Thursday, February 15, 2024

FVSO April 27, 2024 FULL Program Notes

FVSO April 27, 2024 FULL Program Notes

Notes written by Erik Leveille and Kevin Sütterlin

Concert with Baritone Maximillian Krummen

Evan Williams (b. 1988)

Drawing from inspirations as diverse as Medieval chant to contemporary pop, the music of composer and conductor Evan Williams (b. 1988) explores the thin lines between beauty and disquieting, joy and sorrow, and simple and complex, while often tackling important social and political issues. Williams’ catalogue contains a broad range of work, from vocal and operatic offerings to instrumental works, along with electronic music.

His music been performed and commissioned by the International Contemporary Ensemble, Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra, Quince Ensemble, and by the Cincinnati, Toledo, Detroit, Seattle, and National Symphonies. His work has received awards and recognition from the American Prize, the National Federation of Music Clubs, ASCAP, and Fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. In 2018, he served as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s inaugural Classical Roots Composer-in-Residence. He currently serves as the Steven R. Gerber Composer-in-Residence for the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia.

Williams holds degrees from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, Bowling Green State University and Lawrence University. He currently serves as Assistant Professor of Composition at the Berklee College of Music, where he teaches composition, conducting, music technology, harmony, and counterpoint.

Titan was written to accompany performances of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1, "Titan." The fanfare employs themes from throughout the first, third, and fourth movements of that symphony, with particular emphasis on the minor "Frère Jacques" from the third movement, transforming the somber bass solo into a pulsating groove.

Titan was commissioned by April Ann Brock and Kevin Sütterlin for the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra.

High Ashes for Baritone and Orchestra 
Stella Sung (b. 1959), composer
Ernest Hilbert (b. 1970), poet

Dr. Stella Sung has won both national and international recognition as a composer. Her works have been performed at Carnegie Hall, Symphony Hall in Boston, and the Sydney Opera House, among many other venues. She utilizes digital and multimedia applications in her symphonic music, as well as compositions for dance, ballet, and film. She is the director of the Center for Research for Education, Arts and Technology and Professor of Music at the University of Central Florida. 

Poems by Ernest Hilbert. 

Ernest Hilbert is the author of the poetry collections Sixty Sonnets, All of You on the Good Earth, Caligulan—selected as winner of the 2017 Poets’ Prize—and Last One Out. His fifth book, Storm Swimmer, was selected by Rowan Ricardo Phillips as the winner of the 2022 Vassar Miller Prize and appeared in 2023. His poem “Mars Ultor” was included in Best American Poetry 2018, and his poems appear in Yale Review, American Poetry Review, BOMB, Harvard Review, Parnassus, Sewanee Review, Hudson Review, Boston Review, The New Republic, American Scholar, and the London Review. In 2023 he was awarded the Meringoff Writing Award for Poetry from the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers. 

In 2000, Hilbert graduated with a doctorate from the department of English Language and Literature at Oxford University, where he edited the Oxford Quarterly. While there, he studied with Jon Stallworthy—biographer of Wilfred Owen and Louis MacNeice and editor of the Norton Anthology of Poetry—and James Fenton, then Professor of Poetry at Oxford. He later served as poetry editor of Random House’s magazine Bold Type in New York City and editor of the Contemporary Poetry Review, published by the American Poetry Fund in Washington DC. In 2003, he hosted an evening of readings at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, entitled “The Future Knows Everything: New American Writing.”

He lives in Philadelphia where he works as a rare book dealer and book reviewer for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. Visit him at

Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfaring Journeyman)
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

While Gustav Mahler is chiefly remembered now as one of the great symphonists of the late Romantic/early Modern (or any) era, his affinity for the human voice informed his career-long role as a conductor of opera, as well as one of the masters of lieder, or art songs. Songs for one or more voices and a single keyboard instrument predate the Romantic era, but it was the settings of the poetry of Heine, Goethe, Mueller, and others by Schubert and Schumann that elevated the genre from pleasant salon music to works that were an intimate and profound elucidation of the text. 

In 1884, the young Gustav Mahler was assistant conductor at the opera house in the city of Kassel. He began an ill-fated affair with one of the sopranos in the company, Joanna Richter. Richter ended the liaison on New Year’s Eve of that year. Mahler had already begun writing his own poetry – strongly influenced by his intensive study a collection of German folk songs and poems published in the early 19th century as Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy’s Magic Horn)—and in the following month, whittled his original six songs to a set of four for voice and piano which he titled Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. This is usually translated as “Songs of a Wayfarer,” but Gesellen has a specific meaning at that time—it means a journeyman, or one who has not completed the path from apprentice to master. This is significant not so much for accurately describing Mahler’s place in the world at the time, but that it enhances the song cycle’s overarching theme of alienation and separateness—cut off from his beloved, from society, and even from the splendors of Nature, the protagonist of these songs similarly lacks a true and solid place in the world. 

