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First Impressions: A Guide To New Music In The New Season

By Tom Huizenga | NPR
Friday, September 2, 2016

Interested in Steve Jobs, Georgia O'Keefe or Alice in Wonderland? They are all explored in new music in the upcoming American concert season.

In The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, composer Mason Bates puts the life of the tech exec onstage at Santa Fe Opera, while Missy Mazzoli gives Lars von Trier's emotionally riveting film Breaking the Waves the operatic treatment in Philadelphia. In Letters From Georgia, Kevin Puts creates music for the correspondence of artist Georgia O'Keefe. Yo-Yo Ma plays Esa-Pekka Salonen's new Cello Concerto in Chicago, the LA Phil New Music Group goes to Wonderland, and in the Motor City, jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard unveils a new work recalling Detroit's turbulent summer of 1967.

The many new offerings, all over the country, look tantalizing. Please let us know what we missed on Facebook and Twitter. And make some plans to hear a premiere!


The New York Philharmonic has a few firsts in store, beginning Oct. 13, when clarinetist Kari Kriikku (called a musician of "explosive agility" by Alex Ross of The New Yorker) plays the New York premiere of Kaija Saariaho's D'OM LE VRAI SENS. On Dec. 28, a new orchestral piece by Wynton Marsalis sees its world premiere, while Emanuel Ax unveils HK Gruber's new Piano Concerto Jan. 5. And March 1, Leonidis Kavakos plays the world premiere of the Fourth Violin Concerto by Lera Auerbach.

Upstate, the adventurous Albany Symphony celebrates the 25th anniversary of its music director, David Alan Miller, as he leads the orchestra in three world premieres. On Dec. 8 it's a new orchestral work by Colorado composer Conor Brown; on March 4th, Michael Torke's Three Concertinos for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon; and a new work written for Miller by George Tsontakis on April 8.

What if Edvard Grieg had completed a Second Piano Concerto? On Nov. 11, conductor JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, along with pianist Carl Petersson, will explore what it might have sounded like via the U.S. premiere of Norwegian composer Helge Evju's Concerto in B minor, built on fragments by Grieg.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra celebrates its centennial by commissioning 10 American composers to write short works. Baltimore Bomb, by Pulitzer winner Caroline Shaw, premieres on the orchestra's opening gala Sept. 17. UNSUNG by Lori Laitman debuts Sept. 29, while Double Play by TJ Cole premieres Nov. 18 and Dancin' Blue Crabs by Jonathan Leshnoff debuts Feb. 16. The GAME, by Christopher Theofanidis, premieres June 15.

About to start his fifth season with the Philadelphia Orchestra, music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin (who was recently named music director of the Metropolitan Opera, as of 2020) leads the world premiere of the Organ Concerto by Christopher Rouse with soloist Paul Jacobs Nov. 17. On March 30, Bramwell Tovey leads the world premiere of the Duo Concerto for Vibraphone and Marimba, based on music by Pat Metheny and arranged by the orchestra's principal percussionist, Christopher Deviney.

In Washington, D.C. Oct. 27, violinist Nicola Benedetti joins the National Symphony Orchestra as soloist in the East Coast premiere of Wynton Marsalis' Violin Concerto. May 24, Kennedy Center composer-in-residence Mason Bates unveils a new orchestral work as a part of the season-long John F. Kennedy Centennial Celebration.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra and music director Andris Nelsons present the world premiere of Everything Happens So Much by Timo Andres on Nov. 15. Sofia Gubaidulina's Triple Concerto for Violin, Cello and Bayan (a Russian button accordion) receives its American premiere Feb. 23. On March 24, François-Xavier Roth leads the BSO in the world premiere of Mattias Pintscher's Cello Concerto with soloist Alisa Weilerstein.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic is flush with premieres. On Oct. 1, The LA Phil New Music group, led by John Adams, presents four world premieres, including a piece for piano and chamber orchestra by Ingram Marshall and a work by 16-year-old composer and clarinetist Andrew Moses. On April 1, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, the Philharmonic's assistant conductor, leads the orchestra in the U.S. premiere of the Concerto Grosso No. 1 for Alpine Horns and Orchestra by Georg Friedrich Haas. On April 13, the orchestra and conductor laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen join the Icelandic rock band Sigur Rós in a concert that includes the world premiere of the young Danish composer Daníel Bjarnason's Violin Concerto.

Up the coast in Portland, percussionist Colin Currie starts his second year as artist-in-residence with the Oregon Symphony. Along with music director Carlos Kalmar, Currie performs the West Coast premiere of Andrew Norman's propulsive Switch Oct. 22. On March 11, the orchestra plays the world premiere of a work commissioned from Portland composer Kenji Bunch.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra and music director Leonard Slatkin lead off their season Sept. 29 with the world premiere of Big Data by Ferran Cruixent, a Spanish composer known for blending acoustic instruments and technology. Jazz pianist Michel Camilo joins the DSO April 21 for the world premiere of his Concerto for Jazz Trio and Orchestra, while on March 3 jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard debuts a new work exploring the 50th anniversary of historic unrest in Detroit in the summer of 1967.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra premieres Australian composer Carl Vine's Five Hallucinations Oct. 6 with conductor James Gaffigan and CSO trombonist Michael Mulcahy as soloist. On March 9, Yo-Yo Ma joins the orchestra in the world premiere of Esa-Pekka Salonen's Cello Concerto with the composer on the podium, then on June 15 Pulitzer-winning composer Melinda Wagner's Proceed, Moon gets its world premiere with guest conductor Susanna Mälkki.

