Variety Will Mark Premieres Across U.S. and Canada

Composer Daníel Bjarnason (
Daníel Bjarnason’s second LA Phil commission is scheduled for a December premiere and later U.S. tour. (
By Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

The North American premieres that orchestras and artists will perform during the opening months of the 2013-14 season are remarkable for their range of musical language. Daniel Bjarnason, a favorite of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Gustavo Dudamel, approaches tonality in as a fresh a way as you could imagine. Kevin Puts and David Ludwig toss everything, past and present, into a musical stew. Nico Muhly reaches back to English Tudor music and combines it with an individual take on minimalism. Christopher Rouse runs the gamut from fast and noisy complexity to deeply spiritual meditation.

Nico Muhly's opera 'Two Boys' is headed for the Met (Matthew Murphy)
Muhly’s opera ‘Two Boys’ is Met-bound. (Matthew Murphy)

There was a time, in the not too distant past, when these offerings would have been limited to de rigueur serialism or other modernisms that the general audience found bewildering. Composers not toeing the line, such as Lee Hoiby and even Samuel Barber, were politely ignored. Today’s composers, thankfully, are freed from dogma and classification into “schools” or “movements” and audiences are grateful.

In looking over the upcoming premiere performances in the United States, two things jump out. One is the great variety of composers represented. Few are mentioned more than twice. The other is how some organizations have a long list of premieres and others, on the same professional level, have only one or two. Those with none, of course, do not appear herein, but they are easy to figure out. The truth is that praise – or otherwise – can be laid at the doorstep of the music director, no matter what we’re told about ticket sales. The passionate conductor forges relationships with composers and their committed performances click with the audience.

A good example is the Fort Worth Symphony, whose music director, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, believes in new music and has an annual composer-in-residence — while the nearby Dallas Symphony wallows in a sea of standards, with only one world premiere on its schedule. Even the relatively small Naples Philharmonic (of Artis-Naples, Florida) is presenting two new works, a world premiere and a co-commission with other organizations.

The Metropolitan Opera has in recent years given the world and American premieres of important new works. This season, the company presents the American premiere of Nico Muhly’s Two Boys, which was introduced at the English National Opera in 2011. It is a detective story about a meeting over the internet that turns murderous. Another opera out of the headlines is the Dallas Opera’s foray into science fiction with a revival of Todd Machover’s Death and the Powers, which is described as a robot pageant.

Slatkin to unveil Sheng's violin concerto in Detroit.
Slatkin to unveil Sheng’s new violin concerto in Detroit.

Leonard Slatkin gets a prize for all of the premieres he is presenting with the Detroit Symphony. He lays down a marker in the opening concert: the premiere of Bright Sheng’s Violin Concerto, featuring Gil Shaham. The National Symphony and Pittsburgh Symphony have premieres this fall on their regular subscription seasons. The Chicago Symphony? None. Cleveland? Cincinnati? Ditto.

Not so in Los Angeles, where music director Gustavo Dudamel is continuing the tradition of new works set by his predecessors. One touching example is the premiere of Peter Lieberson’s percussion concerto, Shing Kham. The composer died before finishing the piece, so the orchestra asked Oliver Knussen to complete it for premiere in October.

Elsewhere, other new concertos will also be unveiled. The Boston Symphony will give the world premiere of Mark Neikrug’s Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra, written for the orchestra’s principal bassoonist, Richard Svoboda. The Seattle Symphony’s new conductor, Ludovic Morlot, will return us to a world of microtones with the U.S. premiere in November of Pascal Dusapin’s violin concerto, Aufgang (“Stairway”), with violinist Renaud Capuçon.

Although a digression from premieres, it’s important to point out the neglect of many American composers whose premieres took place some time ago (and then vanished), such as Walter Piston, Samuel Barber, Dominic Argento, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, William Schuman, Paul Bowles, Ned Rorem, Roy Harris, Daniel Pinkham, Joan Tower and even early pioneers, including Charles Griffes and the indomitable Mrs. H.H.A. Beach.

