I composed this piece during the first few months of 2018 when I didn’t have much else to do. Why? Who can say? One always wishes to test one’s skills against those of the great masters. Funnily enough, I’m not especially keen on Bach’s cello suites, but I consider his solo violin partitas and sonatas the pinnacle of what a composer can write for strings.
I tried to interest people in the suite for several years, either to record it or perform it or both. Alas, several passages were unplayable as written, kind of surprising when you consider that it was written by a violist. I tend to write daunting music for strings because I was never a particularly good string player, and I just assume that real instrumentalists can play anything.
My friend Ryan (the cellist featured in the demo recording on YouTube) was the person who finally took on this project, and he improved the piece tremendously; any further cellists who take this on have him to thank.
One reason that I got myself into so much trouble is that my listening habits veer strongly toward music for viola da gamba. As I wrote about in the blurb on my solo bass piece “Tombeau / Les Rêves”, I’ve been obsessed with that repertoire since encountering Tous les matins du monde as a kid. The problem is that the viola da gamba typically has six or seven strings, and they’re tuned closer together than on the cello. So the sonorities ringing in my ears are not necessarily the most idiomatic on the cello.
The time has come for me to present Harmonia’s upcoming concert season, in which every single program fills me with exuberant happiness at the prospect of being able to conduct such wonderful music. If you’re in Seattle (or if you remain partial to livestreamed concertizing) I would encourage you to subscribe today!
The season theme is Prophecy and if that doesn’t pique your curiosity, I don’t know what will!
SHOSTAKOVICH Festive Overture POULENC Gloria MUSSORGSKY arr. RAVEL Pictures at an Exhibition
Find me a more festive season opener than this one — I dare you! What I like about this concert is the elegance of the nationalistic equation: Russian + French = Russian+French.
HAYDN The Seasons
When I tell my buddies in the orchestra world that I’m going to do The Seasons this year, they have no clue what I’m talking about and they just sort of brush it off. But this is a huge work! It’s an evening of four choral symphonies, which also function as a quasi-opera. It’s Haydn’s most Mozartean work—certainly from a melodic standpoint—but it’s built upon Haydn’s rock-solid compositional prowess and its infused by his never-ending font of inventive creativity.
I have yet to get bored of this piece in spite of conducting it every year. Now that I know it quite well, it’s a rush to perform it. The piece has so much dramatic tension, and if you time everything just right, it spins out in an unbeatable progression. I continue to have fun at the harpsichord (see what I did there?) and my continuo partners and I seem to be finding more Vivaldian possibilities in our approach to the score with each passing year.
BRAHMS Hungarian Dance No. 5 R. SCHUMANN Manfred Overture C. SCHUMANN arr. WHITE Three Romances for Violin BRAHMS Symphony No. 2
The idea here was to look at the prophesy from a music-historical lens: when Robert Schumann met the 20-year-old Johannes Brahms, he wrote a very intimidating article called “New Paths” in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung in which he hailed Brahms as the future of classical music. It kind of psyched Brahms out, but thanks to the persistent mentorship of Clara Schumann, he was able to fulfill this promise.
LASSUS Prophetiae sibyllarum S. BRISTOW Winter Solstice [world premiere] J. FRENCH Hear My Voice J. S. BACH Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf C. KREEK Psalm 137 S. ROSSI Al Naharot Bavel
Like so many choral programs, this concert features a wide variety of works, but the main event is Lassu’s Prophetiae sibyllarum, a cycle of twelve motets that are composed in a highly chromatic language reminiscent of Gesualdo. These pieces get written about all the time, but not so rarely performed. I’ve been wanting to perform Salamone Rossi for quite a while, and I’m also delighted to have another premiere by Harmonia’s collaborative / orchestral keyboard player Sheila Bristow.
BERNSTEIN Candide Overture GERSHWIN Rhapsody in Blue WHITE Cassandra [world premiere]
OK, this is obviously a super fun one, and it’ll be even more fun because my boy Joey is coming out to do the piano solo in the Gershwin. So what’s this Cassandra thing all about? Well, it’s going to be a big one. An opera-oratorio modeled (in some ways) on Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex. I’m working with my cousin, a Latinist, on the libretto. This will probably end up being my single largest-scale single work.
And if you are inferring from the various verb tenses in those last few sentences that I haven’t finished writing it yet, you’d be correct!
The Ordering of Moses
COLERIDGE-TAYLOR La caprice de Nannette DVORAK Largo from Symphony No. 9 R. NATHANIEL DETT The Ordering of Moses
This program has been brewing in my mind since my time as assistant conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony. Dett’s Moses, a major oratorio that combines Old Testament scripture with African American spirituals, was premiered by the CSO in 1937. The premiere was broadcast on the radio, and there’s a famous story that the radio station switched away from the concert mid-stream due to complaints from racist white listeners calling in.
To the best of my knowledge, that rumor has never been substantiated, but it’s interesting that it was still floating around Cincinnati when the orchestra revived the piece in 2014. I worked hard on that concert and I’ve been enamored of the piece ever since. I’m thrilled to finally be able to bring it to life, though once again, I won’t be conducting it, as I’ve invited my friend Marques L. A. Garrett to do the honors.