The Festival’s second anniversary weekend kicks off with a monumental program including two world premiere Festival commissions, one West Coast premiere, an historic tribute, and three composers in the house. Chinese composer Huang Ruo’s vibrant and inventive musical voice draws equal inspiration from indigenous folk, Western avant-garde, rock, and jazz. In the West Coast premiere of Shattered Steps, Huang is a featured soloist performing live vocal improvisation. The work is based on a tune he composed during a trip to the mountains in the Guizhou Province in Southwestern China, and the title translates in Chinese as Sui Bu, which has two meanings—broken steps, and small steps in continuous and rapid motion—each reflected musically in the composition.
Next will be the world premiere of Emmy award-winning composer John Wineglass’ Someone Else’s Child narrated by Broadway actor, singer, writer, and inspirational speaker Charles Holt. Commissioned by philanthropist David Kaun, Wineglass' symphonic poem was inspired by and integrates poems by kids in the Santa Cruz juvenile detention center and poignantly describes the life and thoughts of incarcerated youth in America today. The Festival then salutes an integral figure in its history with an anniversary tribute to celebrated Mexican composer and former Music Director Carlos Chávez. Alsop leads the Festival Orchestra in Chávez’s Discovery, the first-ever Cabrillo Festival commission, premiered in 1969. Of this work Chávez wrote: “To me, ‘discovery’ means discovery of sound, discovery of music, inventing of music...," and he seized the opportunity to forge new and unfamiliar ground with the creation of this piece.
The evening concludes with a most special anniversary work, Woman of the Apocalypse, by preeminent Scottish composer James MacMillan, commissioned by patron Mary Solari and Music Director Marin Alsop as a centerpiece of the 50th anniversary season. This major new work is a concerto for orchestra inspired by a range of visual artworks depicting the Woman of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation, including those by Dürer, Rubens, Doré, Blake, and Marvenko, among others. MacMillan has a long and treasured working relationship with Alsop and the Cabrillo Festival, where ten of his works have been presented in the past. He is described by The Guardian (UK) as "...a composer so confident of his own musical language that he makes it instantly communicative to his listeners."
A Talkback Session with Marin Alsop and the composers follows the concert.
Shattered Steps (2006) West Coast Premiere
Huang Ruo (b. 1976)
Born on Hainan Island in China, Huang Ruo received his first musical instruction in composition and piano at age six from his father. He was exposed to both traditional and Western music at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music before moving to the United States in 1995, where he earned an undergraduate degree from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio and his doctorate at the Juilliard School in New York. He currently teaches composition at the State University of New York at Purchase.
A recipient of numerous awards, Huang’s music is inspired by such diverse sources as Chinese folk music, the avant-garde, rock music and jazz, which he employs to create a seamless organic integration using a compositional technique he calls “dimensionalism.” A number of his works include vocal improvisation, which Huang performs on this concert. Shattered Steps was introduced by the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra conducted by Xian Zhang on September 23, 2006 at Sioux City’s Orpheum Theater. Huang writes:
The title Shattered Steps, in Chinese: Sui Bu, has two meanings: 1) broken steps; 2) small steps in continuous and rapid motion. The starting point of the entire orchestral journey begins with a mixture of these two definitions.
The running chain of small steps becomes the energy drive of the piece. The eternal pulse is constantly present wherever and whenever the music travels. The force rotates among the various orchestral instruments, from percussion to woodwinds, from woodwinds to strings, then passing onto brass, etc.
The entire work is also written in an enigmatic way, closely related to the image of a series of broken steps that don’t belong to anyone, and have neither a starting nor a finishing point. Although shattered into many fragments, they are still closely connected to one another. All there is in this image is a frozen moment of ongoing motion. It is also like a puzzle, waiting for all the broken pieces of steps to be matched back to their original form. In this soundscape, only towards the end of the piece is the enigma revealed, following the presentation of a series of broken musical fragments.
The formation of Shattered Steps also came from a simple tune I composed during my trip to the mountains in the Guizhou Province in southwestern China. This tune, sharing elements from Chinese folk, rock, and contemporary music, belongs to the present of the past and continues into the future of the present. Later on, I recorded it onto two different tracks with my own vocal improvisation. One of these serves as the introduction of this orchestral piece, while another one draws a conclusion at the end of the work. In this concert, I am singing it live with vocal improvisation.