If a premiere is difficult to secure, for many composers a second and third performance remains elusive. A revival is hopeless, although Gerard Schwarz resurrected Howard Hanson, the most unabashedly retro of them all, with the Seattle Symphony a while back. The performance of his opera Merry Mount was over-flowingly gorgeous and would be a staple today had it been written 30 years earlier. Music directors, executives, and board members who champion the composers of our time are building a legacy as valuable as that of Hans von Bülow’s Brahms.


Northeast: Met and NYC Opera Bring Works by Muhly, Turnage

By Heidi Waleson
'Anna Nicole' stars Sarah Joy Miller at BAM. (Pari Dukovic)
‘Anna Nicole’ stars Sarah Joy Miller at BAM. (Pari Dukovic)

The Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera are mounting major U.S. premieres this fall, both of operas that were done in London first. With the English composer Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Anna Nicole, based on the tabloid scandal of Anna Nicole Smith, the self-reinventing NYCO has chosen yet another opera on a transgressive subject, like last season’s Powder Her Face. Judging by the DVD from the 2011 Royal Opera House premiere production, it’s a strong piece. (NYCO performances run Sept. 17-28.) Turnage is also on the docket with U.S. premieres of concert openers at the Boston Symphony and the New York Philharmonic.

The Met’s offering, Nico Muhly’s Two Boys, is the first work from the company’s collaborative development program with the Lincoln Center Theater to get to the Met. (The young American Muhly is a hot property at the moment.) Two Boys got a run at the English National Opera. Reports were mixed, so perhaps the Met has taken the opportunity to do some wood-shedding. (Two Boys can be seen at the Met Oct. 21-Nov. 14.)

These transatlantic opera collaborations are a positive development. European and U.K. houses tend to take more risks, so why shouldn’t U.S. theaters reap the benefits when they come up with something good? Of course, sometimes the process can take a long time: George Benjamin’s Written on Skin, a breakaway hit at the 2012 Aix-en-Provence Festival and in several other European houses, won’t be seen in a staged U.S. production until 2015.

Aa's 'Up Close' is a cello concert with film (Marco Borggreve)
Van der Aa’s concerto weds cello, film (Marco Borggreve)

Instrumental pieces can make the crossing faster, and Lincoln Center’s Great Performers series will give the U.S. premiere of the Dutch composer Michel Van der Aa’s Up-Close, which won the 2013 Grawemeyer Award, in a non-traditional venue: the Manhattan Center’s Grand Ballroom (Oct. 28). Van der Aa is an intriguing, multidisciplinary talent: Up-Close is a cello concerto accompanied by a film, and his 3-D opera Sunken Garden integrated hologram singers with live performers.

The National Symphony is also going the multimedia route with its world premiere of Roger Reynolds’s george WASHINGTON (Oct. 3-5). The work incorporates three narrators representing Washington at different stages of his life, with computer processed sound recorded at Mount Vernon, and video images, also from Mount Vernon, projected on three screens behind the orchestra.

McAllister will play U.S. premiere of Adams's Sax Concerto in Baltimore
McAllister to play Adams’s Sax Concerto in Baltimore.

Other orchestral premieres are concertos, several of which were written for principal players in their commissioning orchestras. The Boston Symphony and bassoonist Richard Svoboda will give the world premiere of Mark Neikrug’s Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra (Nov 21-23). The Philadelphia Orchestra has gone them one (or two) better, commissioning three pieces for principal players from Tan Dun (harp), Behzad Ranjbaran (flute) and David Ludwig (bassoon). Philadelphia is mixing the pieces up, with two each on three concerts over three days (Oct. 31-Nov. 2). Sandwiched between Bernstein’s Candide Overture and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, the concertos will no doubt be short enough to keep the patrons from bolting.

The New York Philharmonic is presenting the New York premieres of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Violin Concerto, with guest artist Leila Josefowicz (Oct 30.-Nov 5), and Christopher Rouse’s Oboe Concerto, with Liang Wang. (Nov. 14-19). The Baltimore Symphony opens its season with the U.S. premiere of John Adams’s Saxophone Concerto, with guest artist Tim McAllister (Sept. 20-22).


