Thea Musgrave to celebrate 90th birthday next season

Thea Musgrave to celebrate 90th birthday next season
Stalker Castle at sunset, ©
Thea Musgrave is a modern master of the orchestra.
— Julian Haylock, Classic FM Magazine

Rich and powerful musical language and a strong sense of drama have made Scottish-American composer Thea Musgrave one of the most respected contemporary composers in the Western world. She has consistently explored new means of projecting dramatic situations in her music, frequently altering and extending the conventional boundaries of instrumental performance.

Musgrave will celebrate her 90th birthday during the 2017-2018 season on May 27: here are six orchestral works available for programming to celebrate her distinguished 65-year career.

Songs for a Winter's Evening (1995) 21 minutes
Soprano; 2222/3210/perc/hp/str

Seven carefully chosen poems by Robert Burns create a song cycle describing the events in the life of a woman: from the flirtatious young girl, to the young woman betrayed, to her eventual fulfillment in the mature love which has lasted many a year.

'Songs for a Winter's Evening' is an endearing song cycle charting a woman's life and loves through texts by Robert Burns. these are unmistakably, and beautifully contemporary reminiscences…
— Christopher Dingle, BBC Music Magazine

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Turbulent Landscapes (2003) 26 minutes

The turbulence of the title represents some kind of 'event' that is wonderfully depicted in the various paintings of J.M.W. Turner that have been chosen for this work. To heighten the drama, in each of the movements the protagonist is characterized by a solo player from the orchestra. Turbulent Landscapes was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

There is a story going on that Musgrave wants to tell, and she does so through identifying certain figures or phenomena with particular instruments (a tuba for a sea monster, a horn for Hannibal, a piccolo for the flames licking the Houses of Parliament, and so on). It is all wrapped up in a harmonic language that cuts no edges, but whose neo-Romantic flavor is highly effective in an evoking and animating atmosphere.
— Geoffrey Norris, The Telegraph

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Scottish Dance Suite (1959) 8 minutes

Traditional Scottish folk songs and dances — the basis of the Scottish Dance Suite — make for a perfect concert-opener. In the first of four movements the tune is the one to which Burns wrote his famous poem 'Robin shure in hairst'. In the second, one can hear the older tune of 'The Bonnie Earl of Moray', and in the last movement, two well-known tunes alternate, but at the end several of the tunes used in the work all combine together to make an exciting climax. (Scottish Dance Suite is also available for concert band.)

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Loch Ness — A postcard from Scotland (2012) 8 minutes

In this lighthearted work the Loch Ness Monster (a tuba), emerges from the depths to find the sun coming out from a thick mist. As he plays he is warmed by the sparkling sun and by the strains of an ancient Scottish melody. As the sun goes down, he dives back into the deep waters with a big splash. Then a cool moon rises, a light breeze ruffles the surface of the waters, and all is at peace.

Lightweight in intention but beautifully imagined orchestrally…
— George Hall, The Guardian

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Concerto for Clarinet (1968) 24 minutes
Clarinet; 2+afl.2+ca.1(bcl).2+cbn/4331/timp.3perc/

The Clarinet Concerto is one of a series of works where Musgrave explores certain 'dramatic-abstract' ideas: that is, dramatic in presentation but abstract because there is no program or 'story'. In this work, the dramatic idea is basically a simple one and arises out of the original meaning of the word 'concertare' — that is, struggle or conflict in the sense of balancing unequal forces; solo versus tutti, or individual(s) versus crowd.

The solo clarinet, as well as having a virtuosic role, also has another function in that it moves around the orchestra to play with various smaller 'concertante' groups. The groups in turn are set against the rest of the orchestra. At these moments the solo clarinet is usually independent of the conductor and leads the other members of the group.

In the Clarinet Concerto the soloist himself traverses the whole orchestra… organizing concertante groups or cells, starting up disruptive movements which, however, do not subvert but enrich the fabric of the music's composition. This device is at once theatrical… and musical and it symbolizes the diversity and panache of Thea Musgrave's invention. The music seethes with a kind of revolutionary vitality harnessed for the greater strength of the work as a whole.
— David Cairns, New Statesman

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Concerto for Horn (1971) 22 minutes
Horn; 1+pic.1+ca.1+bcl.1+cbn/4[+3]210/3perc/

The Concerto for Horn, which juxtaposes aggressive and sensitive moods, was originally written for Barry Tuckwell. It belongs to the series of Musgrave's 'dramatic abstract' works. Here the dramatic idea concerns the relationship of the solo horn to the orchestral brass (2 trumpets, 1 trombone and 4 horns) which form a kind of concertante group set against the rest of the orchestra. When they play it is to interrupt, distort, and, as it were, to mock. At several points they break up the mood with wild fanfares, the trumpets taking up new positions during the piece. Later the orchestral horns explore greater stereophonic possibilities when, in the last section, they move so as to surround the solo horn, who mostly directs how they should play. This division of the control between solo horn and conductor allows for ideas of superimposed in many different ways.

The piece is continuously inventive, elegant, clear — and deeply felt; humane in a special way…
— Charles Shere, [Oakland ] Tribune

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- Thea Musgrave's full biography
- Spotify playlist

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