Mahler leaned heavily on thematic material from these songs in the composition of his first symphony (the second song and fourth song are used in the first and third movements of the symphony, respectively), and as he undertook multiple revisions of the symphony after its unsuccessful premiere in 1889, Mahler created a version of the Lieder for voice and orchestra which is now the version most often heard. 

The first song, “When My Darling Is Married,” is filled with bitter irony, as the protagonist informs us that the happy celebration is her marriage to someone else. The work contrasts a lilting motif in the winds and triangle and a lugubrious lament from the vocalist and strings (the lament, in fact, is the opening motif slowed by more than half). A delicate, tremulous evocation of nature resounds with trills and bird song, but the song sinks back into grief as the singer mourns that even sleep only brings more reflection on his sorrow. Our narrator greets the new day with renewed resolve with “I Walked Along the Fields This Morning.” The sun is shining, and dew still glistens on the grass. A finch chirps, “Hey, you! Good morning! Isn’t it? Isn’t it a beautiful world?” Bluebells tinkle in joyful assent, and our protagonist dares to hope that his happiness might be able to begin, too. With a sad cry of “no, no!” the gloom of isolation returns as he declares that his joy will never blossom. 

The overall delicacy of the first two songs is shattered by the opening of the third, which describes the singer’s pain as a glowing knife cutting deep into his chest. The song ends in bleak despair as our protagonist declares that it would be better for death to close his eyes than to constantly be reminded of his lost beloved. A halting funeral march intoned by the flutes and harp introduces the final song, “The Two Blue Eyes of My Darling.” In a numbed monotone, our narrator states that the eyes of his beloved have sent him out into the world alone, without companions or comfort. Nature intervenes again in the form of a linden tree along the road. In the folk mythology of that era, the linden was a sign not only of wedded bliss, but something of a spiritual portal that connected the living and the dead. Furthermore, it was used in German Romantic poetry as a symbol for temptation of suicide. Taking refuge under the fragrant boughs while the blossoms shower down upon him, the protagonist declares that there, he knows nothing of the world, and all is good again: “All, all! Love and sorrow, and world, and dream!” Whether Mahler means mere sleep, or transcendent union with nature, or the sleep of death is not clear, but sorrow has the final word as the flute and harp dirge has the final, uncertain word. 

Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht

Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht,

Fröhliche Hochzeit macht,

Hab’ ich meinen traurigen Tag!

Geh’ ich in mein Kämmerlein,

Dunkles Kämmerlein!

Weine! wein’! Um meinen Schatz,

Um meinen lieben Schatz!

Blümlein blau! Blümlein blau!

Verdorre nicht! Verdorre nicht!

Vöglein süß! Vöglein süß!

Du singst auf grüner Heide!

„Ach, wie ist die Welt so schön!

Ziküth! Ziküth!“

Singet nicht! Blühet nicht!

Lenz ist ja vorbei!

Alles Singen ist nun aus!

Des Abends, wenn ich schlafen geh’,

Denk’ ich an mein Leid!

An mein Leide!

When my love has her wedding-day

When my love has her wedding-day,

Her joyous wedding-day,

I have my day of mourning!

I go into my little room,

My dark little room!

I weep, weep! For my love,

My dearest love!

Blue little flower! Blue little flower!

Do not wither, do not wither!

Sweet little bird! Sweet little bird!

Singing on the green heath!

‘Ah, how fair the world is!

Jug-jug! Jug-jug!’

Do not sing! Do not bloom!

For spring is over!

All singing now is done!

At night, when I go to rest,

I think of my sorrow!

My sorrow!

Ging heut’ Morgen über’s Feld

Ging heut’ morgen über’s Feld,

Tau noch auf den Gräsern hing;

Sprach zu mir der lust’ge Fink:

„Ei du! Gelt?

Guten Morgen! Ei, Gelt? Du!

Wird’s nicht eine schöne Welt?

Zink! Zink! Schön und flink!

