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Musical Profile Showcases Expansive Talents of Legendary Composer-Conductor André Previn for Pacific Symphony’s 15th American Composers Festival
Orange County, Calif. — May 11, 2015
The Concert Features the West Coast Premiere of Previn’s Double Concerto with Violinist Jaime Laredo and Cellist Sharon Robinson; “Honey and Rue” with Soprano Elizabeth Caballero; “Principals” for Orchestra; and “Owls” for Orchestra
One of America’s most versatile and prolific living composers, André Previn, joins Pacific Symphony as the honored guest and focus of the 15th American Composers Festival (ACF). Previn, who has been called one of America’s least easily categorized musicians, began his remarkable career as a Hollywood “wunderkind” and a best-selling jazz pianist. Now 86, Previn has received four Academy Awards for his work in film, 10 Grammy Awards for his recordings (plus one more for his Lifetime Achievement), and he is also an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He’s held a series of major conducting posts, including the L.A. Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra, but now exclusively composes. The concert is led by Music Director Carl St.Clair, whose great admiration for the legend shaped this year’s ACF to reveal the scope of Previn’s prowess as a composer.
The program’s central work is the West Coast premiere of Previn’s Double Concerto for Violin and Cello, featuring acclaimed duo, violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson. Guest Soprano Elizabeth Caballero sings “Honey and Rue,” which was premiered by soprano Kathleen Battle in 1992 at Carnegie Hall and sets to music six poems by the iconic African-American writer Toni Morrison. “Principals” is a 14-minute showcase for principal players of the orchestra, originally written for the Pittsburgh Symphony, which Previn conducted from 1976-84. “Owls” conjures the wise and mysterious animal it was named after, and was composed for the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2008.
This year’s Previn tribute takes place Thursday-Saturday, May 28-30, in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. A very special preview takes places at 7 p.m. when Alan Chapman interviews Previn on stage prior to the start of the concert. Rarely making public appearances these days, much less engaging in interviews, the very private icon opens up for this unique event. Tickets are $25-$99. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.
“After Leonard Bernstein, there’s no one I can think of that has the breadth and incredible expansive intelligence and talent that André Previn does—from his early years in Hollywood to his performance as a pianist, both classical and jazz, to his illustrious conducting career to his composition career,” says Maestro St.Clair. “Name me one other person that has that expanse of talent. There is no one in America that comes close to his range of accomplishments. And, though he was born in Berlin, he’s American and has led some of America’s great orchestras. He’s also a phenomenal composer, so I wanted to honor him especially out here on the West Coast.”
St.Clair adds, “It was during my years with the Boston Symphony in 1985 that I first met him. He’s been an incredibly supportive person in my career, and has always been there when I needed a word of encouragement or advice. André Previn has been an incredibly important person to me, and our 15th American Composers Festival tribute to him is an overdue homage to a great American artist.”
“I’m always glad when my music gets played...” says Previn. “I compose an awful lot these days. And that makes me very happy.”
ANDRÉ PREVIN: THE MUSIC
The 2015 ACF concert begins with Previn’s “Principals,” commissioned for the 10th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s Heinz Hall and written to highlight the principal players in the orchestra. Premiered in 1980, this work was composed early in his career and acknowledges his enthusiasm for the symphonies of Dmitri Shostakovich.
“This concert really reveals the depth of André Previn as a composer because he takes all of his many talents and he melds them into his orchestral composition,” says St.Clair. “‘Principals’ is exactly what you might imagine it would be; I’m looking forward to having our principals be highlighted and showcased in this particular piece.”
Next is the Double Concerto for Violin and Cello, premiered with guest soloists Laredo and Robinson last November by the Cincinnati Symphony in a commissioning consortium that also includes Pacific Symphony and the Austin, Detroit, Kansas City and Toronto symphonies, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. Influenced by Previn’s background in jazz, the concerto is noted for its energy and theatrical opening, with a slow central movement framed by duets for the two soloists.
“What listeners in Cincinnati heard was a sunny and engaging composition, combining deep feeling with Previn’s signature jazzy touch and virtuosic writing for the soloists,” wrote Mary Ellyn Hutton from Classical Voice America. “One has the feeling that the ‘stars’ have been introduced and are now on stage for the show.”
The second half of the concert begins with “Owls,” commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and premiered by Previn as conductor in 2008. Previn’s owls are wise, cryptic and self-possessed. The shape and rhythm of the opening tune establishes an ongoing motif. With its frequent solos and originalities of timbre, this score is both a concerto for orchestra and a study in resonance and richness.
“‘Owls’ is slow moving, but not in a sleepy sense; it’s very mysterious,” describes St.Clair. “It has a lot of incredibly orchestral colors, and ‘Owls’ is a perfect title. Whatever your image of an owl is, that’s exactly what this piece sounds like.”
