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It’s a wild ride when percussive beats meet evocative prose. Experimentalist Luciano Berio plunges into the poetry of e e cummings in his dramatic Circles, saying “Music is never pure: it is attitude: it is theatre.” With electric guitars and wild cadenzas for drummers, the dark and mystical words of surrealist poet Federico García Lorca get a primal, atmospheric treatment in George Crumb’s Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death. Contemporary titans John Cage and Lou Harrison made history when each wrote half of one piece without comparing any notes—literally! Scored for percussion quartet, Double Music is the greatest game of trust ever played in the history of music.
Approx. Duration: 22 minutes
Riverly Is A Flower
Riverly Is A Flower
John Cage / Lou Harrison
(1912-1992 / 1917-2003)
Approx. Duration: 7 minutes
Double Music for Percussion Quartet
Approx. Duration: 30 minutes
Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death
Refrain I – The Guitar
Refrain II – Casida of the Dark Doves
Refrain III – Song of the Rider, 1860
Refrain IV – Casida of the Boy Wounded by the Water
Approximate duration: 22 minutes
The Italian composer Luciano Berio was a leading figure in contemporary music in the second half of the 20th century, and was renowned for his pioneering electronic music and for his virtuosic studies for solo acoustic instruments. Another area of focus, vocal music, owed much to his marriage to the American mezzo-soprano Cathy Berberian. In 1960 she joined the harpist and two percussionists from the Boston Symphony Orchestra to offer the premiere of Circles at the Berkshire Music Festival (now known as Tanglewood). Berio wrote the following program note for that initial performance.
Music is never pure: it is attitude: it is theatre. It is indivisible from its gestures.
The task is to entrust the sense of the musical action to the specific abilities of the protagonists, to give them the possibility of defining for themselves the conditions through which eventuality is transformed into reality, before the eyes of the listener, in the hearing of the viewer.
In Circles the possibilities are enlarged by the presence of the words, Nos. 25, 76 and 221 from Collected Poems by e. e. cummings: “stinging gold swarms...”, “riverly is a flower...”, “n(o)w the how dis(appeared cleverly)world…”. Poems 25 and 76 appear twice, in different moments of the musical development.
Circles is not a series of vocal fragments with instrumental accompaniment, but rather an elaboration of the three poems in a unified form where vocal and instrumental action strictly condition each other. The theatrical aspects of the performance are inherent in the structure of the work itself, which is, above all, a structure of actions: to be listened to as theatre and to be viewed as music.
Recording of Circles with scrolling score
Premiere recording from 1962, featuring Cathy Berberian
Additional information from publisher Universal Edition, including Berberian’s description of the working process for Circles
John Cage / Lou Harrison
Double Music for Percussion Quartet
Approximate duration: 7 minutes
The modern history of the percussion ensemble centers on the confluence of three maverick composers from the West Coast. The elder statesman was Henry Cowell, who wrote pioneering works for percussion while he was incarcerated in California’s San Quentin State Prison. His two chief disciples were John Cage and Lou Harrison, who mounted groundbreaking percussion concerts in Seattle, where Cage worked as a rehearsal pianist for dance classes, and San Francisco, where Harrison lived. The advances that Cage and Harrison made in their 20s did more than shape the sound of percussion ensembles; they initiated a new American tradition that looked across the Pacific toward Asia, breaking the longstanding reliance on European models.
For one of their percussion concerts in 1941, Cage and Harrison created Double Music as an experiment in collaborative composition. As a note on the website of the John Cage Trust explains, they “basically agreed to compose 200 measures each,” with Cage supplying the parts for the first and third percussionists, and Harrison writing the second and fourth parts. They worked independently, leaving the interrelationship of the parts to fate and chance rather than compositional control and choice. For these two men who went on to develop deep relationships to Zen Buddhism, Double Music was an early step in the process of removing personal ego from the seat of power in composition.
Video of live performance
Interview with Harrison on Cowell, the West Coast scene, and Asian influences
Blog post from the John Cage trust on Cage and Harrison
Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death
Approximate duration: 30 minutes
The unmistakable and deeply mystical voice of the American composer George Crumb emerged in the 1960s, during his long exploration of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca (1898-1936). In the liner notes for an album on the Naxos label featuring Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death, Crumb explained this work’s origins and its place in his Lorca cycle. Those notes are excerpted here.
From 1962 until 1970 much of my creative activity was focused on the composition of an extended cycle of vocal works based on the poetry of Federico García Lorca. The cycle includes Night Music I (1963), for soprano, keyboard and percussion; four books of Madrigals (1965-69) for soprano and a varying instrumental combination; Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death (1968) for baritone, electric instruments and percussion; and Ancient Voices of Children (1970) for soprano, boy soprano and seven instrumentalists.