Wie mir doch die Welt gefällt!“

Auch die Glockenblum’ am Feld

Hat mir lustig, guter Ding’,

Mit den Glöckchen, klinge, kling,

Ihren Morgengruß geschellt:

„Wird’s nicht eine schöne Welt?

Kling! Kling! Schönes Ding!

Wie mir doch die Welt gefällt!

Und da fing im Sonnenschein

Gleich die Welt zu funkeln an;

Alles, alles, Ton und Farbe gewann!

Im Sonnenschein!

Blum’ und Vogel, groß und klein!

„Guten Tag! Guten Tag!

Ist’s nicht eine schöne Welt?

Ei, du! Gelt? Schöne Welt!“

Nun fängt auch mein Glück wohl an?

Nein! Nein! Das ich mein’,

Mir nimmer, nimmer blühen kann!

I walked across the fields this morning

I walked across the fields this morning,

Dew still hung on the grass,

The merry finch said to me:

‘You there, hey –

Good morning! Hey, you there!

Isn’t it a lovely world?

Tweet! Tweet! Bright and sweet!

O how I love the world!’

And the harebell at the field’s edge,

Merrily and in good spirits,

Ding-ding with its tiny bell

Rang out its morning greeting:

‘Isn’t it a lovely world?

Ding-ding! Beautiful thing!

O how I love the world!’

And then in the gleaming sun

The world at once began to sparkle;

All things gained in tone and colour!

In the sunshine!

Flower and bird, great and small.

‘Good day! Good day!

Isn’t it a lovely world?

Hey, you there?! A lovely world!’

Will my happiness now begin?

No! No! The happiness I mean

Can never bloom for me!


Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer

Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer,

Ein Messer in meiner Brust,

O weh! O weh!

Das schneid’t so tief

In jede Freud’ und jede Lust,

So tief! so tief!

Es schneid’t so weh und tief!

Ach, was ist das für ein böser Gast!

Nimmer hält er Ruh’,

Nimmer hält er Rast!

Nicht bei Tag,

Nicht bei Nacht, wenn ich schlief!

O weh! O weh! O weh!

Wenn ich in dem Himmel seh’,

Seh’ ich zwei blaue Augen steh’n!

O weh! O weh!

Wenn ich im gelben Felde geh’,

Seh’ ich von fern das blonde Haar

Im Winde wehn! O weh! O weh!

Wenn ich aus dem Traum auffahr’

Und höre klingen ihr silbern Lachen,

O weh! O weh!

Ich wollt’, ich läg’ auf der schwarzen Bahr’,

Könnt’ nimmer die Augen aufmachen!

I’ve a gleaming knife

I’ve a gleaming knife,

A knife in my breast,

Alas! Alas!

It cuts so deep

Into every joy and every bliss,

So deep, so deep!

It cuts so sharp and deep!

Ah, what a cruel guest it is!

Never at peace,

Never at rest!

Neither by day

Nor by night, when I’d sleep!

Alas! Alas! Alas!

When I look into the sky,

I see two blue eyes!

Alas! Alas!

When I walk in the yellow field,

I see from afar her golden hair

Blowing in the wind! Alas! Alas!

When I wake with a jolt from my dream

And hear her silvery laugh,

Alas! Alas!

I wish I were lying on the black bier,

And might never open my eyes again!


Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz 

Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz,

Die haben mich in die weite Welt geschickt.

Da mußt’ ich Abschied nehmen

Vom allerliebsten Platz!

O Augen blau, warum habt ihr mich angeblickt?

Nun hab’ ich ewig Leid und Grämen!

Ich bin ausgegangen in stiller Nacht,

Wohl über die dunkle Heide.

Hat mir niemand Ade gesagt, Ade!

Mein Gesell’ war Lieb’ und Leide!

Auf der Straße stand ein Lindenbaum,

Da hab’ ich zum ersten Mal im Schlaf geruht!

Unter dem Lindenbaum,

Der hat seine Blüten über mich geschneit,

Da wußt’ ich nicht, wie das Leben tut,

War alles, alles wieder gut!

Alles! Alles!

Lieb und Leid, und Welt und Traum!

The two blue eyes of my love 

The two blue eyes of my love

Have sent me into the wide world.

I had to bid farewell

To the place I loved most!

O blue eyes, why did you look on me?

Grief and sorrow shall now be mine forever!

I set out in the still night,

Across the dark heath.

No one bade me farewell, farewell!

My companions were love and sorrow!

A lime tree stood by the roadside,

Where I first found peace in sleep!

Under the lime tree

Which snowed its blossom on me,

I was not aware of how life hurts,

And all, all was well once more!