Midwest: Slatkin, Detroit Symphony Set the Bar for Premieres

By Donald Rosenberg
Del Tredici's 'Dum Dum Tweedle,' complete at last
Del Tredici’s ‘Dum Dee Tweedle,’ complete for first time.

A new music season is a prime opportunity for artists to introduce new works amid beloved repertoire. In the Midwest, as in some other regions, orchestras, chamber ensembles and presenting organizations tend to focus more on the tried-and-true than the novel. But there are exceptions to this lamentable artistic rule.

Although few major Midwestern orchestras are paying attention to music written in the past three (or even four) decades, several will give world or United States premieres this fall. The champion of them all is the Detroit Symphony, whose music director, Leonard Slatkin, evinced a keen appetite for eclectic and creative programming in previous posts with the St. Louis and National symphonies and is continuing the practice in the Motor City.

It’s rare that a composer hears even one new work performed by an orchestra in any given city during a single season. Bright Sheng will have the happy experience of hearing the debut of two of his scores this season in Detroit. The first is the Violin Concerto, featuring Gil Shaham as soloist, during the orchestra’s opening concerts (Oct. 4-6). In January, Slatkin conducts Sheng’s new Zodiac Tales.

Spanish composer Ferran Cruixent’s Cyborg will have its U.S. premiere (Nov. 7 and 8) under Slatkin, who also will lead the DSO in the first complete performances (in concert) of David Del Tredici’s one-act opera, Dum Dee Tweedle (Nov. 30-Dec. 1), another setting in his series of works celebrating Lewis Carroll. Written in the early 1990s, the opera lay dormant until 2002, when the New York City Opera VOX Series presented only the first scene.

Columbus Symphony introduces Montague 'Invictus'
Columbus Symphony to introduce Montague’s ‘Invictus.’

Two other Midwestern orchestras can stand proud this fall for advocating the new. The Columbus Symphony and conductor Thomas Wilkins will introduce Stephen Montague’s Invictus on Nov. 15 and 16. A pair of sixth symphonies will add fresh perspectives to Pittsburgh Symphony programs: David Stock’s has its world premiere (Oct. 4-6) under music director Manfred Honeck; Leonardo Balada’s receives its U.S. debut (Nov. 8-10), led by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra isn’t coming near a new work this fall, but its MusicNOW series – featuring orchestra members – will include premieres by Anders Hillborg, Mason Bates and Eduardo Guzman on programs filled with other recent scores.

Don’t expect to hear newish music at other major Midwestern orchestras, including Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Milwaukee. In the symphony world, it appears to be risky business to commission composers for works requiring massive forces and expensive rehearsal time.

By contrast, the smaller forces of chamber music make it an ideal forum for new works. Many touring artists and chamber groups, like Chicago-based eighth blackbird, are eager to spice up programs with cutting-edge fare. Among the ensembles heading to the Midwest this season is Cuarteto Casals, which will perform concerts containing a new work by Roberto Sierra featuring guitarist Manuel Barrueco.


Southeast: New Light Breaks Through the Shadows of Tradition

By Paul Hyde
Teachout, Moravec pair up for one-acts at Kentucky Opera
Teachout and Moravec, paired for Kentucky Opera double bill.

When it comes to new orchestral and operatic works, the Southeast U.S. lags behind other regions of North America. Premieres of major new works certainly do occur (as noted below), but they remain relatively rare.

But perhaps that should come as no surprise. The Southeast is largely a tradition-bound region — culturally, politically and religiously conservative. Is it any wonder that the overall conservative landscape would influence the concert hall and the opera house?

Of course, the Southeast boasts pockets of innovation in technology and industry, but these areas – such as North Carolina’s Research Triangle – don’t necessarily inspire musical experimentation by Raleigh’s North Carolina Symphony. North America’s centers of musical innovation tend to be located in big, progressive cities, such as New York, Toronto, Los Angeles, Boston and Seattle.

