John Harbison: The Great Gatsby Suite (West Coast Premiere)
Joan Tower: Piano Concerto (Homage to Beethoven) (Stewart Goodyear, piano)
Sean Shepherd: Mass Appeals (World Premiere | Festival Commission)
Cabrillo honors a pair of American masters: composers John Harbison and Joan Tower. Harbison, 81, has a way of taking established musical forms—J.S. Bach, Stravinsky, jazz idioms—and transforming them into something absolutely personal and contemporary. His music is “rich with lyrical outpourings” (New York Times) that are filtered through his “rigorously crafted language (Strings Magazine).” The Great Gatsby Suite—adapted from his opera, based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald—abounds in cakewalks, ragtime and jazz, and is scored for orchestra, including saxophones and banjo. Highlighting stage and radio band sequences from the opera (which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1999), the Suite was composed in 2007. Its performance tonight marks the Cabrillo debut of Harbison, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
Tower, also 81, is revered for her “propulsive and visceral language (New York Times),” often bursting with Impressionist colors. Her oeuvre is vast; it includes commissions from the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony and National Symphony Orchestra. A gifted pianist, she composed her Piano Concerto: Homage to Beethoven in 1985, infusing it with references to three of her favorite Beethoven sonatas—the Tempest, the Waldstein and Op. 111. As Cabrillo celebrates the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, soloist Stewart Goodyear—a celebrated Beethoven interpreter —tackles Tower’s virtuosic homage. His playing combines an “instinct for drama and aching lyricism with a sense of freshness, rhythmic vivacity and organic sweep (Gramophone).”
The Festival concludes with a world premiere by Sean Shepherd, acclaimed as “an exciting composer of the new American generation (New York Times).” Music Director Cristi Macelaru concurs, describing Shepherd, the son of Nevada ranchers, as “a very American combination of French orchestral colors with Stravinsky’s ability to use rhythm in a way that feels really organic – but then with beautiful Wagnerian-type melodies! A remarkable composer.” This is Shepherd’s third appearance at Cabrillo and his second commission for the Festival. Steeping himself in the words and ideas of historic and contemporary public figures including Robespierre, Angela Davis, and Greta Thunberg, Shepherd’s Mass Appeals speaks about the profound impact of words, using only the language of music. This is the largest orchestral work to date for Shepherd, who is saying something about the power of language to promote social change. This year’s Festival began with reflections on war and the deep divisions in our nation. In the manner of Beethoven, whose music speaks of freedom, equality and respect, Shepherd now gives us a fitting conclusion, suggesting possibilities of change, transformation and peace.