For “Honey and Rue,” which concludes the concert, Previn has set six poems by the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison to a colorful score with shifting meters. The instrumental parts are both intricate and free (jazzy inflections in the brass; improvised textures from the pianist). Morrison sent Previn poems with the knowledge that the commission was for soprano Kathleen Battle. This evening’s performance features guest soprano Elizabeth Caballero, who performed in the Symphony’s last two opera productions: as Micaëla in “Carmen” and as Violetta in “La Traviata.”
“‘Honey and Rue’ is a blend of jazz and colorful spiritual writing,” says St.Clair. “It’s a multi-movement work, and I think it shows André Previn at his best because he writes so beautifully for the voice, and this blending of voice and the various genres like jazz really captures Previn in all the appropriate ways.”
ANDRÉ PREVIN: THE MAN
Sir André Previn was born Andreas Ludwig Priwin in Berlin in 1929 to Jewish parents of Russian extraction. His father was a criminal lawyer and an amateur musician. In 1934, young André attended a Berlin Philharmonic concert conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler.
“All it took was one beat and I knew I was going to spend the rest of my life chasing after music,” recalls Previn.
As a child he studied at Berlin’s Stern Conservatory. The Priwins fled Germany in 1938 and wound up in Paris for nearly a year before settling in Los Angeles as the Previns. André’s uncle, Charles Previn, was head of the music department at Universal Pictures; his social set included Jascha Heifetz. While still in high school, Previn began scoring and arranging for films. He began recording jazz in 1945. Working in Hollywood for more than two decades, he produced distinguished film scores (including “Bad Day at Black Rock” in 1955 and “Long Day’s Journey into Night” in 1962). He won Academy Awards as music director of “Gigi” (1958), “Porgy and Bess” (1959), “Irma la Douce” (1963) and “My Fair Lady” (1964).
Around this same time, Previn began conducting at MGM, and in 1967 decided to dedicate himself to symphonic conducting and became music director of the Houston Symphony. In 1968, he began an 11-year tenure as the head of the London Symphony Orchestra. He acquired an affinity for Britain and for British music, and became a familiar presence on British TV.
After a short tenure as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (1985-89), he refocused his musical energies on composition.
The Previn catalog includes musicals, an operetta, a variety of popular songs, concert music and two operas: “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1998) and “Brief Encounter” (2009). He has composed for John Williams, Itzhak Perlman, Janet Baker, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Renée Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, and for his fifth wife, Anne-Sophie Mutter.
“I adore just about every kind of music making there is. . . . If it’s well written or well performed, it excites and enlightens me and makes me want to attempt it myself,” explains Previn.
GUEST ARTISTS: LAREDO, ROBINSON AND CABALLERO
Performing for more than six decades before audiences across the globe, Jaime Laredo has excelled in the multiple roles of soloist, conductor, recitalist, chamber musician and pedagogue. Since his stunning orchestral debut at age 11 with the San Francisco Symphony, Laredo has won the admiration and respect of audiences, critics and fellow musicians with his passionate and polished performances. That debut inspired one critic to write: “In the 1920s it was Yehudi Menuhin; in the 1930s it was Isaac Stern; and last night it was Jaime Laredo.”
During the 2014-15 season, Laredo continues to tour with his wife Sharon Robinson as a member of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. Founded by Laredo, Robinson and pianist Joseph Kalichstein in 1976, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio performs regularly at Carnegie Hall, the 92nd Street Y in New York and the Kennedy Center where it is the ensemble in residence. The trio has toured internationally to cities that include Lisbon, Hamburg, Copenhagen, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, Helsinki, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Seoul, Sydney and Melbourne. The trio was named Musical America’s Ensemble of the Year 2002. In addition to his performing work, Laredo’s season includes conducting engagements with the Vermont Symphony, the Westchester Philharmonic and at Carnegie Hall with the New York String Orchestra.
Winner of the Avery Fisher Recital Award, the Piatigorsky Memorial Award, the Pro Musicis Award and a Grammy nominations, cellist Sharon Robinson is recognized worldwide as a consummate artist and one of the most outstanding musicians of our time. Whether as a recitalist, soloist with orchestra, or member of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, critics, audiences and fellow musicians respond to what the Indianapolis Star has called “a cellist who has simply been given the soul of Caruso.” Her guest appearances with orchestras include the Philadelphia and Minnesota orchestras, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Boston, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, National, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and San Francisco symphonies, and in Europe, the London Symphony, Helsinki Philharmonic, Zürich’s Tonhalle Orchestra, and the English, Scottish and Franz Lizst chamber orchestras.