All! All!

Love and sorrow, and world and dream!


Translations by Richard Stokes, author of The Book of Lieder (Faber, 2005)

Symphony No. 1 in D major 

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

“The highest ecstasy of the most joyous strength of life and the most burning desire for death: these two reign alternately in my heart; yes, oftentimes they alternate within the hour.”

So wrote the 19 year old Mahler to his school friend Josef Steiner, and this vertiginous dichotomy would remain a constant throughout his life and his compositions, no more so than in his first symphony, composed in a burst of activity from January to March of 1888, while Mahler was second conductor at the Leipzig City Theater, but then revised repeatedly until Mahler settled on the four-movement form that is still heard today in 1896. 

Early audiences were confused and even offended by this ambitious first essay in the symphonic form, for multiple reasons. Mahler was a study in stark contrasts not only to the regions of his heart. On the one hand, he had been steadily working his way from opera house to theater to symphony hall developing a reputation as an exacting maestro with a particular concern for fealty to the score. On the other, there was no composer of the Austro-German symphonic tradition whose music was so nakedly, intimately subjective and personal. Mahler also famously wrote that every symphony should be a world unto itself, but his works are as much an exploration of the inner landscape of the soul and psyche than of the universe without. Everything, therefore, was grist for Mahler’s mill; in the First Symphony alone, we hear references to and echoes of Beethoven’s 9th, Liszt and Wagner, two of Mahler’s own Wayfarer songs, bird calls, country and city dances, nursery rhymes, and klezmer band music that reflects his own Jewish heritage. 

Furthermore, Mahler himself seems to have had difficulty whether he was writing a symphony or a tone poem. At the disastrous first performance in Budapest in January 1893, Mahler presented his work as a “Symphony in Five Movements and Two Parts.” The work was described as programmatic, but aside from some very general remarks sent to a friendly music critic that were published the day before the premiere, the mystified audience was given no clue as to what the programmatic narrative was supposed to be. After that, Maher decided that the work was a depiction of the sorrowful narrator of his Wayfarer songs in a more heroic mode; he therefore adopted the title Titan from the Bildungsroman by the famed German Romantic novelist, Jean Paul and changed the subtitle to “Tone Poem in the form of a Symphony.” Exasperated by the continued poor reception of the work, Mahler removed the original second movement (subtitled Blumine), scrapped the Titan moniker, and the work simply became Symphony No. 1 in D major. Mahler kept returning to this work throughout his life, even tinkering with the orchestration before leading the New York Philharmonic in the symphony’s American premier in 1909. 

Wie ein Naturlaut—like a sound of nature—is one of the score notations at the opening of this work, and Mahler breathes life into the world of his symphony with a brilliant touch of orchestration, one that seems to evoke the entire cosmos itself. The strings intone a pianissimo sustained A, seven octaves in range, from high, whistling harmonics in the violins to the lowest ranges of the cellos and basses. It’s as if Mahler has taken the inchoate “nebula” of sound with which Beethoven opens his Ninth Symphony and stretches it out until it seems timeless. Out of this primordial aura emerges the figure of a descending fourth in the woodwinds. This will become the principal figure of the symphony. Joining it are quiet fanfares that bubble up in the clarinets and offstage trumpets, cuckoo calls, and a tender theme in the horns. Menace makes an appearance as well in the form of an ominous, creeping theme in the low strings heralded by a dark roll of the timpani. Mahler gradually brightens the tempo, and the cuckoo call seamlessly segues into the primary theme of the movement, which is the melody from the second of the Wayfarer songs, “Ging heut’ Morgen über’s Feld.” The mood overall is one of delicate joy and an almost childlike innocence, but the ominous theme and a two-note sighing figure gradually intrude, then dominate, then rise to a moment of genuine terror. Unlike the sorrowful end of the Wayfarer song, however, the darkness is banished with an explosion of D major triumph. The horns whoop for gladness, and the Wayfarer melody resumes in higher spirits than ever and accelerates to a giddy conclusion that is cheekily interrupted by the timpani pounding out the descending fourth that opened the work. 

The second movement is perhaps the most traditional in terms of the German symphonic form. It takes the form of the Minuet and Trio that were invariably a part of the works of Haydn and Mozart, but Mahler swaps out those old courtly dances for a lusty, foot-stomping country Laendler in glittering A major and contrasts it with a suave, elegant waltz in F major. Mahler cleverly uses a solo horn as our guide from the countryside to the ballroom and back again. 