Someone Else’s Child(2012) World Premiere/Festival Commission
John Christopher Wineglass (b. 1972)
John Wineglass received his undergraduate degree in composition (with a minor in viola) at the American University and his masters’ degree at New York University while studying with Justin Dello-Joio at the Juilliard School. Wineglass has received seven Emmy Award nominations, three ASCAP Film and Television Music awards and has performed on five continents for numerous world leaders. Someone Else’s Child was commissioned by Festival patron David Kaun. Composer John Wineglass writes the following notes:
Loosely based on the title and topic of the book by the award-winning authors Jill Wolfson and John Hubner [Somebody Else’s Children], this work is a symphonic poem describing the life and thoughts of incarcerated youth in America today. It uses texts from a select number of poems from The Beat Within–a weekly publication of writing and art from kids in the juvenile detention center of Santa Cruz, California. I was deeply impacted, emotionally and musically, by my initial reading of these works introduced to me by David Kaun, and by my several visits to this guarded facility with poet and volunteer coordinator Dennis Morton.
The opening movement entitled Scarred is a dark description of a once positive ‘light’ entering into a sea of obscurity and eventual loss of identity. This brooding movement, marked Lento in tempo, opens with a six-note tone row or cluster played on the most delicate of instruments in the modern-day orchestra today—crystal wineglasses (no pun intended)—signifying the fragility and innocence of the human soul as it enters this world as a child, unabated until it is eventually ‘scarred’ by some of the perversions of this life. The extended techniques in the piano and harp, along with the ominous bass drum rumble, add to the sense of uncertainty.
Instability, the second movement, further depicts the life of chaos exemplified in the hundreds of poems I read through and includes constant meter changes and rhythmic hemiolas, both polyrhythmic or more specifically cross-rhythmic in nature, throughout. Starting in a 7/8 meter marked Vivace, this movement rips at 180 bpms with blaring French horns and counter-rhythmic melodies in the lower brass and strings. It saunters into a scherzo-like dance exemplifying the wickedness of perhaps the devil himself. I even briefly quote an altered version of Mary Had A Little Lamb for some resemblance of the idealized childhood most of these kids still desire today. The apex of this movement approaches with a chaotic wall of sound that comes to a screeching halt, representing utter brokenness. The narration begins—colored by the orchestra with an occasional period of silence—and the narrator, in a rubato fashion, manifests as a solo ‘instrument.’ Using different lines from the texts of a number of these select poems, a landscape is painted through the voice of detainees, giving details and reflections of his/her choices.
The third movement, entitled The Rise, opens with the text of the sun is in the sky, and offers a ray of light—the possibility of rising from the adversities of life. A slow Adagio with a rising melody in the strings is later doubled with the winds and then accompanied by the brass in an explosive fanfare and narrative celebration proclaiming that even in the darkest of adversity, “I rise… All of me…yet I rise. I am FREE again.”
Text from Someone Else's Child for Narrator and Orchestra by children of the Hartman School Juvenile Hall, with additional text contributed by Charles Holt:
I can hear the keys dangling
as they walk by my cell,
like a rattlesnake hissing
in the hallway of hell.
telling me to do well.
Is it a demon or an angel?
I can’t really tell.
Voices in my head guide me.
My future’s on the block.
Poems are my release.
My mind is turning like a clock.
Homeless for two years. Sleeping in the cold
They say this life ain’t right for a 17 year old.
Am I destined to live this way ‘til the end?
Will I prosper from it or live life in the pen?
What can a band-aid do
when the scar comes from within?
I’m laughing at time
and how I have disappeared
into the shadows.
Now I am standing by a cemetery.
Night stands with the moon –
which is guiding me
along an unknown path
with its merciful light.
But what can I say? I chose this life.
I’m married to my barrio. My ‘hood is my wife.
Am I destined to live this way ‘til the end?
Will I prosper for it or live life in the pen?
What can a band-aid do
when the scar comes from within?
The sun is in the sky
but in my mind it’s still night.
Could I rise?
The shadow approaches
but my heart’s without fright.
Should I rise?
Posted on the porch
with my brain filled with splinters,
my smile starts to fade
and my blood gets cold as winter.
But I wanna rise...
Above the eyes of appearances to the mind
Beyond my predicament where I am free.
All of me...yet I rise
I am FREE again.