Robinson has collaborated with Rudolf Serkin and Alexander Schneider at the Malboro Music Festival and has appeared with some of the musical giants of our time, including Isaac Stern, Leon Fleisher, Rudolf Firkušný, Yo-Yo Ma, Engene Istomin, Itzhak Perlman, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Mstislav Rostropovich, Pinchas Zukerman, André Watts, Emanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman and the Emerson, Guarneri, Miami, Juilliard, Orion and Tokyo quartets. Committed to new music, Robinson works closely with many of today’s leading composers, including Richard Danielpour, Katherine Hoover, Leon Kirchner, David Ludwig, Arvo Pärt, Ned Rorem, Stanley Silverman, Andy Stein and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, in addition to André Previn.
Elizabeth Caballero’s performance in her signature role, Violetta in “La Traviata,” is touted as “animated, communicative and believable, singing with a big, facile, focused sound while making the vocal demands of the role seem easy and natural.” Her dramatically compelling interpretation of Violetta led to recent engagements to perform the role for houses across the country, such as Florentine Opera, Madison Opera, Pacific Symphony and the Orlando Philharmonic.
“Soprano Elizabeth Caballero made an unusually passionate and volatile Micaëla, for once believable as a love interest,” said the Orange County Register’s Tim Mangan in his review of Pacific Symphony’s “Carmen” last February.
She was engaged to perform the role of Musetta in Puccini’s “La Bohème” for the Metropolitan Opera after grabbing the audience’s attention in the role at New York City Opera when The New York Times hailed Caballero as “the evening’s most show-stopping performance offering a thrilling balance of pearly tone, exacting technique and brazen physicality.” She subsequently returned to The Met in their new production of “Carmen” as part of the “Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD” series. Highlights of her 2014-15 season include a return to Seattle Opera to sing Donna Elvira in “Don Giovanni,” a performance of “Carmina Burana” with Florida Orchestra, and the title role in Daniel Catán’s Spanish opera “Florencia en el Amazonas” with Nashville Opera.
AMERICAN COMPOSERS FESTIVAL HISTORY
Each year, the Symphony explores a different facet of American music through the ACF. Since 2000, the festival has featured composers from Aaron Copland to Ana Lara to Michael Daugherty and artists from Yo-Yo Ma to Stephen Scott’s Bowed Piano Ensemble. By examining this diverse musical heritage, the Symphony points a microscope at who we are as a culture, where we’ve been, and where we are going—some of the most important questions that music can raise.
The 2014 ACF, “From Screen to Score,” presented concert works by four major film composers who at the time boasted (combined) 11 Oscars and countless billions of box office dollars. The Symphony’s concert spread light on the ironic fact that film composers simultaneously are the most-heard orchestral composers ever (the soundtrack for “Titanic” sold 30 million copies), yet their music is the least performed. Curated by Richard Guerin, the concert featured the world premiere of Elliot Goldenthal’s Symphony in G-Sharp Minor, John Williams’ “Tributes! For Seiji,” Howard Shore’s “Mythic Gardens for Cello and Orchestra” featuring cellist Sophie Shao, and the concert premiere of James Horner’s “Flight.”
In 2013, Pacific Symphony celebrated the music of two seemingly disparate figures, representing past and present: the iconic Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899-1974) and living saxophonist-composer Daniel Schnyder, neither of whom fit neatly into a single musical category. Ellington’s works have inspired countless composers and musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries, including Schnyder. That year, the Symphony didn’t just refer to Ellington, but presented the ensemble that carries his name and has been playing together in one form or another for more than nine decades, The Duke Ellington Orchestra. The other half of the equation was Composer-in-Residence Schnyder, who also defied definition. The Festival included a screening of “Faust” with music composed and performed live by Schnyder.
The Symphony’s 2012 ACF celebrated the Iranian New Year festival of “Nowruz,” marking the arrival of spring and celebrated since ancient times. The festival explored the music of Persian-Americans through programs featuring authentic Persian music. Guest artists include the acclaimed Shams Ensemble, Grammy Award-winning soprano Hila Plitmann; Iran’s best-known conductor Farhad Mechkat and Pacific Chorale. Among the highlights was a world premiere by composer Richard Danielpour, whose own Persian ancestry served as inspiration for his oratorio, “Toward a Season of Peace,” commissioned by the Symphony.
In 2011, ACF focused on one of America’s most fascinating and pre-eminent living composers, Philip Glass, who went under the spotlight when Pacific Symphony partnered with Long Beach Opera (LBO) to present the first-ever Southern California Philip Glass Festival. ACF’s “The Passion of Philip Glass” and LBO’s production of the Glass opera “Akhnaten,” plus accompanying events (“Glass Plays Glass” piano recital, films, lectures, discussions) all probed deeply into the man and his music to gain new understanding and a deeper appreciation for one of today’s leading American composers.
