Coming Events: Opera Projects Dot A Rich Global Mix

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Sarah Ruhl’s ‘Eurydice’ play, seen here in a 2007 Second Stage production, is being transformed into an opera by Ruhl and American composer Matthew Aucoin for eventual Metropolitan Opera presentation. (Photo: playwrightshorizons.org)

DATE BOOK – The first weeks of the 2018-19 music season have been so extraordinary for new opera – on subjects stretching from ancient Rome to Manhattan High Line and from Civil War hard scrabble to Hitchcock thrills – that it’s worth pausing to consider some ambitious projects still headed our way in November. There’s more opera, but also a globe-spanning mix of solo, chamber, and orchestral unveilings and sneak peeks.

Baltimore: Violinist Courtney Orlando ushers in a little night music, Nov. 6

British-American composer Oscar Bettison has written a new concerto called Pale Icons of Night for the indefatigable Courtney Orlando, a co-founder of the 20-member new music ensemble Alarm Will Sound, among other affiliations such as LotUS (League of the Unsound Sound).

Courtney Orlando (Alarm Will Sound)

Bettison’s new work promises to “meditate on the contrasting soft and sharp qualities of nighttime.” His past music has often incorporated newly-made or, as he puts it, “re-imagined” or “Cinderella” instruments in addition to electro-acoustic elements. Bettison’s  concerto debuts at Peabody Institute, with a second outing Nov. 9 at the Library of Congress. Also on both concerts is Ligeti’s five-movement Piano Concerto, performed by John Orfe.

Ashland, Ore.: Tower Music 5tet channels sounds of Eiffel Tower, Nov. 8

American composer Joseph Bertolozzi has enjoyed success with compositions of huge scale that involve lots of percussionists banging on big things. He has successfully extracted sound samples from New York’s Poughkeepsie Bridge and the Eiffel Tower, but his coming Paris project was designed to yield an eventual live performance by approximately a hundred percussionists positioned at various points on the iconic landmark during the 2024 Olympics. As the composer has explained, that’s an “if ever” idea, so far, with little repeat potential.

Thus Bertolozzi’s interim use for his Paris concept: an arrangement requiring only 82 additional percussion instruments performed by five players, “cymbals standing in for fence crashes, bass drums for booms on the Tower legs with a log, glockenspiel for pings on a pipe, etc.” Funded by a grant from New Music USA, Left Edge Percussion will premiere Tower Music 5tet at the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University.

Boston: Māra, another Gewandhaus-BSO co-commission, Nov. 8-13

A new work by 40-year-old Latvian composer Andris Dzenītis is dedicated to Boston Symphony music director and Leipzig Gewandhauskapellmeister Andris Nelsons, who happens to be Latvian himself. Māra makes its way to Boston after being heard extensively in Europe, where Nelsons and the Leipzigers have been touring.

Andris Dzenītis (dzenitis.webs.com)

The opus takes its title from the most powerful goddess in Latvian mythology; she also cares for spirits after death. Some European critics have reacted with puzzlement, while acknowledging the disruptive energy of a Baltic Rite of Spring. But this new work will have the luxury of transcontinental exposure; Nelsons is heavily invested in aspects of the alliance, such as co-commissions and complementary programming, made possible by his directorship of the two orchestras simultaneously.

Chicago: Third Coast Percussion performs new Philip Glass, Nov. 9

The world premiere of Perpetulum by Philip Glass, his first-ever work for a percussion ensemble, is not the first work by Glass the quartet has performed. Third Coast’s own rippling adaptation of some of Glass’s Amazon River music (Aguas de Amazonia) is a popular track on their Paddle to the Sea album (Cedille Records), shown below on NPR’s Tiny Desk concert. Glass will join the musicians onstage for both performance and conversation at the Perpetulum premiere; it is part of Chicago’s city-wide annual Humanities Festival, which has dozens of cultural partners including the University of Chicago, Glass’ alma mater. Perpetulum has many co-commissioners and will travel.

Confirmed dates later this season include St. Paul Dec. 9, Notre Dame March 30, San Francisco April 3, and Costa Mesa April 5, with several summer festivals yet to announce.

Milan: His first opera at 91, György Kurtág takes on Beckett, Nov. 15-25

When Kurtág (b. 1926) turned to Fin de Partie (known in English as Beckett’s Endgame) as a source for a new work, he was the 90-year-old new kid on the opera block, although his writings for voice, for chorus, and for orchestra abound, and he had known Beckett’s plays since discovering them as a young man in Paris. Kurtág’s first-ever opera will be ushered to the stage by director Pierre Audi, who is artistic director of New York’s Park Avenue Armory. It’s a Scala debut for them both.

Hungarian composer György Kurtág (Teatro alla Scala)

Beckett’s one-act play is a tour-de-force reflection on what one of his characters, Clov, assesses as “zero, zero and zero.” There are four people in all, hovering at the end of their existence. One can’t stand, another can’t sit, and the other two live in ashcans. Do you hear Kurtág humming? Markus Stenz conducts the quartet cast – Frode Olsen, Leigh Melrose, Hilary Summers, and Leonardo Cortellazzi. With sets and costumes by Christof Hetzer, the co-production travels to the Dutch National Opera in March 2019.

Cincinnati: Try Orpheus’ tale, from Eurydice’s p.o.v., as opera, Nov. 17

Wondering how operas get born? One way is through Opera Fusion, a 10-day residency for composer-librettist teams to incubate their ideas intensely with the pros at Cincinnati Opera and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Matthew Aucoin (Steven Laxton)

American composer Matthew Aucoin and playwright Sarah Ruhl will be there starting Nov. 8, and on Nov. 17 they’ll share their Eurydice-in-progress at a public gathering in Cincinnati’s Music Hall, followed by more of the same in sessions at New York’s Lincoln Center on Nov. 18-19. Ruhl’s play, which takes a fresh look at the legend from the viewpoint of the desperate wife who begs Orpheus to “look back” at her on their ascent from Hades, was a hypnotic hit in 2017 at New York’s Second Stage Theater. The opera is headed for the Met in 2021-22, to be conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

New York: Back to back sets twinning Bach and Chris Thile, Nov. 28

Where others see musical fences, the American composer-mandolinist-singer and radio host Chris Thile sees easy collaborative segues, performing pivots, roots and sprouts. We know he’ll play Bach and offer some new music of his own in his Nov. 28 double set at Weill Recital Hall in the Carnegie Hall building; part of his residency as the 2019 Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair involves writing an original piece for those recitals. But in the case of this artist often described as a musical omnivore, all we can know for sure is that Bach and Thile will be talking to each other somehow. Then on March 9, Thile will broadcast live from the Carnegie Hall main stage in an exploration of another rich vein – the Scottish, Irish and American folk traditions.

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