Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony aren’t just thinking outside the box this week – they’re stepping right outside it as well! Their program Music for a Modern Age features unique audio-visual presentations of two works – the West Coast Premiere of Tilson Thomas’ song cycle Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind, and George Antheil’s A Jazz Symphony. Also on the program are two works by Charles Ives – From the Steeples and the Mountains and The Unanswered Question – and Lou Harrison’s Selections from Suite for Violin with American Gamelan.
MTT’s Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind for Solo Soprano and Two Female Voices, Bar Band and Chamber Orchestra, is a musical setting of the satirical poem by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and poet, Carl Sandburg. Described by the Miami Herald as a mix of “art song, bebop and spiky modernism”, it was “inspired by the music making of Sarah Vaughan, Leontyne Price, James Brown, and Igor Stravinsky—all artists I had the privilege of knowing” says MTT. The work premiered on April 30, 2016, with Tilson Thomas leading the New World Symphony at the New World Center, Miami Beach, Florida.
The Miami premiere featured the three vocalists who also appear with the Symphony in these first performances on the West Coast. The solo soprano is Measha Brueggergosman – described by esMadrid as “… young and extraordinarily talented ….. who could be considered the new Jessye Norman.” Also appearing are soprano Mikaela Bennett who recently made her professional stage debut as Penelope in John Latouche and Jerome Moross’s The Golden Apple, and mezzo-soprano Kara Dugan – praised by The New York Times for her “vocal warmth and rich character”. Both Ms Bennett and Ms Dugan make their San Francisco Symphony debuts in these performances.
James Darrah – “a gifted young American director”, says the Chicago Tribune – directs Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind, projection design is by Adam Larsen, and sound by Mark Grey.
George Antheil’s A Jazz Symphony was composed in 1925 and premiered at Carnegie Hall on April 10, 1927. Compared by some to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue – which had premiered in 1924 – it led to an interesting degree of rivalry between the two composers, but the similarity is scarce – the smooth influence of swing and the big band sound of Gershwin’s work contrasts significiantly with Antheil’s piece, reflecting the spirit of of jazz, Latin American and French modernist music, with a hint of Stravinsky.
The staged version to be performed this week was, says MTT, “created in collaboration with legendary choreographer/director Patricia Birch, New World Symphony video artist Clyde Scott, and lighting designer Luke Kritzeck”, and premiered by Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony at the New World Center, Miami Beach, on October 11, 2014.
These SF Symphony performances also feature the three artists who appeared in the premiere. Pianist Peter Dugan – making his debut with the Symphony – was described as “a formidable soloist” by the Washington Post, following his recent debut at Kennedy Center with baritone John Brancy. He also appeared with violinists Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell in recent memorial concerts for Marvin Hamlisch. The dancers are Kiva Dawson and Erin Moore.
Violinist Nadya Tichman is the soloist in Lou Harrison’s Selections from Suite for Violin with American gamelan, commissioned by the San Francisco Chamber Music Society and premiered in 1974. A long-standing member of the San Francisco Symphony, and Associate Concertmaster, Ms Tichman joined the Orchestra in 1980, and served as acting concertmaster from 1998 to 2001. She has collaborated in chamber music performances with artists as illustrious as Yo-Yo Ma, Yefim Bronfman and Garrick Ohlsson, and as a member of the World Orchestra for Peace, she performed in Geneva to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.
Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony and guest artists in Music for a Modern Age at Davies Symphony Hall on June 23, 24 and 25. For tickets and further information, visit the San Francisco Symphony website .
San Francisco Symphony program notes, and artists’ websites