July 22, 2015

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Presents New Works From Composition Institute

NJSOIf orchestras nationwide are struggling financially, those who create for these orchestras are surely further behind. Just as musicians are compelled to play, composers must write, and often opportunities to present the fruits of their labor are few and far between. New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) provided such an opportunity last week with a Composition Institute held at Princeton University that culminated in a concert Thursday night at Richardson Auditorium.

The four composers who participated in the 2015 NJSO Edward T. Cone Composition Institute not only were mentored through the process of creating a work for the orchestra, but were also counseled on the business side of classical music. Institute Director Steven Mackey programmed the concert at Richardson Auditorium with four works from these very diverse composers.

Shuying Li began her music education in her native China, and has received multiple degrees from American musical institutions. Taken by the poetry of Dylan Thomas, Ms. Li composed a work inspired by Thomas’s “Do not go gently into that good night.” Ms. Li explained that throughout her compositional career, she has insisted on her own musical personality, which proved to have a gentle touch with orchestration. Her one-movement Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night was infused with lightly winding strings and raindrops of sound from other instruments. Conductor Joann Falletta led the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra through smooth 7/8 passages, controlling the ensemble well through transitions among sections. Clarinet lines from Karl Herman and Andrew Lamy added to the orchestral palette.

Each composer introduced their own work in this concert which Ms. Falletta called an “evening of discoveries.” Reinaldo Moya explained that he likes to write about “places that don’t exist,” and based his two-movement Siempre Lunes, Siempre Marzo on Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. In his work, Mr. Moya composed a character study, taking the audience on a journey through the novel from the point of view of a central room in the story. Siempre Lunes, Siempre Marzo showed innovative and animated orchestration, with a mournful trumpet solo and elegant viola answered by flute. One could hear a new world opening up as the children of the novel touch ice for the first time, with lush orchestral colors accompanying a solo horn paired with piccolo.

Philadelphia composer Luke Carlson’s The Burnished Tide was commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival, and was focused on the brief span of time during sunrise and sunset known as the “Golden Hour.” Dr. Carlson built the piece on a 12-note chord which recurs throughout the work in various forms. The Burnished Tide was more forceful than the previous pieces heard on the program, ebbing and flowing in intensity. Unique colors were provided by English horn, played by Andrew Adelson, and the orchestration was further marked by a great deal of trumpet.

Brendan Faegre is clearly a product of his times, incorporating jazz, rock, and diverse world music into his compositions. Dirt to Gold was inspired by the music and ideas of American songwriter and singer Beck Hansen, as well as the idea of transforming seemingly worthless things into works of art. The most unusual of these ideas was the use of aluminum foil incorporated into traditional instruments such as trombone or violin to create a unique musical effect. Mr. Faegre also built Dirt to Gold around an ostinato drumbeat taken from one of Beck Hansen’s songs, providing a basis for jazz colors.

Mentor Steven Mackey closed the concert with one of his own pieces — Urban Ocean — which was commissioned in 2013 by the Aquarium of the Pacific. One immediately heard the orchestral sophistication and complexity of a composer well into the success of his career, as the lower strings depicted the sweep of the ocean. Mr. Mackey’s work also showed clever interplay between percussion and winds as the “tidal battle” of Urban Ocean showed that, in Mr. Mackey’s musical view, the ocean will always win.

NJSO’s Composition Institute provided an invaluable service to the composition field and the next generation of composers, and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has always been a willing participant in promoting new music. Hopefully, the audience last Thursday night will be able to look back on the works heard with the eagerness of watching these composers become successful in their own right.