NOTORIOUS Program Notes

The following notes accompany the August 2, 2019 NOTORIOUS concert program

Agnosco Veteris (2016) 
Nina C. Young (b. 1984)
West Coast Premiere

In book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid, Dido, long in grief over her late husband Sychaeus’s death, is suddenly awakened from emotional slumber by the visiting Trojan hero Aeneas. In an upheaval of emotion, she proclaims, “Agnosco veteris vestigia flammae,” or “I recognize the traces of an ancient fire.” For Dido, experiential time becomes a complex and powerful mix of emotions past and present. The quote resurfaces in Dante’s Divine Comedy. The overarching allegory of this epic poem traces themes of Dante’s spiritual quest through symbolism. Dante, guided by Virgil, achieves literary immortality through the act of storytelling that appropriates and amalgamates references to antiquity, classical literature, mythology, Christianity, and (then) contemporary Italian politics. In Purgatorio 30, Dante feels the presence of Beatrice and matches his emotional upheaval to that of Dido. Dante makes a final tribute to Virgil by stating, “conosco i segni de l’antica fiamma”––an Italian translation of the Latin “Agnosco veteris vestigia flammae.”

This passage is the poetic impetus for two partnered pieces Agnosco Veteris (2015, for orchestra) and Vestigia Flammae (2014, for sinfonietta). While neither work is explicitly programmatic in connection with Virgil or Dante’s literary narrative, the music invites private, distinctive, and profound interpretations in each listener’s experience as she addresses the central concepts of lost memories, vestigial emotions, and melancholy for the passage of time (common themes in my music).

Dante appropriates explicit cultural references and symbols as a tool to weave the narrative of the Divine Comedy. However, when I was collecting the source material for Vestigia Flammae, I abandoned explicit quotation. Rather, I tried my hand at writing imagined faux folk, modal, and fanfare-like source-music that could be mistaken for something pre-existing.

While episodic in construction, Agnosco Veteris is divided into three large sections. Part 1, the “Music of Before” presents the thematic source material, or sonic memories. Part 2, the “Music of Ritual” is a static reflective checkpoint during which the listener can consider the musical recollections that came before. Part 3, the “Music of After” is characterized by energetic renewal and presents a reconfigured collage of the musical material.

—Nina C. Young

Entr’acte for string orchestra (2014)
Caroline Shaw (b. 1982)

Entr’acte was originally written in 2011 for string quartet. It was expanded in 2014 for string orchestra, the version to be performed at Cabrillo Festival on Opening Night, Friday, August 2, 2019.

Entr’acte was written in 2011 after hearing the Brentano Quartet play Haydn’s Op. 77 No. 2—with their spare and soulful shift to the D-flat major trio in the minuet. It is structured like a minuet and trio, riffing on that classical form but taking it a little further. I love the way some music (like the minuets of Op. 77) suddenly takes you to the other side of Alice’s looking glass, in a kind of absurd, subtle, technicolor transition.

—Caroline Shaw

The Saqqara Bird (2016)
Melody Eötvös (b. 1984)
West Coast Premiere

There’s something undeniably intriguing about events that happened, discoveries that were made, and literature that was written at the turn of the 20th century. Until recently, I have been absorbed mostly by just the literature.

In 1898 an expedition took place in Saqqara, Egypt, during which a curious and confounding artifact was discovered. The object I am referring to is a bird-shaped relic made of sycamore wood. Due to a lack of period documentation, the function of the Saqqara Bird is completely unknown. Some hypothesize it is a ceremonial object, while others radically envision it is evidence that the Egyptians were dabbling in the principles of aviation. It has also been posited as a weather vane, an elite child’s toy, some sort of boomerang, and as a featured carving on the masthead of a sacred boat.

This orchestral work places the Saqqara Bird at the intersection of all these theories in an imagined tapestry of the mechanical, the living, and the ancient becoming new again. By focusing on the ‘engineered’ side of this wooden carving as inspiration, I was able to invest a great deal more rhythmic and harmonic stability than usual into my music. A wonderful side effect of maintaining a clearly defined beat is that varied repetition more easily gives way to new, yet familiar, melodic ideas. So, while this piece is a more lyrical and thematically organized work which relies on motivic transformation to propel forward, I will say that it still aims to capture something imaginative and fictional in its Pinocchio-like metamorphosis.

—Melody Eötvös

When There Are Nine (2019)
Kristin Kuster (b. 1973)
Text by Megan Levad
World Premiere | Festival Commission

The composer has provided the following note:

When There Are Nine is a protest piece.

“Did you know that the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in 1967 and it still hasn’t passed? We need thirty-eight states to agree that discrimination on the basis of sex is unconstitutional.

“We’ve had a record number of women running for office and winning, and still, we have twenty-three percent of the House and twenty-five percent of the Senate. I’m getting tired of the novelty of ‘the first female governor of this state,’ ‘the first female African-American mayor of this city.’ When is it going to become the norm instead of the exception?

“How are these young women looking up and seeing someone that looks like them preparing them for the future? We don’t have enough female role models, we don’t have enough visible women leaders, we don’t have enough women in power. Girls are socialized to know when they come out gender roles are already set. Men. Run. The world. Men have the power. Men make the decisions. It’s always the man that is the stronger one.

“And when these girls are coming out, who are they looking up to to tell them that that’s not the way it has to be?…wouldn’t it be great to teach them to watch how women lead?”

— Ann “Muffet” McGraw, American basketball coach, April 2019

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