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Sixth Annual New Work Program Performed by the New World Symphony

Sixth Annual New Work Program  Performed by the New World Symphony



Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the NWS.  Photo: Rui Dias-Aidos


The New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy (NWS), performed its sixth annual New Work program on April 29th at the New World Center.  The New Work programs are dedicated to commissioning and premiering new pieces from high-profile and developing artists across a range of genres — combining music with theater, dance, poetry, video, lighting and other art forms. The program included a brand new stage production of Niccolò Castiglioni’s Inverno In-Ver, the premiere performance of an orchestral version of Oscar Bettison’s Lights in Ashes led by NWS Conducting Fellow Dean Whiteside, and the world premiere of John Supko’s broken on the wheels of night, a New World Symphony commission composed for viola and electronics.

Conceived, directed, and conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, the new stage production of Italian modernist composer Niccolò Castiglioni’s Inverno In-Ver (1973, rev. 1978) was the centerpiece of the 2017 New Work program. The composition is a series of 11 music poems for small orchestra, and the new production took full advantage of the New World Center’s cutting-edge technology and infrastructure to blend projections, lighting, and scenic design by Clyde Scott, Luke Kritzeck and Damian Sarno respectively, creating an awe-inspiring winter theme. The production also debuted choreography developed by Patricia Birch and Benjamin Holliday Wardell, was brought to life by Mr. Wardell and — on video — Stephanie Fuentes.

The performance was magnificence.  The blend of music, dance, drama, whimsy, technology, and the unexpected was spellbinding.  Watching the musicians leave their chairs and physically engage with Mr. Wardell and the audience in a variety of ways was almost like breaking the fourth wall.  As usual, Clyde Scott’s use of technology was innovative and played a significant role in the overall magic.  Another element of note was Mr. Wardell’s costume, which added a multi-dimension to Mr. Wardell’s character.  Adrienne Tabet designed and painted the blank bodysuit that Wardell wore.

NWS also premiered Oscar Bettison’s new orchestral arrangement of his composition Lights in Ashes. In its original chamber version, the piece was composed as the seventh and final movement of an evening-long work titled O Death (2005-07), about which the composer wrote:

The idea for O Death started when I heard the folk-song of the same name. In the song, a young person pleads with the character of death not to “take them so soon”. I was immediately struck with the parallels between this and parts of the Requiem Mass and so I started to think about grafting popular-music elements (particularly the blues) onto a kind of Requiem Mass structure (a structure which is typically rather fluid to begin with.) As the Requiem Mass normally involves sung text, and O Death does not, I like to think of O Death a Requiem Masque. …

Lights in Ashes begins with Jew’s harps. This section gives way to a … type of clockwork: a slow-moving resonant unison. The movement owes its title to Sir Thomas Browne: “Since our longest Sunne sets at right descensions, and makes but winter arches, and therefore it cannot be long before we lay down in darknesse, and have our lights in ashes.”

Conducted by NWS Fellow Dean Whiteside, the new version is arranged for 23 musicians and pre-recorded audio.  Mr. Bettison was in attendance at the concert.

Preceding both of the orchestral works was the world premiere of broken on the wheels of night, a New World Symphony commission for viola and electronics by John Supko. The new work’s blend of technology and traditional instruments is characteristic of Mr. Supko’s work more generally, including his acclaimed recording with media artist Bill Seaman, s_traits (2014), included in “Best Of” lists in the New York Times and the Boston Globe. Mr. Supko is a recipient of a Fulbright fellowship (2002) and has won numerous prizes and grants, among them the BMI Student Composer Award, two ASCAP/Morton Gould Young Composers Awards (including the 2008 Leo Kaplan Award), and a Meet the Composer “Commissioning Music” commission.

Celebrating National Poetry Month in a way that perfectly complemented the musical program, NWS also presented an interdisciplinary poetry recitation of a new work from American poet Roger Reeves. The NWS-commissioned work is conceived as a “choreopoem” that incorporates multiple reciters, music, and other elements in addition to the poet’s own voice.

The New Work program underscores the New World Symphony’s dedication to the commissioning and performance of work by contemporary artists, while simultaneously providing an outlet for artists; a forum for audiences to experience new works by those artists; and the ability for NWS Fellows to work alongside contemporaries in a variety of genres. Previous New Work events have featured premieres by composers Samuel Carl Adams, Timo Andres, Marcos Balter, Zosha Di Castri, Ian Dicke, Sean Friar, Michael Gordon, Ted Hearne, Bruce Hornsby, Amy Beth Kirsten, Alex Orfaly, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Cynthia Lee Wong; video artists / filmmakers Tyler Adams, Adam Larsen, Bill Morrison, and Pascual Sisto; visual artist Merja Nieminen; audio artist James Andean; poets Malachi Black and Joshua Mehigan; choreographer Justin Peck; and playwrights Joe Tracz and Lauren Yee.