Symphony movements in the form of funeral marches were certainly nothing new—the second movement of Beethoven’s Eroica is certainly the most famous example of this—but nothing could prepare audiences for the macabre, discomfiting Grimm’s fairy tale world of the third movement. Mahler wrote that his original inspiration was a famous woodcut by Moritz von Schwind entitled “The Hunter’s Funeral Procession” in which the corpse of a hunter is borne by cortege of woodland creatures, some carrying banners, some playing instruments, some shedding (very possibly crocodile) tears. This bit of folk Schadenfreude doesn’t account for the weird amalgam that ensues, however. Over a grim, soft cadence in the timpani (which is again the descending fourth figure, over and over), a lone double bass scrapes out Frèere Jacques. Other low-register instruments join in the mock solemnity before the oboe gives the game away with a tart, thumb-nosing counterpoint. Two Jewish melodies then appear, one swaying and melancholy, the other more jaunty and complete with a boom-chick accompaniment from the bass drum, cymbals, and the clicks and clatter of the violins tapping the stick of the wood against their strings. The grotesquerie is relieved by an appearance of the “Lindenbaum” music from the last of the Wayfarer songs, a brief oasis of tender poignancy in muted strings, woodwinds, and harp. The funeral march returns more briskly paced and with an especially nasty edge. Paired trumpets sneer out a mock dirge in schmaltzy harmony and the klezmer band wails. The march subsides into gloom and ends with hollow, ghostly thuds.

A scream of pain (again an echo of Beethoven’s 9th, this time the last movement) opens the massive finale—a musical element that Mahler would bring back in his second Symphony, the Resurrection Symphony, as well. Out of the cacophony rises a stern march, characterized by two four note figures, one rapidly descending, one more slowly rising. Both are derived from Liszt’s Dante Symphony, and Mahler early on did describe this movement as “from Inferno to Paradise.” As the march lurches and gasps into exhausted silence, a lyrical lament takes its place. The march asserts itself again, accompanied by the ominous theme from the first movement. Fanfares in C major and D major interrupt, but the victory is hollow. More reminiscences of the first movement and a passionate restatement of the lament are brusquely interrupted by a harsh three note motif in the violas. The march slowly returns as a fugato, accompanied by the sighing figure from the first movement. The climax of terror from the first movement is dispelled for good time; Mahler expands the D major fanfare music into a chorale (and note that it’s based on the same descending fourths that opened the entire symphony) that is proclaimed by the horns, whom Mahler has asked to stand and overpower the entire orchestra. The final measures once again echo Beethoven’s 9th, the only music that rivals these final moments for pure, transcendent ecstasy. 

FVSO March 2, 2024 FULL Program Notes

FVSO March 2, 2024 FULL Program Notes

Notes written by Erik Leveille and Kevin Sütterlin

First Light
Mark Buller (b. 1986)

Mark Buller, a composer based in Houston, writes music which blends rich lyricism with bold gestures and striking rhythms. He has written a wide variety of pieces, from tiny miniatures for solo instruments to operas and works for large orchestra. He has been privileged to write for a number of world-class ensembles and organizations, including the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Chamber Choir, ROCO (River Oaks Chamber Orchestra), and Apollo Chamber Players. His flexibility as a composer has led to some unique projects commissions: four operas for Houston Grand Opera -- including a pastiche opera -- with libretti by Charles Anthony Silvestri and Euan Tait; a series of poignant art songs and a major choral work also for HGO, setting words by veterans and by Leah Lax; and several dozen very short pieces for various forces, entitled Quarantine Miniatures, which celebrate the community of musicians who displayed resilience in the face of COVID-19.

In recent years, Mark's comic song cycles have gained some notice, beginning with Tombstone Songs, which sets hilarious epitaphs from the U.S. and U.K.. One-Star Songbook explores terribly sophomoric one-star Amazon reviews of literary masterworks, maintaining the original poor grammar and spelling. Schlechtesübersetzunglieder sets to music the texts of famous Schubert lieder after having been mangled by Google Translate. And an upcoming cycle, The Beginner's Guide to Conspiracy Theories, is a series of "mad scenes" which once again turns to found texts, setting screeds about the Illuminati, JFK, Goop and other peddlers of pseudoscience, and QAnon.

Recent performances include a second work for the Atlanta Symphony and Robert Spano, The Parallactic Transits; a large-scale Mass in Exile with librettist Leah Lax, for the GRAMMY-winning Houston Chamber Choir; a new chamber version of Tombstone Songs at the Moscow Conservatory; and Drives, and a chamber opera for HGO with librettist Euan Tait.

