence from when they came.

In its US premiere, Salvatore Sciarrino’s Vento D’Ombra made quite an impression. Another work which employed silences as well as fragmentary gestures as signatures, it focused on tiny musical cells – mostly dyads and trichords – as well as a cornucopia of special effects. Wind and brass players breathed through mouthpieces without fingering notes, strings played scordatura and microtones. The whole was a meticulously shaded pointillist canvas of brief gestures, undulating slides, and pianissimo staccato dabs.

Kotik’s own String Quartet was cast in a lengthy single movement. Impeccably performed by FLUX, it was centered on an ambling, long-breathed melody played by the quartet in unison (later in octaves). Only gradually did this evolve into two-voice counterpoint, with a violin countermelody that took on greater urgency. Tutti passages ratcheted up the tension quotient still further, evocative of some of the brilliant polyphonic passages from Ligeti’s second quartet. The idée fixe unison passage returned at pivotal junctures, requiring precise coordination and tuning on the part of FLUX: both were readily supplied.

Elliott Carter’s recent ‘second piano concerto,’ Dialogues, is a fascinating companion piece to the monolithic concerto from the 1960s. Written for a much smaller orchestra, it allows the soloist to take on an enlarged role. In a clever inverse of its larger precursor, the pianist often overwhelms the ensemble, cowing it with brilliant virtuosity. Daan Wandewalle was an excellent protagonist, supplying brilliant cadenzas, thunderous verticals, and an overarching sense of shaping and musicality. Read the rest of this entry »

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David Schiff

While well-known for his writings about music, including books about Elliott Carter and George Gershwin, David Schiff is also a prolific and active composer. A professor at Reed College, he’s visiting New York this week to hear the American Composer’s Orchestra premiere a revamped version of Stomp, a piece that celebrates the music of James Brown. The concert, part of the Orchestra Underground series, also includes premieres by Margaret Brouwer and Kasumi, Rand Steiger, Fang Man, and Kati Agócs.

 Carey: Stomp was written in 1990 for Marin Alsop. How did you decide to write in homage to James Brown?

Schiff: I was asked for a concert opener and somewhere in the process I realized that one of my rhythmic motives was from James Brown’s “I Feel Good” (as recorded Live at the Apollo). I then re-conceived the piece as a tribute.

Carey: Have other rock or jazz legends figured in your music?

Schiff: There’s a big Motown section in my Scenes from Adolescence (1987) and my Slow Dance for orchestra (1989), written for the Oregon Symphony, has a lot of Charles Mingus in it, but I have also had the great honor of working with two living legends in jazz, Regina Carter and Marty Ehrlich.

Carey: What’s “re-lit” about this new version for the ACO?

Schiff: ACO asked me to reduce the size of the orchestra slightly to fit in Zankel Hall. This gave me the opportunity to re-score the entire piece. The wind section now is much better suited to the style of the piece: flute, E flat clarinet, two saxes, trumpet horn, trombone and tuba. But there are also a lot of musical changes everywhere. I think that in the years since I first wrote Stomp I have become more experienced with the style. The new version is much hotter than the original–even though the orchestra is smaller.

Carey: You’re currently at work on a book about Duke Ellington. Is that research infiltrating your composing at all?

Schiff: Ellington’s music influences everything I do. I go to school with his music every day and I find his melodies, rhythms, harmonies and instrumentation endlessly inspiring.

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