Next week we have our fifth annual Twenty-first Century Residency. Last year I reported on the mini-residency of the Da Capo Chamber Players. This year we have composer Augusta Read Thomas paying a visit. I will be conducting two of her works on Tuesday night: Passion Prayers, a concertino for cello and chamber ensemble, and The Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour. The latter piece was premiered last April by Alarm Will Sound; we are giving the second performance.

The Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour is a fascinating piece, as idiosyncratic as its title would lead one to believe. A mezzo-soprano and a countertenor team up to sing the eponymous poem by Wallace Stevens. Meanwhile, one of the percussionists is asked to intone a second Stevens verse, “The Poem That Took The Place Of A Mountain,” imitating the poet’s vocal rhythms and mannerisms (which may be sampled here). Throughout the piece the 14 instrumentalists play, sing and chant fragments of the text. Thomas designed the music specifically for the AWS ensemble, taking the musicians’ vocal ranges and other talents into account. We are adapting some elements to our own strengths – hopefully she will approve of our results. This is my favorite of the composer’s works, although I haven’t yet “heard” it – there is no recording, and our rehearsals are still in the formative stage. The intertwining of the two poems, both paeans to the power of the imagination, has a haunting, almost Medieval resonance.

Passion Prayers is the more technically challenging of the two pieces. My conducting chops are taxed to the max in the speedy middle section: eighth = 276, with meter changes that defy any attempt to group into memorizable patterns. But the musicians are excellent – even if I screw up, they will be right on.

Both pieces exhibit the composer’s trademark sensitivities. The music is luxurious, luminous, ecstatic — and truly gorgeous.

I’m also conducting Luciano Berio’s O King and Sebastian Currier’s Broken Consort. I chose the Berio piece because it seems to be a seminal work in the kind of heterophonic writing Augusta excels in. We are doing the original version for five instruments and voice that Berio later adapted for his celebrated Sinfonia. Composed in 1968 in memory of Martin Luther King, the piece breaks King’s name down into separate phonemes that gradually link with one another, until the soprano finally sings “O Martin Luther King” in the last measures. The music alternates between jarring, violent explosions – like gunshots — and a delicate, colorful web of barely audible sound.

Never fails to break my heart.

Broken Consort functions as a massive prelude on this concert: scored for two guitars, flute, oboe, violin and cello, the whole piece centers around a measured tremolo on E. Mechanical figures gradually build up to a lengthy, chaotic eruption. At the conclusion, a plaintive melody arises and dies away into a transcendent shimmer. The piece was written for the Cygnus ensemble, one of the founding members of which, Jacqui Carrasco, lives here in town – the two of us are trying to find time to arrange a play date for our babies these days.

The concert will also include Martin Bresnick’s Tent of Miracles for baritone saxophone and prerecorded baritone saxophones, played by our faculty saxist, Taimur Sullivan, a member of the Prism Quartet.

Stay tuned – I’ll try to give a recap when it’s over.

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