By Andrea Moore

Lera Auerbach, Dreammusik

Dreammusik was commissioned for Camerata Pacifica by Board President Sandra Svoboda, in memory of her husband, Al. Premiered by the ensemble in 2014, the piece is a concerto for cello and chamber ensemble, written for Principal Cellist Ani Aznavoorian. In an interview with music critic Daniel Kepl, Auerbach said of this piece, “There is something very theatrical about the whole aspect of concerto writing, the lonely voice against many, this Romantic idea. And I do tend to explore it in this piece. Maybe it’s different from the traditional concerto writing, I don’t have the traditional concerto structure, so to speak…but it’s a very intensely psychologically dramatic work where you have clearly one voice against many.” In addition to the piece, Auerbach, who is also a poet and an artist, created a series of three paintings that speak to the piece, and a poem, “Insomnia,” that is also part of her thinking about it.

Ani Aznavoorian described her first encounter with Dreammusik this way:

"The piece was quite different from what I thought it might be. Lera’s works I have previously played have been quite virtuosic and full of gesture, but Dreammusik is more about texture and color, and almost lulls the audience into an appropriately dreamlike state. Unlike the traditional concerto writing with separate movements, it is an approximately 35-minute work without pause, so the scope and structure of it are two very complex aspects. It is dark and brooding, and tremendously beautiful.”

Guillaume Connesson, Sextet

Guillaume Connesson is one of the most widely performed French composers of his time. He has been commissioned and performed by leading orchestras around the world, including the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, and many more.

Of Sextuor, one of his earlier chamber works, the composer writes, “Composed for my friends, Eric Le Sage and Paul Meyer for a New Year concert, this Sextet was written with festivities and entertainment in mind.” The first movement “Dynamique” is a series of variations, which multiply the rhythmic processes inherited from repetitive American music. The central “Nocturne” section is a soft and painful confidence sung by the clarinet amid a harmonic backdrop of strings and piano. Finally, “Festif” creates a sense of joy and excitement (with an allusion to Schubertʼs “Trout”). The score ends with a cadential “joke.”

Anna Clyne, A Wonderful Day

Anna Clyne is a composer especially noted for her collaborations with choreographers, artists, and filmmakers, as well as other musicians. She was Mead Composer-in-Residence at the Chicago Symphony, 2010-2015, appointed to that position by Music Director Riccardo Muti. She has also been Composer-in-Residence for the Baltimore Symphony, the Berkeley Symphony, and others; this season, she has begun a 3-year position as Associate Composer of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. In her Artist’s statement, she writes,

“My passion is collaborating with innovative and risk-taking musicians, film-makers, visual artists and, in particular, choreographers. Creating new works through a fluid artistic dialogue has consistently fueled my music from new perspectives and has maintained a fresh and exciting creative environment. Inspired by visual images and physical movement, my intention is to create music that complements and interacts with other art-forms, and that impacts performers & audiences alike.”

Of A Wonderful Day, for amplified ensemble and recorded audio, Clyne writes:

“On a chilly autumn evening, I was walking down Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. In front of me, an elderly man was slowly strolling; his walking-cane tapping on the concrete with each step. He was singing with a raw, slow voice which had an immediate sense of both joy and struggle. I scurried up, and asked if he’d mind me recording him. He said yes, and we continued to walk southward as he sang. Then he stopped and we chatted a little. I asked him his name and whether he’d mind me setting his voice to music. Wooly Barbee’s face lit up with the idea.”

A Wonderful Day sets Wooly’s voice—spoken and sung—with the instruments of the Bang on a Can All-Stars who provide a gentle bed of sound. My editing of the original recordings is minimal so as to preserve the directness of Wooly’s voice and the surrounding sounds of traffic, people chatting and the tapping of his cane. A Wonderful Day is the first in a collection of short electro-acoustic works titled Chicago Street Portraits, which combine recordings of local street musicians with live instrumental ensembles.”