True, the region is no longer “the Sahara of the Bozart,” as H.L. Mencken, in typical vitriolic style, labeled it in 1920. But Southeast orchestras and opera companies do cling to the warhorses. They defend their choices on the basis of economics: Their audiences demand the classics, and they deliver.

Southeast orchestras and opera companies thrive in admittedly challenging times because they know how to please their traditional audiences. Fair enough. But the old questions arise: Are orchestras and opera companies merely museums, or should they strive to contribute meaningfully to a living and ever-expanding repertoire of serious music?

Some music organizations are working hard, of course, to enlarge the classical canon. Here are some of the major orchestral and operatic premieres taking place in the Southeast this fall.

Ángel Romero to debut 'Rincones de España'
Ángel Romero to debut ‘Rincones de España’ in Miami.

On Sept. 21, the Alabama Symphony Orchestra gives the world premiere of Yotam Haber’s A More Convenient Season in celebration of the civil rights movement, featuring the orchestra, chorus and film.

There’s more in October. Robert Spano leads the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (Oct. 3-5) in the world premiere of …of shadow and light…(incantations for orchestra) by Richard Prior, director of orchestral studies at Emory University. The Kentucky Opera presents the premieres of two one-act operas (Oct.11-12), The King’s Man and Danse Russe, both with music by Paul Moravec and libretto by Terry Teachout. And the Miami Symphony Orchestra premieres Homage to Waldo, conductor Eduardo Marturet’s tribute to Cuban painter Waldo Balart – and also the world premiere of Rincones de España, co-created by Joaquín Rodrigo and guitarist Ángel Romero. Marturet conducts both works (Oct. 20).


Southwest: Music-Film Project ‘Offering to the Dead’ Salutes Mexico

By Mike Greenberg

As the culmination of a Nov. 1-3 program of Mexican music to mark the traditional Day of the Dead, the Houston Symphony gives the official world premiere of an ambitious project combining film and live music. The film, La Triste Historia, by writer-producer-director Ben Young Mason, portrays a tragic love story set during the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th century.

The music is the Symphony No. 3 (Offrenda a los muertos) (Offering to the Dead) by Juan Trigos, whose “abstract folklore” style, as he dubs it, sinks roots into the obsessive rhythmic patterns of Mexico’s deep past while remaining fully modern in its means. The Houston performances follow a “preview” of the project with the Guanajuato (Mexico) Symphony Orchestra on the closing night of the Festival Internacional Cervantino in Guanajuato on Oct. 20. Carlos Miguel Prieto conducts the Houston Symphony concerts, which also include works by Silvestre Revueltas and José Pablo Moncayo.

A new opera by the American composer-librettist Daron Hagen and co-librettist Barbara Brecki opens the season of the Butler Opera Center at the University of Texas-Austin (Oct. 25-Nov. 3). A Woman in Morocco concerns a tragic love triangle set in a pensione in Morocco. Hagen’s previous operas have been favorably received, especially Amelia at Seattle Opera in 2010. The professional premiere of A Woman in Morocco is scheduled for September 2014 by West Edge Opera in Berkeley, Calif.

Tao's 'The World is Very Different Now' honors JFK (Nadja Kilchofer)
Tao’s ‘The World is Very Different Now’ honors JFK.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, the Dallas Symphony has commissioned a work from the young American composer and pianist Conrad Tao. His The World is Very Different Now is paired with Darius Milhaud’s brief Murder of a Great Chief of State, composed soon after the assassination, on the Dallas Symphony’s program of Nov. 21-23. Music Director Jaap van Zweden conducts the concerts, which also include Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and Sibelius’s Violin Concerto with Joshua Bell as soloist.

San Antonio’s SOLI Chamber Ensemble, which has presented 31 commissioned works since its founding in 1994, extends that record with a new piece for clarinet, violin, cello and piano by Paul Moravec, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in music for 2004. The new piece, yet unnamed, is said to be “based on” Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. The Oct. 14-15 program also includes the Messaien work and a 2008 SOLI commission, Musica, por un tiempo, by San Antonio native Robert X. Rodríguez.

