Odyssey Opera Brings The Picture of Dorian Gray to Boston

Odyssey Opera and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project joined forces on November 18th to present a semi-staged production of Lowell Liebermann’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Director Gil Rose, drawn to the composer’s “innate sense of theatricality,” was eager to bring the opera to Boston and it was well received.

Liebermann’s opera, an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel, follows the title character’s unwillingness to reconcile the difference between appearance and reality — a subject that feels increasingly relevant in the midst of our modern, digital society. The music dramatically highlights Dorian’s slow corruption as Liebermann’s score parallels the character’s descent into darker realms of thinking. The result is an opera that unquestionably “brings Wilde to life.”
Duration: 120′
Cast: Principal Roles: Soprano, Tenor, Baritone, Bass; two secondary roles and three minor roles
Orchestration: 3 3 3 3 – 4 3 3 0; Timp. Perc. Hp. Str. On-stage Upright Piano, Off-stage Violin
Reduced Orchestration: 2(Picc.) 2 2(B.Cl.) 2 – 2 2 1 0; Timp. Perc. Hp. Kbd, Str.
Premiere: May 8, 1996. L’Opéra de Monte-Carlo, Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, conducted by Steuart Bedford, directed by John Cox

Preview of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” with Odyssey Opera and BMOP

Piano/Vocal Score
Full Score – Study

Richard Wernick’s Music Celebrated at Carnegie Hall

The American Symphony Orchestra, led by Leon Botstein, joined soprano Katherine Pracht in performing Richard Wernick’s “…and a time for peace” at Carnegie Hall on November 18th. The program, titled “Bernstein and the Bostonians,” drew attention to a generation of Boston-bred and/or Harvard-educated composers that Botstein believes deserve greater attention from symphony orchestras.

“…and a time for peace”
for Mezzo-soprano and Orchestra
Program Note:
I composed “…and a time for peace” in response to a commission from the Ravenna Festival. Cristina Muti expressed a desire to have me write a piece for voice and orchestra that would be both spiritual, and if possible, multilingual. When it came time to begin the work my original idea was to set the passage from Ecclesiastes that the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had read at the White House ceremony on the occasion of the remarkable meeting that, at the time, filled so many of us with hope. But this text, in and of itself, required a proper setting and context in which to be most effective, as well as satisfying Mrs. Muti’s request for a multilingual piece. The end result was a three part work for mezzo-soprano and orchestra set in Hebrew and Italian.

The text of the first movement, “k’ta’im mi k’ta’vim atikim” (“fragments of ancient writing”) is a collection of verses from various Middle Eastern historical sources that, at a later time, found their way into the apocalyptic visions of Hebrew, Christian and Muslim scriptures. This movement, sung in Hebrew, is the broadest of the three in conception. It employs a large orchestral palette as well as a quasi-operatic treatment of the voice. The images of the destruction of the universe, despite the ultimate vision of a paradise to come, are terrifying, and it was my hope that these could be expressed through the music as well as the words.

After the apocalyptic visions of part I, the second movement, “Interludio del Paradiso” is taken from the second book of Dante’s Commedia. The text, an excerpt of the first Canto, expresses the idea that all things in the universe derive from divine perfection, and that this can best be seen in the way that the universe is made to resemble God. I have attempted to mirror this concept of perfection and order through the use of rather strict compositional procedures, viz. dodecaphonic techniques, isorhythmic polyphony, and the employment of various types of canons. Recognizing that astrological symbolism is of fundamental importance in the Commedia the structure of the music reflects the position of the planets on the day that Dante entered Paradise: April 14, 1300. Since, at that time, the existence of only seven planets was known, there are only seven performers (including the voice) in this movement. This section is sung in Italian.

