New ‘Miniatures’ Pack Program For Spirited Orchestra

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Naples Philharmonic music director Andrey Boreyko, who has been pushing for more contemporary music in the southwest Florida city, conducts world premieres by three composers in a single concert honoring art collector Olga Hirshhorn.

By Esteban Meneses

NAPLES, Fla. — Not often do orchestras premiere three pieces in a single program. But that will be the case March 30 when the Naples Philharmonic – the resident orchestra at Artis-Naples, which also houses the Baker Museum – presents three diverse “miniature” world premieres by Nicholas Jacobson-Larson, Giya Kancheli, and Gabriel Prokofiev, in honor of the late art collector Olga Hirshhorn.

As an advocate for new music, Philharmonic music director Andrey Boreyko has been pushing for the performance of contemporary music in Naples, an affluent city in Florida’s southwest coast whose classical music patrons tend to fall on the conservative side. Since Boreyko’s appointment in 2014, audiences have warmed to the conductor’s contemporary selections, always intelligently programmed with standard repertoire. “Naples is certainly not the capital of the new music,” he says, “but I wouldn’t exaggerate the conservatism of our audience, especially after observing the response to several contemporary works over the last two seasons.”

Olga Hirshhorn, in a portrait by Elsie Dorey Upham.

The purpose of the commissions was to reflect in each 6- to 9-minute miniature the richness of Hirshhorn’s private art collection brimming within the confines of her tiny carriage house in the Embassy Row area of Washington, D.C. Hirshhorn, who died in 2015, called it the Mouse House. The collection includes small pieces by such 20th-century masters as Picasso, de Kooning, and Man Ray, among others. About two years prior to her death, this treasure was permanently installed at the Baker Museum, across the plaza from Hayes Hall, where the Naples Philharmonic performs.

Of the misleadingly characterized miniatures in the offing, which in fact are written for a standard-size orchestra, Boreyko observes: “In German we would say ‘Klein, aber fein,’ which means something like ‘Little, but important.’ The idea of miniature was not necessarily related to the size of the orchestra, but to the length of the composition. They are very different in their messages, but each of them in its own way has been composed to reflect the idea of the Olga Hirshhorn collection.”

Based in Los Angeles, Nicholas Jacobson-Larson is known for his work in film and TV. The Philharmonic previously premiered his Fantasia for Four Harps and Orchestra and The Snow Queenan educational piece for children. Jacobson-Larson is the nephew of the pianist Leon Fleisher, himself the father of the Philharmonic’s principal harp, Dickie Fleisher.

Nicholas Jacobson-Larson’s new work, ‘Story Box,’ reflects on the creative process.

In the new piece, Story Box, the composer reflects on the creative process: The music unfolds in a self-referential way as he muses on Hirshhorn’s collection, “where the seeds of all works of art lie dormant waiting to be stumbled upon,” he writes in his program notes.

Gabriel Prokofiev’s Olga’s Miniatures, a fantasy for violin and orchestra,  takes inspiration from specific Mouse House pieces at the Baker, including two works each by Josef Albers and Willem de Kooning. This is his first composition directly influenced by visual artwork. “The music is not a direct description of these works of art; rather, it is a flight of imagination inspired by them,” writes Prokofiev in his notes. Spanish violinist Leticia Moreno will be the soloist.

Boreyko and the Philharmonic have collaborated with Prokofiev before. His Saxophone Concerto was commissioned by Artis-Naples and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and premiered in Naples in 2016, with soloist Branford Marsalis. On March 24, Boreyko led the Detroit premiere, again with Marsalis tackling the formidably difficult solo part.

Giya Kancheli’s ‘In Petto’ will be his third premiere led by Boreyko.

Boreyko’s relationship with Giya Kancheli dates back some 25 years. In 1992 he conducted the premiere of Kancheli’s Abii ne viderem. Last year, Boreyko led the premiere of NU.MU.ZU (“I don’t know,” in Sumerian) in Brussels, where he also holds the post of music director at the Orchestre National de Belgique.

Hailing from Georgia (formerly part of the Soviet Union), Kancheli paints broad brushstrokes across long-drawn soundscapes, filled with controlled dissonances and sometimes jarring shifts in dynamics. His music is spiritual and ethereal, and is often expressed in symphonic and other large-scale forms, although he composes for ensembles of varying sizes.

Scored for two each of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn, with strings, In Petto is the second composition dedicated to Boreyko, and the third Kancheli world premiere the conductor has led. “In Petto is a very intimate musical meditation,” he says. “It is in a certain way a kind of postscript or epitaph.”

The Naples orchestra maximizes rehearsal time to give the required attention to new music, within the limits of a relatively small number of rehearsals. For masterworks programs, the orchestra has one more rehearsal session – the week of the concert – than the standard-practice four among American orchestras.

“The Naples Philharmonic is always perfectly prepared for our first rehearsal, including concerts that include world premieres,” says Boreyko. “I believe there will definitely be enough time to prepare these pieces. That said, anytime we have the honor to bring new music to life, one always wants more time – especially when we have the gift of the composer being with us.”

Gabriel Prokofiev took inspiration from art works by Josef Albers and Willem de Kooning.

And the addition of rehearsal sessions has paid off. In 2016, Prokofiev (Sergei’s grandson) and Marsalis made adjustments to the score at rehearsals, according to Boreyko: “We were lucky to have Branford Marsalis, and so Gabriel was very happy to take some suggestions from Branford about adjustments to the music that we were able to incorporate.”

If the reception to new music has been lukewarm among Naples audiences, the uneasiness expressed by patrons who encounter unfamiliar music that might be constructed with unusual forms, jagged melodies, or eccentric harmonies is by no means representative of all.

“There is quite a big part – though maybe still not the majority – of our audience that is curious about new or lesser-known compositions, including music of today,” Boreyko says. “I believe that even as we continue to perform the standard classical and romantic repertoire, our duty and responsibility – maybe even our obligation – is to feel the pulse of our time and reflect contemporary music in our programming. We just need to make an effort to understand unfamiliar art. Sometimes that means helping prepare our audiences for new art, and sometimes it just takes time for tastes to catch up.”

Scale: A Tribute to Olga Hirshhorn will take place at Hayes Hall, Artis-Naples, at 8 p.m. on March 30 and April 1.

Esteban Meneses is an Orlando-based freelance writer. A graduate student of humanities at Rollins College in Winter Park, he became a member of the Music Critics Association of North America in 2015. He has covered the classical music scene in Orlando since 2010, writing for the now-defunct examiner.com and contributing regularly to Orlando Arts Magazine since 2011.

Date posted: March 30, 2017

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