Take a philharmonic orchestra and two musicians from the East Coast of the USA who are not afraid to go over, under, through and right past musical barriers and commission a brand-new piece for all of them from one of the hottest contemporary composers in the world today. Superstars Esperanza Spalding and Claire Chase offer an evening overflowing with stage charisma and street credibility. The new composition by Felipe Lara has been commissioned jointly by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and Los Angeles Philharmonic and is being premiered in Helsinki. The new music will be bookended by the orchestral magnificence of Stravinsky.
A conductor born and bred in Helsinki, Susanna Mälkki grew up to the accompaniment of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2004 she received her first invitation to conduct the orchestra of which she would become Chief Conductor in autumn 2016. Her path to the conductor’s podium passed through the cello classes of the Sibelius Academy and the Edsberg Institute in Stockholm, however, and the position of principal cellist in the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. She made her conducting breakthrough in 1999, at the Helsinki Festival, and her first regular conducting appointment was as Artistic Director of the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra. Her Music Directorship of the celebrated Ensemble Intercontemporain (2006–2013) established her as a profound interpreter of music of the present day.
Susanna Mälkki has conducted the world’s finest orchestras. In season 2017-18 she made her debut at the Vienna State Opera season and took over as Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Musical America voted her Conductor of the Year 2017.
Claire Chase is a real dynamo: soloist, collaborative artist, curator and advocate for new and experimental music, forever taking on new projects. Co-artistic director of Ensemble Evolution, an intensive workshop for emerging talents, she was named Professor of the Practice in the Department of Music at Harvard University starting in 2017. She has championed new music throughout the world by building organisations, forming alliances, pioneering commissioning initiatives and supporting educational programmes and was awarded the Avery Fisher Prize in 2017. In 2001, she founded the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) that, from struggling along on a shoestring budget, became what The New Yorker described as the United States’ “foremost new-music ensemble”. She has premiered over 100 works. One of them, Felipe Lara’s Meditation and Calligraphy, was part of Density 2036, a 23-year commissioning project due to create an entirely new body of repertoire for flute between 2014 and 2036. In 2036, the centenary of Edgard Varèse’s ground-breaking 1936 flute solo, Density 21.5, she will play a 24-hour marathon of all of the repertoire created in the project.
In 2011, Esperanza Spalding was the first jazz singer to win a Grammy for Best New Artist. She has since also won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album and Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals. Raised in Portland, Oregon, she was a veritable child prodigy, teaching herself to play the violin and rising to the position of leader in her local orchestra. She then adding oboe, clarinet and guitar to her range of instruments. But from the moment she began appearing at blues clubs and in bands, bass became an inseparable part of her. At the age of 20, she was the youngest teacher to graduate from the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Since 2006, she has released eight albums. In 2017, she did Exposure, her sixth studio album – everything from lyrics and music to recording in a mere 77 hours, streaming the whole creative process live on Facebook. The 7,777 limited edition copies of the album were sold even before the recording was complete. In 2017, Esperanza Balding was appointed Professor of the Practice of Music at Harvard University.
Follow Esperanza Spalding on Twitter @EspeSpalding
Igor Stravinsky: Circus Polka
Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) just loved a good spectacle: clowns, acrobats, dancers, you name it. But his Circus Polka of 1942 was one of his most extravagant whims. It began with a call from Balanchine the choreographer:
B: I wonder if you’d like to do a little ballet with me.
S: For whom?
B: For some elephants.
S: How old?
B: Very young.
S: All right. If they’re very young elephants, I’ll do it.
New Yorkers must therefore have rubbed their eyes as 50 elephants in frilly dresses and each ridden by a ballerina stomped into Madison Square Garden to the rhythm of Stravinsky’s music – a mixture of bits from earlier compositions and a twisted take on Schubert’s Marche militaire. Stravinsky never saw any of the 42 performances of his polka, but maybe this was just as well, because the elephants weren’t young.
Fausto Romitelli: Dead City Radio: Audiodrome
“Ever since I was born, I have bathed in digitised images, synthetic sounds, artefacts,” said Fausto Romitelli (1963–2004), one of the most original figures in modern musical history. His interest in the relationship between society, the media and the individual culminated in Dead City Radio. Audiodrome (2002), the idea for which came from the book The Medium is the Message by cultural philosopher Marshall McLuhan. “Our perception of the world is created by the channels of transmission: what we see and hear is not simply reproduced, but elaborated and recreated by an electronic medium that overlays and replaces the real experience.” Audiodrome may be interpreted as a musical counterpart to the science fiction film Videodrome by David Cronenberg. Romitelli begins with a quotation from Richard Strauss’s Alpine Symphony, but the direction is not to the peak but deep into the earth, to a land of nightmarish distortions, unnatural glissandos, electronic interference and garbled speech. The message is clear: this is not reality, this is not natural; you are lost.
Felipe Lara: Double Concerto
Says Felipe Lara (b. 1979 in Brazil) of his Double Concerto:
“My Double Concerto encompasses an original large-scale composition featuring soloists Esperanza Spalding (contrabass and voice), Claire Chase (C, glissando headjoint, and contrabass flutes), and large symphony orchestra. Here, both soloists (who will be amplified) will be treated as one entity or compound soloist. The ultimate goal of the work is to (re)interpret the orchestral double concerto genre in the form of a performer-specific work, which will explore aspects of oral,
improvisational, written, and electroacoustic musical traditions (while there are no electronics involved in the performance, there are numerous compositional strategies and processes which would be unthinkable without contributions of electroacoustic composition). This approach highlights the role of the soloists as unique interpreters from different stylistic backgrounds (song,
jazz/experimental, symphonic); they would be invited to negotiate the otherness of their musical traditions, tendencies, and sensibilities. Another unique feature would be the use of the voice in the typically instrumental concerto setting; I will employ texts in Portuguese, vocalizes, as well as noisy vocal utterances. Phonemes, consonants, and modulations caused by vocal/instrumental simultaneities will often constitute the very musical syntax of the work.