Three Composers Awarded 2016 Fromm Commissions

Congratulations to JAMES MATHESON, MELINDA WAGNER, and JAMES PRIMOSCH! All three composers were recently awarded 2016 Fromm Music Foundation commissions. As the foundation’s website notes, “These commissions represent one of the principal ways that the Fromm Music Foundation seeks to strengthen composition and to bring contemporary concert music closer to the public. In addition to the commissioning award, a subsidy is available for the ensemble performing the premiere of the commissioned work.”

Composer Spotlight: Martin Bresnick

…more than almost any living composer I know of,
he is able to take the most basic, plain materials and spin them out into compelling dramatic structures…
Over the past few months, throngs of friends and admirers have gathered to help celebrate Martin Bresnick’s 70th birthday (November 13). Bang on a Can curated events on July 26th and September 11th in honor of their former teacher. Similarly, members of the Yale faculty paid tribute to their colleague’s milestone birthday on October 18th with a specially dedicated program. The celebrations continued on November 6th as a star-studded night of performances at the National Sawdust in New York City ushered in the beginning of Bresnick’s 70th year.
The stylistic range of Martin Bresnick’s music makes it difficult to pin down, but it is always “marked by an economy of materials and lyrical intensity” (Kyle Gann, American Music in the Twentieth Century). We encourage you to browse through the catalog highlights below and discover why so many champion his music.
    for Orchestra
    3 3(dbl. E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3 – 4 3 3 0; Timp. Perc. Str.

    …this is music not to sum up in a few words, but to sink your teeth into and reflect upon at length.

    –Village Voice

    for Two Marimbas and Orchestra
    Solo mar.(2); 0 2 2 2 – 2 0 0 0; Str.

    Unmistakably American in its dialect, it’s still not hard to hear Stravinsky (or at least Nadia Boulanger) hovering approvingly in the background.

    –American Record Guide

    An Opera: Prologue, 3 Scenes, Epilogue
    (Based on the story “Strakh” by Anton Chekhov)

    There were sincere ovations and gasps of admiration heard throughout the performance, and the sort of curtain-call reception which any theater creator would hope for. You felt part of something special just by showing up.

    –New Haven Theater Jerk

    for Orchestra
    2(1 dbl. Fl.) 2 2 2 – 2 2 0 0; Timp. 1Perc. Str.

    …effective as a call to action; and in the light of Ferguson, Missouri, and similar events, Mr. Bresnick’s “call” was an action worthy of multiple hearings.

    –Idyllwild Town Crier

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    for Cello and Piano

    … [a] blend of lyricism and cragginess…


    for Saxophone Quartet

    If anyone ever doubted the power and beauty of a saxophone quartet, PRISM’s presentation of this work would quickly change their mind. It left me speechless.


    Bresnick on “Every Thing Must Go”
    for Piano, Organ, Violin, Vibraphone, Electric Guitar, Bass Clarinet, and Drum Set

    …it is evidence of an American composer whose ears are wide open…

    –New World Records

    Bresnick on “Fantasia on a Theme by…”
    for Woodwind Quintet

    …an unusually resonant sound, warmer and less “tart” than that usually heard in wind quintets.

    –Rovi Joseph Stevenson

    for Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Piano

    Although it begins as though it might be some sort of minimalist piece…
    it develops into something completely different, nostalgic, deep, and beautiful, and having a very specific relationship to its text.


    Bresnick on “My Twentieth Century”
    for Cello and Piano

    …dark, brooding and emotionally substantial…


    …exemplifies the power formal craftsmanship can have to ensnare the ear and make a visceral emotional connection.

    –Time Out New York

    Bresnick on “String Quartet No. 2”

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    for Mandolin

    …seek[s] to synthesize the musical past and a unique voice of the present.

    –The Yale Alumni Magazine

    A coherent multi-sensorial work, it invites sustained attention from a far wider audience than ‘pure’ concert music can hope to do.

    –RealTime Online Magazine

    for Solo Piccolo with Optional Toy Piano

    His music is formally clear, and it has a combination of a direct expressivity and a rigorous method, as well as a real sense of sonic immediacy.

    –John Harbison

    for Solo Piano

    Mercifully free of stereotypic trappings of negativity — just listen to the chiming, dancing turns of “Ishi’s Song” — you’ll find Bresnick handing you refreshingly new and yet fully authentic meditations on things we least understand.

    –Porter Anderson

    for Solo Violin

    …a significant contribution to the solo violin repertoire.


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  • Take a glimpse into the world behind many of Martin Bresnick’s works.

  • Angelus Novus
    (Part of “Opera della Musica Povera”) for Orchestra
    Bread and Salt
    for Mixed Ensemble
    B’s Garlands
    for Eight Solo Violoncellos
    Caprichos Enfáticos
    for Piano and Percussion Quartet
    for Solo Mezzo-soprano and Orchestra
    for Brass Ensemble
    Fantasia on a Theme by Willie Dixon
    for Chamber Ensemble
    for Two Marimbas and Orchestra
    Little Suite
    for String Orchestra
    My Friend’s Story
    An Opera: Prologue, 3 Scenes, Epilogue
    Pine Eyes
    for Narrator and Mixed Ensemble
    Prophetic Strain
    (Movement II from “Pan Penseroso”) for Two Flutes and Orchestra
    (part of “Opera della Musica Povera”) for Orchestra
    The Way It Goes
    for Orchestra
    Wir Weben Wir Weben
    for String Orchestra

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
View Perusal Score
Coming soon…

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
View Perusal Score
Coming soon…