Originally from Maryland, Mark studied as a pianist before earning his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Houston, where he studied with Marcus Maroney and Rob Smith. He currently teaches at Lone Star College and is Director of Education and Chair of Composition Studies at AFA.

First Light is a fanfare for orchestra, commissioned by Kevin Sütterlin and April Ann Brock as a gift to the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra. The title is intended to evoke the moments just before and after the appearance of light in the east, when after a long dark the patient observer begins to notice the first subtle shades of grey. The idea came from a March 2020 trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in western Texas, when my father, brother and I undertook to climb the state’s highest peak. After two hours of driving in the pitch-black between El Paso and the park, we arrived and began to prepare for the hike, unable to see even the merest outline of the mountain. Amid howling, freezing winds, the scene gradually became grey, and then, from the very peak and slowly descending, the sunrise turned the mountain a vibrant, almost violent orange. To me, this sudden onset of light mirrors the adrenaline thrill of a quiet sunrise, offering the promise of sunrise and a new day. Musically, then, this provides a dramatic framework for the piece: beginning in the darkness, surrounded by wind, then seeing a gradually-lightening landscape surrounding us.

First Light is the second in a planned trilogy of short works for orchestra set over the course of a night and day. The first, The Parallactic Transits, was written to celebrate Robert Spano’s tenure at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and evokes the movement of celestial bodies across the night sky.

Latin Kauyumari    
Gabriela Ortiz (b. 1964)

Latin Grammy-nominated Gabriela Ortiz is one of the foremost composers in Mexico today and one of the most vibrant musicians emerging on the international scene. Her musical language achieves an extraordinary and expressive synthesis of tradition and the avant-garde by combining high art, folk music, and jazz in novel, frequently refined and always personal ways. Her compositions are credited for being both entertaining and immediate as well as profound and sophisticated; she achieves a balance between highly organized structure and improvisatory spontaneity.

Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, called her recent work Téenek “one of the most brilliant I have ever directed. Its color, its texture, the harmony, and the rhythm that it contains are all something unique. Gabriela possesses a particular capacity to showcase our Latin identity.”

Ortiz has written music for dance, theater, and cinema, and has actively collaborated with poets, playwrights, and historians. Indeed, her creative process focuses on the connections between gender issues, social justice, environmental concerns, and the burden of racism, as well as the phenomenon of multiculturality caused by globalization, technological development, and mass migrations. She has composed three operas, in all of which interdisciplinary collaboration has been a vital experience. Notably, these operas are framed by political contexts of great complexity, such as the drug war in Only the Truth, illegal migration between Mexico and the United States in Ana and her Shadow, and the violation of university autonomy during the student movement of 1968 in Firefly.

Based in Mexico, Ortiz’s music has been commissioned and performed all over the world by prestigious ensembles, soloists, and orchestras, such as: the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Gustavo Dudamel and Esa Pekka Salonen, Zoltan Kocsis, Carlos Miguel Prieto, the Kroumata and Amadinda Percussion Ensembles, the Kronos Quartet, Dawn Upshaw, Sarah Leonard, the Cuarteto Latinoamericano, Pierre Amoyal, Southwest Chamber Music, the Tambuco Percussion Quartet, the Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra, the Malmo Symphony Orchestra, the Orquestra Simón Bolivar, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, among others. Recent premieres include Yanga and Téenek, both pieces commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel, Luciérnaga (Firefly, her third opera) commissioned and produced by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Únicamente la Verdad (Only the Truth, her first opera) with Long Beach Opera and Opera de Bellas Artes in Mexico. Ortiz currently teaches composition at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City and as a Visiting Professor at Indiana University. Her music is currently published by Schott, Ediciones Mexicanas de Música, Saxiana Presto, and Tre Fontane.

Ortiz has been honored with the National Prize for Arts and Literature, the most prestigious award for writers and artists granted by the government of Mexico and has been inducted into the Mexican Academy of the Arts. Other honors include the Bellagio Center Residency Program, Civitella Ranieri Artistic Residency; a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship; a Fulbright Fellowship; first prize in the Silvestre Revueltas National Chamber Music Competition; first prize in the Alicia Urreta Composition Competition; a Banff Center for the Arts Residency; the Inroads Commission (a program of Arts International with funds from the Ford Foundation); a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation; and the Mozart Medal Award.