Discovery (1969) Anniversary Tribute | Festival Commission
Carlos Chávez (1899-1978)
In the spring of 1967, Carlos Chávez guest-conducted the Oakland Symphony Orchestra, his first West Coast appearance in more than two decades. On the strength of those performances, the Cabrillo Festival approached Chávez in 1968 to commission a new work for the Festival. The result was Discovery, first performed on August 24, 1969 by the Festival Orchestra conducted by Richard Williams. When Chávez became the Festival’s Music Director the following year, the piece was repeated on the opening concert.
In Discovery, Carlos Chávez limited and refined his tonal vocabulary in a new manner, restricting it to a series of very specific intervals while reducing the repetition of notes and motives. The composer provided the following notes for the 1969 world premiere:
To me, discovery means discovery of sound, discovery of music, inventing of music. And constant discovery, which had led me to drastically reduce the use of repetition: if one repeats one does not discover; if one discovers one does not repeat, because one does not call discovery what is already known and just done over again, no matter how disguised it appears to be. A few repeated notes (hardly any), no repeated patterns (rhythmic or melodic), no repeated “motives” or themes. The music proceeds in a constant flowing process of discovery.
All discoveries—I think—ought to be more or less substantially alike: there are elements of gestation, decision, search, strength, doubt, renewed strength, revelation, confidence . . . Probably the discovery of lands was not much more different than the discovery of music is.
Otherwise (you will realize) this music tends to escape from “tonality”; I would not say it is atonal, because such a thing can probably hardly exist.
There are musical intervals having a greater tonal connotation per se than others: the former being fifths, major thirds, major seconds (and their inversions) and all these I have banned or drastically reduced.
So, I have used actually a reduced alphabet—so to speak—which however does not to reduce possibilities but only directs them to unexpected fields of musical expression.
Women of the Apocalypse (2012) World Premiere | Festival Commission
James MacMillan (b. 1959)
Scottish composer James MacMillan has had numerous works performed at previous Cabrillo Festivals, including several American and West Coast premieres. He was composer-in-residence in 2007, and returns this year for the world premiere of hisWomen of the Apocalypse, commissioned by Mary C. Solari and Marin Alsop in honor of the Cabrillo Festival’s fiftieth anniversary season.
MacMillan’s percussion concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel (1992) was featured at the 1996 Cabrillo Festival and The Confessions of Isobel Gowdie (1990), the first of MacMillan’s works to draw attention, was performed at the Festival in 1999, followed the next year by the American premiere of his Triduum. In 2001 the Festival performed the American premiere of MacMillan’s Symphony No. 2 (1999), his Tryst (1989) in 2004 and the West Coast premiere of his violin concerto A Deep but Dazzling Darkness (2001-02) in 2005. In 2007 the Cabrillo Festival performed the American premiere of his Stomp (with Fate and Elvira), composed in 2006, and in 2009, the American premiere of Three Interludes from The Sacrifice (2005-06), Macmillan’s second opera. Last season saw the West Coast premiere of his Third Piano Concerto, performed by French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. MacMillan writes:
Woman Of The Apocalypse is a one-movement orchestral piece inspired by a range of visual art works on the topic through the ages, principally by Dürer, Rubens, Doré, Blake, Marvenko and others. The music is a kind of tone poem or concerto for orchestra. Although it is in one continuous movement, it is divided into five sections, each with a title referring to some aspect of the image and narrative.
The five section titles are:
1. A woman clothed by the sun: Main themes are presented, including a falling figure on piano, harp and percussion, before the drama of the movement is carried forward by call-and-response developments led by trombones, then horns and then trumpets as the music progresses through metric modulations. The falling figure appears in reverse before leading to—
2. The great battle: There are growls in the low brass, but the main thread in this section is led by violas and English horn. An extended series of declamations in the brass choir then leads to—
3. She is given the wings of a great eagle: Here the music scurries and floats, sometimes interrupted by one of the main fragments from the beginning before culminating in a violent surging on strings and percussion.
4. She is taken up: This is comprised mainly of a series of fanfares and ecstatic soloistic writing for string quartet. The violent surging returns before the final section –
5. Coronation: This begins with very high violins and a return of some of the declamatory music for brass, this time in a slow, solemn, ritualistic procession. The strings gradually descend into their lower registers as the music heads to a relentless, pounding conclusion.