Exploring “The Greatest Generation,” ACF 2010 provided a look back at a time largely defined by The Great Depression. The term “The Greatest Generation,” coined by former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, refers to those who grew up in the United States during a time of extreme deprivation but went on to fight in World War II or contribute to the effort on the home front, eventually rebuilding America. The festival delved into this turbulent period and the music that could not have been composed without the somber impetus of The Great Depression. Highlights included a world premiere by composer Michael Daugherty: “Mount Rushmore”; and West Coast premieres of Weill’s “Song of the Inventory” and Walt Whitman Songs (orchestrated version).
In 2009, “Hollywood’s Golden Age,” celebrated the art of film music, past and present by exploring the differences between composing for concerts and composing for film—and how the two styles have evolved into what we hear today. This festival revisited a unique period in our country when a number of refugee composers fled to the United States from a turbulent Europe and found Hollywood hungry for their work. The period was explored by focusing on a handful of composers, including Miklós Rozsa, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Bernard Herrmann, who were contrasted against modern-day masters James Newton Howard and Paul Chihara.
In 2008, “The West: Music Inspired by the American Frontier,” examined “the idea of the West” in American music, sketched by Dvorák and clinched by Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson and Roy Harris. In a later stage, the idea migrated to the West Coast in the music of such Californians as Lou Harrison, whose “Four Strict Songs” were a revelation—as was the Bowed Piano Ensemble of Stephen Scott. The festival’s commissioned composers were Scott and Curt Cacioppo; festival partners included Chapman University, which hosted a multimedia event.
Los Sonidos de México, in 2007, journeyed south of the border to celebrate the remarkable range and variety of Mexico’s musical odyssey, much of which is rarely performed in Mexico or elsewhere. The festival included some two dozen compositions over the course of six concerts and included a commissioned new work by Daniel Catán—one of three participating Mexican composers (also Ana Lara and Enrique Diemecke). A three-hour multimedia Interplay tracked music and visual art from pre-Hispanic times to the present.
In 2006, “Uncharted Beauty: The Music of Lou Harrison” honored one of the great American composers of the 20th century, as well as a pioneer in the use of alternate tunings, world music influences and new instruments. It was the last in a three-year sequence exploring the influence of non-Western music on American composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. The festival included a variety of intimate chamber programs plus a large-scale concert celebrating the music of Harrison. It also featured film footage from Eva Soltes’ documentary “Lou Harrison: A World of Music,” courtesy of the Lou Harrison Documentary Project.
ACF 2005, “Illuminations in Sound,” featuring Colin McPhee, George Crumb and John Adams, was the second of the three-year festival sequence (ending with Lou Harrison) devoted to the influence of non-Western music on American composers. Richard Stoltzman played works by Adams and Steve Reich. Concentrating on the rapturous, the Symphony explored the influence of Indonesian gamelan, featuring little-known works by McPhee and Jose Evangelista. Two rarely heard transcriptions by Percy Grainger of piano works by Debussy and Ravel were performed alongside the original pieces.
“Tradewinds from China,” the first festival of the trilogy, premiered works in 2004 by Chen Yi, Zhou Long and Joan Huang in the course of sampling the historic contribution of present-day Chinese-American composers. Yo-Yo Ma performed a new cello concerto and Min Xiao-Fen played Theonious Monk on her pipa. A children’s chorus sang Chinese folk songs; the Orange County High School for the Arts Chorus performed Chinese revolutionary songs.
In 2003, prior to the trilogy, was “An American Odyssey” featuring the West Coast premiere of William Bolcom’s monumental setting of William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and of Experience” in the course of exploring the interface between concert and popular styles. Additional festival events included a recreation of Paul Whiteman’s 1924 “Experiment in Modern Music,” with its premiere of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” a newly scored set of Leonard Bernstein songs, and an evening of Blake settings by Virgil Thomson, Arthur Farwell, Henry Cowell, Alan Ginsberg and other Americans.
ACF’s “Dvorák in America,” in 2002, applied a visual presentation of the “New World” Symphony, a Hiawatha Melodrama, and costumed Native American dancers to an examination of Dvorák’s American style in relation to such diverse turn-of-the-century Americans as Scott Joplin, Harry Burleigh, Victor Herbert, George Chadwick and Arthur Farwell. Mstislav Rostopovich performed the Dvorák Cello Concerto.
The first ACF took place in 2000 with Aaron Copland and the “Sound of the Americas,” featuring a unique screening of the classic 1939 documentary “The City” with live symphonic accompaniment—the first in a series of Copland film scores that supported his creation of a 20th-century American concert voice. Additional festival events included three films, chamber and keyboard music and special guest William Warfield.
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