The Alabama Symphony presents three world premieres. Matthew Aucoin's new Piano Concerto debuts Oct. 7 with soloist Conor Hanick, while the orchestra's composer-in-residence, Susan Botti, reveals a new piece Feb. 3. Carlos Izcaray, who starts his second season as the symphony's music director, also composes; a new piece, tentatively titled Yellowhammer (after Alabama's state bird), premieres May 5.

Jaap van Zweden, the next music director of the New York Philharmonic, will lead the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in the world premiere of Pulitzer winner Christopher Rouse's Fifth Symphony.


David Lang's new one-act opera the loser headlines the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival on Sept. 7. Based on a novel by Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, the production is placed above the stage (with mezzanine-only seating) and stars baritone Rod Gilfry as a disillusioned piano student trapped in the shadow of his friend Glenn Gould. Pianist Conrad Tao and a chamber orchestra provide accompaniment from a distance.

The San Francisco Opera mounts the Sept. 10 world premiere of Dream of the Red Chamber, a new work by Bright Sheng — with a libretto by Henry David Hwang (M. Butterfly) and the composer — based on one of China's iconic romantic novels.

On Sept. 22, Opera Philadelphia presents the world premiere of Breaking the Waves by Missy Mazzoli, with a libretto by Royce Varek. The chamber opera is based on the dramatically intense 1996 film of the same name by Lars von Trier.

A new project by composer Kevin Puts, who won a Pulitzer for his opera Silent Night, is focused on the iconic Southwest painter Georgia O'Keefe. Letters From Georgia, for soprano and orchestra, receives its world premiere Nov. 12 by Renée Fleming and the Eastman Philharmonia in Rochester, N.Y. Both Puts and Fleming are Eastman School of Music alums.

Versatile soprano, conductor and new music champion Barbara Hannigan sings the title role in the world premiere of Alice's Adventures Under Ground by Gerald Barry. The opera, based on the beloved Lewis Carroll books, receives its world premiere at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Nov. 22, with Thomas Adès conducting the LA Philharmonic New Music Group.

In 1903, New York's Metropolitan Opera produced an opera composed by a woman for the first time. They've never done another. That will change Dec. 1 as the Met mounts Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's L'Amour de loin, based on the story of a 12th-century troubadour and starring Eric Owens and Susanna Phillips, with conductor Susanna Mälkki.

Houston Grand Opera presents the world premiere of It's a Wonderful Life Dec. 2. The classic 1946 Frank Capra film starring Jimmy Stewart gets a makeover by composer Jake Heggie (Dead Man Walking, Moby Dick) and librettist Gene Scheer (Cold Mountain).

Mohammed Fairouz unveils a new hour-long opera, The Dictator's Wife, at Washington National Opera Jan. 13. The work, part of the company's American Opera Initiative Festival, is based on the play of the same title by Mohammed Hanif, who also wrote the opera's libretto.

The courtroom drama Voir Dire, adapted from true stories by composer Matthew Peterson and librettist Jason Zencka, receives its world premiere at Fort Worth Opera April 23.

The 2016 season of the Santa Fe Opera just closed, but eyes are already on next year, when the company debuts The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, a new opera by Mason Bates with a libretto by Mark Campbell (Silent Night, The Manchurian Candidate), opening July 22.


Composer Glenn Branca, known for his experimental works with guitars, unveils a new work dedicated to David Bowie on Oct 8. The Light (for David) receives its world premiere at Roulette in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Emerson String Quartet is entering its 40th season, and to celebrate, the group gives the New York premiere of a new piece by Mark-Anthony Turnage Oct. 23 at New York's Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Also at CMSLC, cellist Alisa Weilerstein joins pianist Inon Barnatan and clarinetist Anthony McGill for the world premiere of a new trio by Joseph Hallman on Jan. 24. The society also has programmed a series of new music concerts at the Rose Studio, which include music by Steve Reich, Zhou Long, Kaija Saariaho and many others.

The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music Series offers a number of debuts, including the world premiere of a new chamber music work by jazz trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and rapper Kool A.D. on Feb. 15 in St. Paul, Minn. Sara Kirkland Snider's evocative multimedia song cycle Unremembered gets its U.S. premiere March 11, and includes singers Shara Nova (My Brightest Diamond), Padma Newsome and DM Stith with poetry and visuals by Nathaniel Bellows. The vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth unveils an "evening of sound explorations" in collaboration with Nick Zammuto on April 5.

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