The third and last movement, “mi Kohelet” (“from Ecclesiastes”) is sung in the original Hebrew. In these verses are also found a particular sense of order: a season and a time for everything “under the sun.” It is one of the most beautiful texts in the Old Testament. In just sixteen lines an enormous range of human actions, reactions and emotions are expressed, culminating in “…a time for war and a time for peace.” It is an immortal text that cries out for musical setting. In addition to its powerful emotive impact, it is expressed in the simplest form of poetic strophe. But the shadings of each verse are reflected in the slight, but highly charged, differences in rhythm and meter that almost dictate, from the distant past, the necessity for a similar musical treatment.

This work is dedicated, with admiration and affection, to the Ravenna Festival and its president, Cristina Muti.

—Richard Wernick
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Chen Yi’s New Piano Concerto, Four Spirits, Premiered in China

The China Philharmonic Orchestra and pianist Clara Yang premiered Chen Yi’s Four Spirits on November 18th in Beijing, China. The ensemble, under the direction of Long Yu, also brought the work to Chapel Hill, NC on December 8th for its U.S. Premiere.

Four Spirits (2016)
For Piano and Orchestra
Solo Pno.; 2(2 = Picc.) 2 2 2 – 4 2 3(B.Tbn.) 1; Timp. 2Perc. Str.
Duration: 26′
Commissioned by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Program Note:
Four Spirits represents the four sacred animals in Chinese legend: the blue dragon in the east, the black xuanwu (a combination of turtle and snake in one) in the north, the white tiger in the west, and the red phoenix in the south. The images have inspired me in my music creation.

The first movement features a bright and refreshing image, with tunes composed in the style of Chinese folk songs drawn from the center part of China, the music is lyrical and energetic.

The sonority in the second movement is dark, mysterious and imaginative, with passionate and expressive layers, as well as vertical soundscapes and space presented by the piano solo.

In the third movement, the dramatic, witted, and powerful characteristics are presented by the patterns in extreme registers on the piano, supported by sections of instruments in the orchestra. This shorter movement serves as an episode towards the final movement.

The fourth movement is fast, lively, fluent, and vibrant. The thematic material is taken from a folk tune in South China. The piano and the orchestra became an organic whole in the four-movement concerto, symbolizing the spirits of the culture from the East.

–Chen Yi
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Two Premieres in November for Gerald Levinson

Swathmore College honored long-time faculty memeber Gerald Levinson’s 65th birthday on November 13th with a concert featuring many of his works, including Duo: Winds of Light for violin and piano, Here of Amazing Most Now for chamber ensemble, and Ringing Changes for two pianos. A highlight of the program was the world premiere of Levinson’s new solo piano piece, Chorale for Nanine, with Birds (Homage à Messiaen).

On November 20th, organist Olivier Latry gave the U.S. premiere of Levinson’s au coeur de l’infini on the Opus 1953 organ at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ. The work, which received its world premiere in 2013 at the Cathedral of Notre Dame (Paris, France), has been toured extensively by Latry. Listen to a brief excerpt of the work here.

Stacy Garrop Wins 2017 Utah Arts Festival Competition

Congratulations to Stacy Garrop, who was named the winner of the 2017 Utah Arts Festival Chamber Ensemble composition competition. She has been commissioned to compose a new work for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion. The piece will receive its premiere at the June 2017 Utah Arts Festival in Salt Lake City.

Explore a work with similar instrumentation by Stacy Garrop…
Remnants of Nine (1999)
For Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Cello, Piano, and Percussion
Duration: 6’30”
Program Note:
Remnants of Nine contains a playful mix of motor rhythms, pedal points, big boomy piano and percussion noises, and some tone row theory. The source material for the piece is a fourteen chord row which are all major or minor triads (thus giving the piece a modal sound). The work begins with a slow introduction in which several melodies are stated as well as fragments of the chord row. After a brief pause, the work jumps to a fast tempo and shows off its themes and row via a mixture of pedal point sections and orchestrally altered versions of the chord row. The piece feverishly spins forward at full tilt through a maze of short, linked sections until it blazes its brightest in a no-holds-barred ending.

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