Machover's operabots coming to Dallas Opera.
Machover’s operabots will greet world via Dallas Opera.

Looking ahead a bit into next year, Dallas Opera is already generating buzz with its plans for an “unprecedented experiment in 21st-century opera,” as a press release puts it, in connection with  Tod Machover’s and Robert Pinsky’s trailblazing “Death and the Powers” in February. Though this will be the third U.S. staging of the 2010 work, which requires both human and robot performers, the Dallas production will be distinguished by an interactive simulcast of the Feb. 16 performance. Through a  collaboration of the MIT Media Lab’s “Opera of the Future” program, the audience at as many as 10 remote locations in the U.S. and Europe will be able to use their handheld devices to see the opera from various perspectives (including a “robot’s-eye view”) and influence the onstage visuals. What hath Tod wrought?


West Coast: LA Celebrates Disney Hall Decade With Blitz of New Works

By Richard S. Ginell

Defying the gloom-and-doom news reports about bankruptcies, strikes and vanishing organizations in other parts of the U.S. that force the survivors to play it safe, major players on the West Coast are pushing ahead with bursts of enterprise this fall.

LA Phil to do Frank Zappa's '200 Motels' complete
LA Phil checks in with Zappa’s ‘200 Motels.’

Take the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which has the healthiest bottom line of any of the big American orchestras even while consistently taking on risky projects. Rather than book another Beethoven Ninth or Mahler blockbuster to commemorate Walt Disney Concert Hall’s tenth anniversary, the LA Phil has scheduled three world premieres and one U.S. premiere in consecutive weeks – perhaps none more audacious than the first complete performance of Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels on Oct. 23, ten years to the day since Disney Hall opened for business.

This is a testament to the aspirations of Gustavo Dudamel, who is proving to be every bit as much a champion of new music – albeit in sometimes different directions – as was his predecessor, Esa-Pekka Salonen. Indeed, both will be presiding over the premieres.

Lieberson's 'Shing Kham' completed by Knussen.(Rinchen Lhamo)
Peter Lieberson’s ‘Shing Kham’ in LA. (Rinchen Lhamo)

Moreover, the LA Phil is adept at making up for missed opportunities. Peter Lieberson’s percussion concerto Shing Kham, was supposed to have been performed for the first time in May 2011, but the composer died before he could finish the piece. So Oliver Knussen stepped in to orchestrate an incomplete movement from a transcription of the composer’s short score, and the piece will at last be heard Oct. 3.

In turn, Knussen’s own Cello Concerto, scheduled to receive its world premiere Oct. 18, has been scratched, but the resourceful LAPO came right back with another major commission, a new work for cello and orchestra from Magnus Lindberg that will receive its world premiere on that date instead. Dudamel will be on the podium for the Lieberson and the U.S. premiere of Brett Dean’s cantata The Last Days of Socrates (Oct. 10), while Salonen handles the Lindberg and Zappa premieres.

The LA Phil’s second Daníel Bjarnason commission – no title yet – is scheduled to receive its world premiere under Dudamel’s baton in Los Angeles Dec. 19, with additional U.S. tour performances in March 2014. Last year John Adams conducted two Bjarnason works on the orchestra’s Green Umbrella series.

Patricia Racette creates Dolores Claiborne (Cory Weaver-SFO)
Patricia Racette as Dolores Claiborne. (Cory Weaver-SFO)

Up north, the San Francisco Opera‘s second production of the 2013-14 season (Sept. 18) is the world premiere of Tobias Picker and J.D. McClatchy’s Dolores Claiborne, based on a novel by Stephen King that was previously made into a film. This is the third world premiere that the SFO has presented in 2013 alone, following Nolan Gasser and Carey Harrison’s The Secret Garden and Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene – and the sixth overall in the David Gockley regime.

According to some of the reviews, the composers of the first two 2013 operas aimed to reassure, rather than challenge, the ears of their audiences – and judging from what I’ve heard from Picker in the past, he is likely to do the same. Nevertheless, give the SFO several points for healthy risk-taking.