Of the eight works constituting the cycle, Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death is the largest in conception and the most intensely dramatic in its projection of Lorca’s dark imagery. The important formal elements of the work are identified in the title. These are, first, the settings of four of Lorca’s most beautiful death-poems: The Guitar; Casida of the Dark Doves; Song of the Rider, 1860 and Casida of the Boy Wounded by the Water. Each of these settings is preceded by an instrumental “refrain” (also containing vocal elements projected by the instrumentalists, in most cases purely phonetic sounds) which presents, in various guises, the rhythmic, fateful motif heard at the beginning of the work. And finally, three long “Death Drones” (based on the interval of a fourth and played by the amplified contrabass) dominate the musical texture in the first and last songs, and in Refrain III.
The Guitar, starkly fatalistic, portrays a mood of utter desolation, and yet there is also a sense of wonder, of profound mystery. The opening lines of the poem—“The lament of the guitar begins. The wine cups of daybreak are broken. The lament of the guitar begins. It is useless to hush it. It is impossible to hush it.”—contain one of Lorca’s oft recurrent images: the guitar as the primitive voice of the world’s darkness and evil.
The Casida of the Dark Doves, with its undercurrent of irony (indicated in the score: “gently sardonic; in a bizarre, fantastic style”) provides a necessary movement of relief from the prevailing darkness and intensity of the work. I have sought to enhance the eerie whimsy of the poem by directing the baritone to sing in variously stylized manners (“mock-lyric,” “mock-menacing” or “in mock-chant style”). The instrumental parts in the score are laid out in circular notations, which represent, symbolically, “el Sol” and “la Luna” (Sun and Moon).
The Song of the Rider, 1860 is a poem of violence and terror. The song is headed with the direction: “breathlessly, with relentlessly driving rhythm!” and the image of the galloping little horse is projected by the wild, hammered rhythms of lujon, crotales, drums, mallet instruments and electric harpsichord. The climax of the song is marked by a thundering passage entitled “Cadenza appasionata for 2 drummers.”
The final Casida of the Boy Wounded by the Water is my favorite of the various Lorca poems I have set over the years. The dreamlike beginning of this song, with its gentle oscillation between the pitches B and G-sharp and the tender lyricism of the baritone melody, is consciously reminiscent of Mahler. The third and final “Death Drone” announces the dark, impassioned central stanza of the poem. The drone takes the form of a huge, sustained crescendo; at the point of maximum intensity (“What a fury of love, what a wounding edge, such nocturnal murmurs, such a white death!”) the screaming voice of a flexatone is heard; the drone seems to “explode,” and as the intensity subsides the music takes on an aura of transfiguration.
-- George Crumb
Recording of Songs, Drones, and Refrains of Death
Transcript of Crumb’s interview with broadcaster Bruce Duffie
-- Copyright © 2018 Aaron Grad
Aaron Grad is a composer, guitarist and writer based in Seattle. Besides providing program notes for the New World Symphony, he has been the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s program annotator since 2005 and also contributes notes to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Seattle Symphony.
Michael Linville, conductor
Michael Linville enjoys a varied career as pianist, percussionist, harpist, conductor, educator and arranger. The Dean of Chamber Music and Fellow Development at the New World Symphony, Mr. Linville programs and coaches much of its extensive non-orchestral performance activities. Additionally, he is the conductor and coordinator of the New World Percussion Consort and acts as curator of MUSAIC, the New World Symphony’s website of educational videos featuring outstanding artists and educators in classical music.
Mr. Linville first came to the New World Symphony in 1993 as its Piano Fellow. In 1997 he was invited to join the Symphony’s administrative staff and has served in several capacities, including Director of Admissions and Dean of Musicians. As a performer, Mr. Linville has appeared with NWS, the symphonies of San Francisco and Honolulu, the Florida Orchestra and the former Florida Philharmonic. Since 1993 he has been a member of the Breckenridge Music Festival in Colorado, performing concerts as pianist, percussionist and conductor during the summer season and in chamber music and educational projects during the winter. In 2016 he was named an Artistic Partner of the Festival, co-curating its chamber music series with violinist Kate Hatmaker.
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Japanese-American mezzo-soprano Kelsey Lauritano has been hailed by Opera News for her "wondrous power” and by the Boston Globe for her “rippling wine-dark voice with a low range of staggering strength, combined with a splendid stage presence.” Ms. Lauritano recently completed her bachelor of music degree at The Juilliard School, where she was granted the Peter Mennin Prize for outstanding achievement and leadership in music. She is currently in her second year of graduate studies at Juilliard studying with professor Edith Wiens.
Ms. Lauritano performs music ranging from the Renaissance to the present day. This season, she sings Venus in Monteverdi’s balletic opera Il ballo delle ingrate conducted by William Christie. She will also reprise the title role in a concert version of Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges in Alice Tully Hall and Diane in Juilliard Opera’s production of Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie. Also this season, she will perform Luciano Berio's avant-garde song cycle Circles with the New World Symphony and Thomas Adès' dramatic musical monologue, Life Story, on a concert dedicated to the composer at The Juilliard School.
