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Plenty of new works set for SPAC classical season

Plenty of new works set for SPAC classical season

Philadelphia Orchestra kicks off July 31; Chamber Music Society series starts Aug. 4
Plenty of new works set for SPAC classical season
Music Director Yannick Nezet-Seguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra return to SPAC Wednesday.
Photographer: provided photo

This season will be a grand listening adventure when the Philadelphia Orchestra opens its three-week residency Wednesday and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center opens its six-concert series Aug. 4. 

That’s because the orchestra will perform 19 works never before played at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and all the works set for the CMSLC are new.

So while audiences can expect to hear Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” and see fireworks on opening night under popular conductor Stephane Deneve; enjoy film nights with “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (Aug. 3), Disney’s “Up in Concert” (Aug. 10) and Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” (Aug. 14); hear a few tunes by composers they’ve heard before such as Ravel’s “La Valse” (July 31) or Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 (Aug. 16); and enjoy music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin’s two week presence, most everything else will be new.

That includes works such as three J.S. Bach works arranged by Leopold Stokowski (Aug. 1); Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 1 (Aug. 7); Ginastera’s Harp Concerto (Aug. 9); Wynton Marsalis’ “Swing Symphony” with his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (Aug. 15); and Mozart’s “Requiem” (Aug. 17), which closes the season with Metropolitan Opera singers and members of Albany Pro Musica.

None will be newer, however, than works by Jennifer Higdon and Mason Bates, two living American composers, set for Aug. 8.

Higdon’s works have been performed before at SPAC, but not her “Blue Cathedral.” 

“It’s my most performed piece — more than 700 times,” Higdon said.

Written on commission for the Curtis Institute of Music’s 75th anniversary, it’s a memoriam to her brother, Andrew Blue Higdon, who died in 1998. It premiered in 2000. Despite her grief, Higdon began the composing process as she always does.

“I write from four to seven hours every day and start with daydreams,” Higdon said. “I get sketchy ideas. These are fuzzy. It’s like feeling around in the dark, almost like writing a crime novel. It creeps along. Then I’ll write a short sequence to see chord progressions and draw out a shape. I consistently reassess. It’s an extraordinarily slow process. I’ve sometimes spent six hours working on three seconds of music.”

Although Higdon is one of the most popular and frequently performed American composers, and has won two Grammy Awards

and a Pulitzer Prize, she still finds composing a mysterious process.
“Even after all these years, I still don’t know where my ideas come from,” she said.

Higdon was ecstatic when she learned that Nezet-Seguin would conduct the concert and that it would be put alongside Respighi’s “Fountains of Rome,” Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and Bates’ “Anthology of Fantastic Zoology.”

“It’s an amazing program,” Higdon said.

Bates, also a Grammy Award winner and Musical America’s 2018 composer of the year, agreed.

“Yannick and the Philly are pretty cool and hip,” he said.

Bates’ 2013 work, which the Chicago Symphony commissioned, was a departure from his usual use of electronics. Instead, he said, he decided to base the piece on seven creatures from Jorge Luis Borges’ 1969 “Book of Imaginary Beings” and compose a piece that “would glisten like a Russian ballet score.”

“I challenged myself to do seven distinct creatures … but to do it took my 20 years of composing to have the technique,” he said. “I had to think conceptually — Riccardo Muti [CSO conductor] suggested I be dramatic as if I were in an opera house.”

The result, he said, is “like the Nutcracker on LSD,” and “if the creatures are surreal the music sounds like that.” The work has been recorded and is often performed.

Things will be a bit less fantastical at the Chamber Music Society, but no less rewarding.

“We developed our sixth year’s programming especially for SPAC,” said Wu Han, pianist and co-artistic director. “Some of the pieces are new to us, like the Harry Burleigh violin piece. He taught Dvorak the spirituals or Dohnanyi’s Sextet (both set for Aug. 13). We knew of his quartet and wondered what else he had written. It’s an amazing sextet. We love to expand people’s horizons or to present a great piece by an unknown composer.”

There will be plenty of that this summer.

Pre-concert talks will be held one hour before (Philadephia Orchestra) or 45 minutes before (CMSLC) each concert.

Philadelphia Orchestra

WHEN: 8 p.m. July 31, Aug. 2, 3, 7-10, 14-17; 2 p.m. Aug. 1

WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center amphitheater

HOW MUCH: (evening) $113-$33; $29 for age 29 and under day of performance; $20 children 15 and under; $29 lawn, except $34 for July 31, Aug. 3 and Aug. 15; free lawn, children 15 and under; (matinee) $63-$28; $20 lawn

MORE INFO: 518 584-9330; www.spac.org

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

WHEN: 3 p.m. Aug. 4, 11, 18; 8 p.m. Aug. 6, 13, 20

WHERE: Spa Little Theatre

HOW MUCH: $53- $48

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