Even farther north, Ludovic Morlot’s progressive programming at the Seattle Symphony delivers a U.S. premiere (Nov. 14) of fellow Frenchman Pascal Dusapin’s new violin concerto Aufgang (“Stairway” in German), with Renaud Capuçon playing the solo part. A onetime student of Iannis Xenakis, Dusapin has not been reluctant to use microtones and techniques somewhat outside the spectrum of avant-garde French composition, so this could be interesting.


Canada: Vancouver to Montreal, Orchestras Tout Nation’s Composers

By Colin Eatock

Most of the time, there’s not much difference between the repertoires that Canadian and American orchestras play. But when it comes to contemporary music, the two countries clearly diverge, especially where premiere performances are concerned. The spot in a program that an American music director might see as the right place to insert a new American work may, in Canada, be filled with a new Canadian piece.

These days, most orchestras in Canada won’t let a season go by without playing at least one new or recent Canadian work, and some do much more. A short West-to-East survey highlights some of the new works that Canada’s orchestras are playing this fall.

Evelyn Glennie to play 'Musicophilia.' (Cambridge Newspapers)
Evelyn Glennie in ‘Musicophilia.’ (Cambridge Newspapers)

Bramwell Tovey, the British-born music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, has made a name for himself as a champion of Canadian music since he moved to this side of the Atlantic. (Perhaps the fact that he’s a composer himself has something to do with his sympathetic stance.) This fall, Tovey has placed a new Canadian work front and center. Not only has he positioned Randolph Peters’ new percussion concerto, Musicophilia, on the VSO’s season-opening program (Sept. 28 and 30), he’s also bringing the famous Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie to play it. Peters is a versatile Vancouver-based composer with one foot in the concert hall and another in the film studio.

The best time to hear new music in Winnipeg is during the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s New Music Festival, presented every winter. But Winnipeg is also home to the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, a string ensemble directed by Anne Manson, former music director of the Kansas City Symphony. Since she arrived in Canada from the U.S. in 2008, Manson has programmed a number of Canadian composers with the MCO, which on Nov. 27 will premiere Never to Return by Karen Sunabacka, a young composer-cellist who’s making a name for herself in Winnipeg.

José Evangelista's 'O Gamelan' to be presented by the TSO.
José Evangelista’s ‘O Gamelan’ slated for TSO.

Similarly, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra mounts an annual New Creations Festival every spring, a vehicle for much of the orchestra’s new-music programming. However, the Esprit Orchestra, Canada’s only permanent orchestra dedicated to new music, is also based in Toronto. Its music director, Alex Pauk, has long championed the Balinese-influenced works of the Canadian composer Colin McPhee, and this interest has evidently led to a whole program of Indonesian-inspired music for orchestra and gamelan (Nov. 17). Appearing with the orchestra in this concert will be Toronto’s Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan ensemble. Among the programmed works is the brand-new O Gamelan by the Montreal-based composer José Evangelista, who is originally from Spain but has strong musical connections with the Far East.

Last but certainly not least, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra has found some clever ways to include several new Canadian works in its fall programming. First up is The Isle Is Full of Noises by the Toronto-based composer Christos Hatzis. It will be premiered in a Shakespeare-inspired program on Oct. 15, with a second performance on Oct. 17. Also in October, the MSO premieres three short compositions by Canadian composers Scott Goode, Jeffrey Ryan and Simon Bertrand. These pieces, inspired by artworks in Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts, are part of a “music and art” multimedia concert to be performed in Ottawa on Oct. 27 and repeated in Montreal (Oct. 30 and 31). MSO music director Kent Nagano will conduct.


Gregory Sullivan Isaacs is the Senior Music Critic for, an online performing arts magazine for North Texas. He is also a Pulitzer Prize nominated composer and conductor. He holds a Masters Degree in music from Indiana University in Bloomington. 


Regional reports are by members of the Music Critics Association of North America.