Orchestral Firsts

Orchestral Firsts
Bright Sheng
© Alex Cao
East Coast. Heartland. West Coast. Three world premieres this month span the breadth of the United States.

The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra kicks things off in New York City with the May 6th premiere of Joan Tower’s Chamber Dance. Tower describes the piece as “a work for large chamber group without conductor. I chose the word 'dance' because Orpheus rehearses and performs like chamber musicians. They dance as partners in their movements and playing – there’s lots of give and take. The piece has rhythmic patterns, solos, and a number of duets that pair the players like dance partners.” Ronnie Bauch, Orpheus's manager and violinist adds, “The strength of Joan's chamber music and orchestral works, and her close personal connections with many of our members, make her a particularly attractive choice to help us in our commitment to expand the chamber orchestra repertoire.”

Photo by Phil SchexnyderRobert X. Rodríguez’s new Agnus Dei marks the Mozart 250th birthday anniversary. Commissioned by the Dayton Philharmonic and Chorus, and led by Neal Gittleman, the work was written for Mozart’s unfinished “Great Mass” in C-Minor and is scored for the same forces as Mozart’s mass, with additional optional instruments. “Scholars have long debated why Mozart never completed this masterpiece,” Rodríguez opines. “...Another lingering question about Mozart’s mass concerns what provisions were made for its missing portions (parts of the Credo and the entire Agnus Dei) at the Salzburg premiere... I cast the Agnus Dei in a modified sonata form... I [also] used three of Mozart’s own melodies from the mass... My Agnus Dei is a synthesis of three stylistic worlds: Medieval, Classical and Contemporary. All themes, styles and performing forces join at the end in a tranquil, extended canonic setting of words which continue to be appropriate for our own troubled times: Dona nobis pacem.”

Premiere number three is Bright Sheng’s Wild Swan, presented by the New West Symphony under the composer's baton. (The work is based on Sheng’s Concertino for Clarinet and String Quartet.) “The New West Symphony commissioned Bright to write Wild Swan for two very good reasons,” comments artistic administrator Charles McDermott. “Bright is a composer at the very top of his craft. Call it 'fusion' or 'fission' – his ability to combine Eastern and Western sensibilities is at once fascinating and thought provoking. Secondly, Bright has been a guest composer, artist, and conductor with the Symphony twice before.... Simply said, we have greatly enjoyed each other's company...” Sheng’s May orchestral schedule also includes the composer as pianist when he joins Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony on 11 May for the West Coast premiere of his piano concerto Red Silk Dance.

Photo by Ken Nahoum

Joan Tower
Chamber Dance
Duration: c.15'

Robert X. Rodríguez
Agnus Dei
2 Sopranos, Tenor, Bass; SSAATTBB
Optional: chimes, crotales, handbell choir

Bright Sheng
Wild Swan
Duration: c.15'

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