John Adams, Gnarly Buttons

The American composer John Adams is one of the most prominent voices in new music today. He came to widespread attention partly through his first opera, Nixon in China, of which The New Yorker wrote, “Not since Porgy and Bess has an American opera won such universal acclaim as Nixon in China.” Other large-scale works include the opera The Death of Klinghoffer, performed several years ago by Long Beach Opera, and the oratorios El Niño and The Gospel of the Other Mary, the latter a co-commission by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He is also active as a conductor and has been commissioned and performed by ensembles around the world. More locally, he has been Creative Chair at the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2009, where he has shaped the last ten years of new music programming.

Of Gnarly Buttons, the composer writes:

The clarinet was my first instrument. I learned it from my father, who played it in small swing bands in New England during the Depression era. He was my first and most important teacher, sitting in the front room with me, patiently counting out rhythms and checking my embouchure and fingering. Benny Goodman was a role model, and several of his recordings–in particular the 1938 Carnegie Hall jazz concert and a Mozart album with the Boston Symphony Orchestra–were played so often in the house that they almost became part of the furniture.

Later, as a teenager, I played in a local marching band with my father, and I also began to perform the other clarinet classics by Brahms, von Weber, Bartók, Stravinsky, and Copland. During my high school years, I played the instrument alongside him in a small community orchestra that gave concerts before an audience of mental patients at the New Hampshire State Hospital.

But strangely enough, I never composed for the instrument until I was almost fifty. By that time my father had died, and the set of instruments I had played as a boy, a Selmer A and B-flat pair, had traveled back and forth across the country from me to my father (who played them until he fell victim to Alzheimer’s disease) and ultimately back to me. During the latter stages of my father’s illness, the clarinets became an obsession for him, and this gentle, infinitely patient man grew more and more convinced that someone was intent upon breaking into his New Hampshire house and stealing them. Finally, one day, my mother found the disassembled instruments hidden in a hamper of laundry. It was the end of my father’s life with the instrument. The horns were sent to me in California where they grew dusty and stiff, sitting in a closet. But I brought them out again when I began to compose Gnarly Buttons, and the intimate history they embodied, stretching from Benny Goodman through Mozart, the marching band, the State Hospital to my father’s final illness, became deeply embedded in the piece.

The scoring underlines the folk and vernacular roots of the music: a banjo player (who also plays mandolin and guitar); a trombone, two low double reeds (English horn and bassoon); piano; two samplers playing a variety of sounds including sampled accordion, clarinet, and cow; and strings (either solo or multiple). The third movement, "Put Your Loving Arms Around Me", harkens back to the "Chorus of Exiled Palestinians" in its extreme simplicity: a diatonic melody set against a strummed continuum of chords. This idea became the basis for a much larger exploration in the 1998 work for large orchestra, Naïve and Sentimental Music. The "naïve" affect that Schiller identified in his famous essay, "On the Naive and Sentimental in Poetry", is an element so beautifully employed in Mahler…and so decidedly missing in most contemporary music.

"Gnarly" means knotty, twisted or covered with gnarls...your basic village elder's walking stick. In American school kid parlance it takes on additional connotations of something to be admired: "awesome," "neat," "fresh," etc. etc. The "buttons" are probably lingering in my mind from Gertrude Stein's "Tender Buttons," but my evoking them here also acknowledges our lives at the end of the 20th century as being largely given over to pressing buttons of one sort or another. NB; clarinets have rings and keys, not buttons.

The three movements are each based on a "forgery" or imagined musical model. The idea for this goes back to the imagined "foxtrot" of my 1986 piece, The Chairman Dances, music to which Madame and Chairman Mao dance and make love, believing my foxtrot to be the genuine article. In this spirit we may believe the genuine articles of Gnarly Buttons to be:

I. "The Perilous Shore": a trope on a Protestant shape-note hymn found in a 19th century volume, The Footsteps of Jesus, the first lines of which are:

O Lord steer me from that Perilous Shore
Ease my soul through tempest's roar.
Satan's leering help me firmly turn away
Hurl me singing into that tremulous day!

The melodic line is twisted and embellished from the start, appearing first in monody and eventually providing both micro and macro material for the ensuing musical structures.

II. "Hoedown (Mad Cow)": normally associated with horses, this version of the traditional Western hoedown addresses the fault lines of international commerce from a distinctly American perspective.

III. "Put Your Loving Arms Around Me": a simple song, quiet and tender up front, gnarled and crabbed at the end.

 –John Adams