One of the best perks of my job as a Senior Teaching Artist at the New York Philharmonic is the opportunity to give pre-concert talks. Why? I actually get paid to study great music, speak excitedly about it, and then hear it dazzlingly performed by one of the world’s greatest orchestras, often with marvelous soloists like Midori and Alisa Weilerstein (both featured this weekend)!
This year, my opportunity comes June 5-7, during the NY PHIL BIENNIAL: an eleven-day, twenty-one-concert, new music extravaganza, which included the premiere of my William Blake Rhapsody last weekend.
Currently, my studio is not only cluttered with pages from complex scores by Christopher Rouse, Elliott Carter, Matthias Pintscher, and Peter Eötvös, but it is also scattered with SIX amazing new scores that were read at this morning’s Ear Shot National Orchestral Composition Discovery Network readings in Avery Fisher Hall.
Of the six works, three will be selected by a top-secret committee for performance on each of this weekend’s concerts. All six composers will receive feedback from New York Philharmonic musicians, Music Director Alan Gilbert, Composer-in-Residence Christopher Rouse, and other composers.
Julia Adolph’s Dark Sand, Sifting Light automatically gets a strong nod from me because she features our Principal Violist Cynthia Phelps in a gorgeous solo. The rest of her score is lyrical, colorful, well-balanced, and clear, with other engaging instrumental spotlights.
William Dougherty’s Into Focus gets a prize for most direct and instrumentally idiomatic application of the overtone series. . . as a meditation on how our consciousness tends to drift between different degrees of focus and clarity, it relies heavily on drones and has the orchestra resonating naturally in a way that truly does impact our consciousness and sense of time.
Max Grafe’s Bismuth: Variations for Orchestra aims to embody the structure of a pure Bismuth crystal. (The chemists in my family would have me lobby for this one). The structure is indeed clear, and it contains some of the loveliest oboe and bassoon writing of the six.
Jesse Jones’s Innumerable Stars, Scattered in Clusters sounds exactly like one would expect from the title: full of harmonics, bright mallet percussion, with all the composite sounds undulating, swirling, and sparkling.
Wang Lu’s Scenes from the Bosco Sacro musically depicts some of the fantastic monsters from Rome’s sacred grove of the same name. It was by far the most grotesque and dissonant work of the day, but with a good dose of playfulness, quirkiness, and humor.
Andrew McManus’ Strobe rounded out the set, with a kaleidoscopic whirlwind of musical images he describes as “flashing lights, stop motion, faded, photographs, electronic dance music.”
You can learn much more about each piece and each composer at the American Composers Orchestra’s Sound Advice blog
I must say, I’m glad I am not part of that secret committee because I enjoyed all six scores immensely, and in my book, each piece is a winner. I look forward to hearing the results!
UPDATE: Congratulations to Julia Adolphe, Andrew McManus, and Max Grafe, who have been selected to have their works performed respectively on June 5th, 6th, and 7th. -Gotta catch ‘em all!
Doc Wallace, 3 June 2014