Ms. Lauritano recently debuted at the Virginia Arts Festival and the Boston Early Music Festival. In Virginia, she starred opposite William Burden in Kept: A Ghost Story, a new opera by Kristin Kuster and Megan Levad. She also starred as Cleofe in Handel’s La resurrezione with the Boston Early Music Festival in a concert production led by Stephen Stubbs and Paul O’Dette. She finished her summer in Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz, Germany, singing concerts with the Internationale Meistersinger Akademie, including an opera gala with the Nürnberger Symphoniker and a Liederabend recorded and broadcast by BR-Klassik.
This past season, Ms. Lauritano played the Stewardess in Juilliard Opera's production of Flight by English composer Jonathan Dove and covered Varvara in Janáček’s Katya Kabonova. In concert, she appeared as the alto soloist with the Juilliard Orchestra in Mozart’s Requiem at Alice Tully Hall and in Princeton. She also starred the Little Orchestra Society’s original children’s concert about Leonard Bernstein at the Kaye Playhouse in New York City.
In past seasons, Ms. Lauritano played the title role in the Juilliard Opera’s production of L'enfant et les sortileges. She has also sung with the New York Festival of Song at the Lincoln Center Peter Jay Sharp Theater and in Orient, New York. She made her early music debut, conducted by Jordi Savall, with Juilliard415 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art performing music to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the deaths of William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes. She made her professional operatic debut in 2015 as a Gerdine Young Artist with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Other summer programs include the Chautauqua Voice Program under the direction of Marlena Malas and Michael Dean, the Franz Schubert Institut in Austria and the leading American art song festival SongFest in Los Angeles where she was granted a Sorel Fellowship.
Ms. Lauritano won third prize in the 2016 Gerda Lissner/Liederkrantz Song Competition. In 2013 she placed first in the Hal Leonard Musical Theater Competition, University Division and in 2012 was named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts by President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. She received the Silver Award for Vocal Music from the YoungArts Foundation in Miami. Ms. Lauritano is a proud recipient of the Loretta Lewis Award in Voice, Lewis and Elizabeth Bellardo Scholarship in Voice and the Mildred H. Kellogg Scholarship from The Juilliard School.
Baritone Michael Kelly is an accomplished artist whose insightful interpretations, silken voice and expressivity have garnered comparisons to such icons as Matthias Goerne and Gérard Souzay.
Mr. Kelly’s concert appearances have included Nielsen's Symphony No. 3 with the Cleveland Orchestra and Herbert Blomstedt, Schumann’s Pilgrimage of the Rose with the Houston Symphony and Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Brahms’ Requiem with Indianapolis Symphony and Krzysztof Urbański, Monteverdi’s Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda with Ars Lyrica, Carmina Burana with the Kansas City Symphony and Nicholas McGegan, the premiere of an oratorio by David del Tredici with the Detroit Symphony and Leonard Slatkin, Mohammed Fairouz’s Zabur at Carnegie Hall with Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, Satie’s Socrate and St. Ignatius in Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts with the Mark Morris Dance Group, Messiah with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Jonathan Cohen, Duruflé Requiem at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. Solo recitals include performances at the Saint Louis Art Museum and New York’s Trinity Church, Schubert’s Winterreise in Houston, a concert of Tchaikovsky songs at New York’s Symphony Space with Ensemble for the Romantic Century and several European appearances including dates at Opernhaus Zürich and at the Wagner Museum in Lucerne.
The qualities Mr. Kelly brings to the concert stage are matched in his opera performances. Upcoming engagements include Mozart’s The Magic Flute with Opera Fairbanks and Matthew Aucoin’s Crossing with the American Repertory Theater in New York. He has appeared to great acclaim as Aeneas in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at the Festival de Musica Barroca de San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, Figaro in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville with the Indianapolis Opera, Count Almavivain John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles at the Aspen Opera Theatre Center, Edward Kynaston in Carlisle Floyd’s Prince of Players with the Little Opera Theatre of New York, and as Coridon in Handel’s Acis and Galatea and in Charpentier’s Orphée with the Boston Early Music Festival.
Mr. Kelly made his European debut with Opernhaus Zürich in Handel’s Rinaldo under the baton of William Christie. He played Artémidore in Lully’s Armide with Mercury Baroque and Aeneas in Cavalli’s La Didone with the renowned Internationales Opernstudio at Opernhaus Zürich, where he also sang in Così fan tutte. He has created roles in the premieres of two operas, Miss Lonelyhearts by Lowell Lieberman and The Secret Agent by Michael Dellaira. During his training at The Juilliard School, where he earned a master’s degree, he performed with the Juilliard Opera Theater as Idamante in Idomeneo and Sattirino in Cavalli’s La Calisto.
Mr. Kelly’s wide-ranging musical curiosity led him to co-found SongFusion, an ensemble dedicated to collaboration between singers and instrumentalists, dancers, actors and visual artists. He has won prizes in several prominent competitions, including first prizes in 2013's Poulenc Competition and 2011's Joy in Singing. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music and Juilliard, and was a member of the Opernstudio at Opernhaus Zurich.