Brave New World
Cabrillo’s world premieres challenge listeners to embrace modern music.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
But for Elliott Carter, who at 99 is very much alive and still accepting commissions, John Corigliano would qualify as an elder statesman among American composers. “I don’t feel 70,” protests Corigliano, as he prepares for a second time to don the mantle of composer-in-residence at the upcoming Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. The man perhaps best known for his AIDS symphony “Of Rage and Remembrance” and the Oscar-winning score he wrote for The Red Violin, will be in Santa Cruz to hear Dame Evelyn Glennie perform his Conjurer in its West Coast premiere.
Corigliano admits he had “a lot of trouble writing it.” That may have had something to do with the original title, Triple Play, that was intended to highlight the three types of percussion he calls for– wood, metal and skin– with one movement dedicated to each. “I changed the name after the second performance. I had to conjure something out of a brain that didn’t want to write a percussion concerto,” he confesses, having initially overlooked his own perfect word to describe Glennie, the diminutive, world-renowned, hearing-challenged, barefoot percussionist who last bewitched Cabrillo audiences in 2006.
In earth-friendly Santa Cruz, the name “Triple Play” was “naturally” recycled to label this Saturday night’s program, which, beside the Corigliano includes the world premiere of Dorothy Chang’s Strange Air, evoking the intensity of the Pacific Northwest’s natural environment and commissioned by the Bay Area’s Women’s Philharmonic. Also, following his acclaimed appearance at last year’s festival, Mason Bates’ Liquid Interface gets its West Coast premiere.
Corigliano’s Mannheim Rocket will occupy a position on the Aug. 9 program. He writes, “I first heard of the Mannheim Rocket in a music history course at college to describe a musical technique perfected by the Mannheim Orchestra in the 18th century. A rising figure (a scale or arpeggio) sped up and grew louder as it rose higher and higher.” When he was asked to write a piece for today’s Mannheim Orchestra, Corigliano chose to celebrate the history of music in the German-speaking world up to the present in his own interpretation of the original Rocket, climaxing with a huge crash of breaking glass.
The piece starts with the scratch of a match that “lights” a 12-tone “fuse.” This leads to a quote from an early practitioner of the Rocket, the Bohemian Jan Stamic (aka Johann Stamitz), and includes snippets from Haydn, Mozart, Brahms, Wagner, “right up to Stockhausen.” After the smashing climax– a “glass ceiling” above which the audience momentarily hears the serene “music of the spheres”– the piece retrogrades toward its beginning. “It uses all these crazy percussion that you don’t usually have in your percussion section,” he adds.
The festival’s opening orchestral concert, Aug. 1 at Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, includes the world premiere of Concerto for Orchestra by Christopher Rouse. Like Corigliano, Rouse will be another– one of 12– composer-in-residence. The Pulitzer Prize winner says the 25-minute work, a festival commission, celebrates– or torments– the musicians. “The structure is a little strange,” he says, “and makes everyone in the orchestra’s life miserable.” Bearing a dedication to Music Director Marin Alsop, Rouse describes the work as “a hard piece that puts the players through their paces.” In seven sections– the first five, alternating fast and slow– are followed by a “development” section that gives way to a finale that revisits the earlier fast sections. “It is a showpiece,” he says.
On the same program, cellist Matt Haimovitz, in his first festival appearance, will solo in Scherzo Grosso, described as “classical-funk-jazz-bebop-hip-hopping,” by David Sanford. Sinfonia by British composer Stephen McNeff will get its U.S. premiere following its world premiere by Alsop and her Bournemouth Symphony, which commissioned it. The program’s world premiere is Darkness Made Visible, that pits two opposing musical forces, “one angular, aggressive and disjointed; the other conservative and harkening back to a ‘Lisztian bravura,’ ” by Santa Cruz native Eric Lindsay.
On Aug. 9, along with Corigliano’s Mannheim Rocket, is the West Coast premiere of the much-anticipated Doctor Atomic Symphony, drawn from the opera, by John Adams, plus the world premiere of Matthew Cmiel’s Sneak in a Window, and the U.S. premiere of Mark Anthony Turnage’s Riffs and Refrains. The season finale, Aug. 10 at Mission San Juan Bautista, features four composers new to the festival: Taiwan-born Chiayu’s Harvest Festival, Argentina-born Osvaldo Golijov’s Last Round, Belarus-born Alla Borzova’s To the New World and Israel-born Avner Dorman’s Variations Without a Theme.
Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music runs from Aug. 1 to Aug. 10, at the Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz, and Mission San Juan Bautista, 2nd Street and Mariposa, San Juan Bautista. $20-$44. Order tickets at 420-5260 x5 or www.santacruztickets.com. Information at www.cabrillomusic.org.