Born in Mexico City, her parents were musicians in the renowned folk music ensemble Los Folkloristas, founded in 1966 to preserve and record the traditional music of Mexico and Latin America. She trained with the eminent composer Mario Lavista at the Conservatorio Nacional de Música and Federico Ibarra at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. In 1990 she was awarded the British Council Fellowship to study in London with Robert Saxton at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In 1992 she received a scholarship from the UNAM to complete her Ph.D. studies in electroacoustic music composition with Simon Emmerson at The City University in London.

Among the Huichol people of Mexico, Kauyumari means “blue deer.” The blue deer represents a spiritual guide, one that is transformed through an extended pilgrimage into a hallucinogenic cactus called peyote. It allows the Huichol to communicate with their ancestors, do their bidding, and take on their role as guardians of the planet. Each year, these Native Mexicans embark on a symbolic journey to “hunt” the blue deer, making offerings in gratitude for having been granted access to the invisible world, through which they also are able to heal the wounds of the soul.

Ortiz tells us, “When I received the commission from the Los Angeles Philharmonic to compose a piece that would reflect on our return to the stage following the pandemic, I immediately thought of the blue deer and its power to enter the world of the intangible as akin to a celebration of the reopening of live music. Specifically, I thought of a Huichol melody sung by the De La Cruz family — dedicated to recording ancestral folklore — that I used for the final movement of my piece, Altar de Muertos (Altar of the Dead), commissioned by the Kronos String Quartet in 1997.

“I used this material within the orchestral context and elaborated on the construction and progressive development of the melody and its accompaniment in such a way that it would symbolize the blue deer. This in turn was transformed into an orchestral texture which gradually evolves into a complex rhythm pattern, to such a degree that the melody itself becomes unrecognizable (the imaginary effect of peyote and our awareness of the invisible realm), giving rise to a choral wind section while maintaining an incisive rhythmic accompaniment as a form of reassurance that the world will naturally follow its course.

“While composing this piece, I noted once again how music has the power to grant us access to the intangible, healing our wounds and binding us to what can only be expressed through sound.

“Although life is filled with interruptions, Kauyumari is a comprehension and celebration of the fact that each of these rifts is also a new beginning.”

This Midnight Hour
Anna Clyne (b. 1980)

Described as a “composer of uncommon gifts and unusual methods” in a New York Times profile and as “fearless” by NPR, GRAMMY-nominated Anna Clyne is one of the most in-demand composers today, working with orchestras, choreographers, filmmakers, and visual artists around the world. Clyne was named the 8th most performed contemporary composer in the world and the most performed living female British composer in 2022. Clyne has been commissioned and presented by the world’s most dynamic and revered arts institutions, including the Barbican, Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Los Angeles Philharmonic, MoMA, Philharmonie de Paris, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, San Francisco Ballet, and the Sydney Opera House. Her music has opened such events as the Edinburgh International Festival, The Last Night of the Proms, and the New York Philharmonic’s 2021–2022 season. Clyne often collaborates on creative projects across the music industry, including Between the Rooms, a film with choreographer Kim Brandstrup and LA Opera, as well as the Nico Project at the Manchester International Festival, a stage work about pop icon Nico’s life that featured Clyne’s reimagining of The Marble Index for orchestra and voices. Clyne has also reimagined tracks from Thievery Corporation’s “The Cosmic Game” for the electronica duo with orchestra, and her music has been programmed by such artists as Björk.

Several projects have explored Clyne’s fascination with visual arts, including Color Field, inspired by the artwork of Mark Rothko and Abstractions, inspired by five contemporary artworks. In January 2023, Clyne presented a three-part series for BBC Radio 3 called “The Art of Music with Anna Clyne.” Recent projects in collaboration with the dance world have included the world premiere of choreographer Pam Tanowitz’s dance set to “Breathing Statues” for the Royal Ballet in London and performances of DANCE by the San Francisco Ballet with choreography by Nicolas Blanc.

Other recent collaborators include such notable musicians as Jess Gillam, Martin Fröst, Pekka Kuusisto, and Yo-Yo Ma. In 2022–2023. Clyne serves as Composer-in-Residence with the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra starting in the 2023–2024 season. Past residencies include the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, L’Orchestre national d’Île-de-France, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Clyne’s music is represented on several labels and her works “Prince of Clouds” and “Night Ferry” were nominated for 2015 GRAMMY Awards. Her cello concerto “DANCE,” recorded by soloist Inbal Segev, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and Marin Alsop, has garnered more than eight million plays on Spotify. Clyne’s music is published exclusively by Boosey & Hawkes.

Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawke, This Midnight Hour is both something of a noirish, gritty cityscape and a psychological journey that explores realms both disturbing and hauntingly, nostalgic. According to the composer, her inspiration was a pair of poems as well as the darkly poetic playing of the lower strings of the ensemble that premiered the work in 2015, the Orchestre national d’Ile de France: the terse La Musica by Juan Ramon Jimenez- “Music –/a naked woman/running mad through the pure night” as well as a stanza from Harmonie du Soir (Harmony of the Evening)  by that bard of the netherworld of the heart and psyche, Charles Baudelaire

                                    “The season is at hand when swaying on its stem
                                    Every flower exhales perfume like a censer;
                                    Sounds and perfumes turn in the evening air;
                                    Melancholy waltz and languid vertigo!”

The work erupts in the low strings and woodwinds with propulsive, motoric rhythms that evoke a blind hurtling through dark city streets, where menace lurks from every turn and imposing structures loom overhead. Cascades of downward-spiraling arpeggios sweep across the orchestra with stereophonic effect. Baudelaire’s musical fever dream is evoked with a Parisian waltz wheezed out on a raspy, asthmatic accordion (note the grinding dissonance of the viola section playing a quarter-tone apart from each other). Finally, a chorale, by turns mournful and consoling, arises in the woodwinds while a lone, distant trumpet adds bluesy inflections. The delirium has finally broken, although the final moments indicate that the darkness has perhaps not been entirely dispelled.

Piano Concerto #3 in D minor
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

In October of 1906, Sergei Rachmaninoff and his wife moved from Moscow to Dresden, where he spent much of his time composing rather than on the concert stage as a piano soloist. That didn’t stop the entreaties that came from around the world, and in 1909, Rachmaninov agreed to his first tour of America. During the summer months, he began work on his third piano concerto—a work that makes such demands on the technique and stamina of the soloist that Rachmaninoff brought a silent practice keyboard with him on his trans-Atlantic voyage so that he would arrive thoroughly prepared. After a solo recital performance in Philadelphia, Rachmaninoff traveled to New York City and premiered his new concerto with the New York Symphony under Walter Damrosch in late November, and then—to his great satisfaction—gave another performance in January 1910 with the New York Philharmonic, led by none other than Gustav Mahler. The Third piano concerto, perhaps owing to the extreme challenges it presents, did not immediately enter the repertoire, but was popularized by Vladimir Horowitz in the 1930s, and then Van Cliburn’s electrifying and prize-winning performance of the Third at the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958 brought the work to even greater prominence.

The work’s opening gives no hint of the virtuosic tour-de-force to come; after a mere two measures of the most unassuming orchestral accompaniment imaginable, the piano enters softly, unwinding a long, tranquil melody that evokes the chants of the Russian Orthodox church. A full statement of this theme is then taken up by the orchestra. The piano returns, immediately developing the theme and breaking off into cadenzas. The second theme is heralded by a soft martial figure and blossoms into life in the hands of the soloist. The principal theme returns with increasing thematic variation and development; as the movement builds in roiling intensity, the theme itself is compressed into a two-note motif. The solo piano then unleashes a titanic solo cadenza, in whose wake the second theme is tenderly evoked in a dreamy reminiscence. A final cadenza ushers in a brief, subdued coda in which the principal theme tiptoes away into silence.

The Intermezzo opens, after the briefest of introductions, with a poignant solo oboe. The strings take up this theme, full of the composer’s melancholy lyricism and expand upon it.  The piano bursts in with a stormy interruption, then takes up the principal melody. In an homage to Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, a contrasting waltz-like theme follows, with the piano adding brilliant filigree with dizzyingly fleet triplet passagework. The recapitulation of the principal theme is even more darkly hued than its initial presentation, an arresting, brief cadenza and clamorous response from the orchestra ushers in the dazzling Finale. Over a dactylic (long, short-short) pulse, the piano launches into a fanfare-like theme, which the careful listener will note, is directly derived from the accompanimental figure that opens the entire concerto. This cyclic treatment of previous thematic material continues throughout the Finale; after an expectedly contrasting second theme, Rachmaninoff goes off on a long, tangential episode in the distant key of E-flat major. A set of variations on what appears to be a new theme is, in fact, a co-mingling of the second theme of the first movement and the principal theme of the Finale. A mighty coda caps the work, luxuriating in D major triumph before racing to a thrilling conclusion.