American Composers Orchestra

about the concert

DECEMBER 7, 1997 at 3pm

World Premieres by Robert Ashley and Sebastian Currier, Violist Kim Kashkashian to Perform with ACO at Carnegie Hall

Dennis Russell Davies, conductor
Kim Kashkashian, viola
Thomas Buckner, baritone; Sam Ashley, Jacqueline Humbert, Joan LaBarbara, chorus

Composer Robert AshleyRobert Ashley: When Famous Last Words Fail You World Premiere, (ACO Commission)
The first installment of the monumental series of Immortality Songs by this multimedia pioneer.

Sebastian Currier: Microsymph (World Premiere, ACO Commission)
A five-movement symphony squeezed into ten minutes. A frantically paced, restless, quickchanging kaleidoscope, including a 60 billion nanosecond Scherzo!

Betsy Jolas: Frauenleben (U.S. Premiere)
An award-winning new work for viola and orchestra.

Lou Harrison: Symphony on G (N.Y. Premiere)Lou Harrison and Dennis Russell Davies
A major work by a true American eclectic, blending the rigors of his teacher Schoenberg’s methods with Harrison’s own unique melodic gifts and holistic world view.

Pre-Concert Discussion with composers Robert Ashley, Sebastian Currier and ACO Artistic Advisor Robert Beaser at 1:45 pm. Free to all ticket holders.

Tickets: $40, $35, $20, $13 and $9.

For Tickets Call CarnegieCharge: 212-247-7800

8am-8pm 7 days a week. Or visit the Box Office: Mon.-Sat. 11am-6pm, Sun. noon-6pm.Pre-Concert talk with the composers at 1:45pm


When Famous Last Words Fail You by composer and multimedia pioneer Robert Ashley will receive its world premiere at the American Composers Orchestra’s performance Sunday, December 7, 1997 at 3pm in Carnegie Hall. Also being premiered is Microsymph, a five-movement symphony compressed into ten minutes, by thirty-seven-year-old Sebastian Currier. Both works have been commissioned by ACO. Violist Kim Kashkashian will be featured soloist in the U.S. premiere of Frauenleben by Betsy Jolas. Symphony on G, a substantial early work by the eclectic octogenarian Lou Harrison, just now receiving its New York premiere, completes the concert. ACO Music Director Dennis Russell Davies will conduct. Tickets are available by calling CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800.

“If ever there was an orchestra concert that reflects today’s world, this is it,” says Maestro Davies. “In Bob’s (Ashley) piece, we’ve got music that is about concerns of our day, about technology and the future. And it’s about breaking down traditional barriers that separate the arts. Sebastian (Currier) has written a piece that wrestles and plays with contemporary notions of time and our increasingly limited attention spans,” he added.

Baritone Thomas BucknerWhen Famous Last Words Fail You, scored for baritone, chorus and orchestra, is the first installment of a monumental series of 49 works that composer Robert Ashley calls Immortality Songs. The soloist is Thomas Buckner, a longtime Ashley collaborator and champion of the avant-garde, and a singer who, according to The New York Times, “has made weird an art form.” Joining Mr. Buckner are a chorus of three vocalists: Sam Ashley, Jacqueline Humbert, and Joan LaBarbara.

The subject of When Famous Last Words Fail You is immortality and the future. The chorus looks back to our time, eavesdropping on soloist Buckner, who portrays a jazz musician making his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Science. The musician has invented the immortality salve, a wonderful tonic except for the unfortunate side effect of a user’s going to bed as one person and waking up another. Living forever loses some of its appeal when your personality gets randomly pulled out from under you like a rug. For When Famous Last Words Fail You, Ashley has written all his own texts, and has limited both the choral and orchestral parts to a single pitch, which the soloist improvises over. The chorus comments on the soloist’s texts in the manner of a theatrical Greek chorus.

It’s part sci-fi novel, part performance art, and part art music, and it comes from a composer who has made a career of breaking-down traditional artistic boundaries. During the 1960s, Ashley organized the ONCE Festival of contemporary performing arts in Ann Arbor. In the 1960s and ’70s, Ashley served as director of contemporary music at Mills College, where he organized the first public-access music and media facility, and he toured throughout the United States with the Sonic Arts Union, a composers collective that included David Behrman, Alvin Lucier and Gordon Mumma. Ashley conceived the idea of “video opera” in 1980 with his trilogy Atalanta (Acts of God), Perfect Lives, and Now Eleanor’s Ideas.

Microsymph by Sebastian Currier is a large-scale symphony that has been squeezed into only ten minutes. The result is a frantically paced, restless, quickchanging kaleidoscope of five highly-compressed movements. The work includes a minute-waltz that is, according to the composer, “more about the minute than the waltz,” as well as a “60 billion nanosecond scherzo.” Mr. Currier is the 1993 recipient of the Rome Prize in composition, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the prestigious Kennedy Center Friedheim Award. Recent commissions include Entanglement for violinist Maria Bachmann and pianist Jon Klibonoff, Vocalissimus commissioned by the Barlow Endowment, and Theo’s Sketchbook for solo piano. He received his Doctorate from the Juilliard School. Currier first came to the attention of ACO several seasons ago, through its annual Whitaker New Music Reading Sessions, a program which identifies promising orchestral composers. His participation in the readings led ACO to commission Microsymph.

Violist and new music champion Kim KashkashianViolist dynamo Kim Kashkashian will perform the U.S. premiere of Betsy Jolas’s Frauenleben for viola and orchestra. Completed in 1994, Frauenleben was awarded France’s Prix SACEM for best new performance of the year. Ms. Jolas is an American composer who has spent much of her time in France, where she studied with Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen. In taking on the Jolas piece, Ms. Kashkashian has been thrown something of a curve. Originally she was to play a newly commissioned work by Linda Bouchard. A few weeks ago, Ms. Bouchard broke her arm, preventing her from completing the piece. In a quick exchange of phone calls and the overnight delivery of several scores, Ms. Kashkashian and Mr. Davies agreed to substitute the Jolas piece. No problem for a soloist who feels a musician’s most fundamental role is to foster new music. “We cannot forget that the original role of a musician was to tell the news. To go around from town to town and be the news teller. And that must be maintained in the sense that we, at least musically, continue to tell the news with new pieces.”

Lou Harrison’s Symphony on G, which receives its New York premiere on December 7, completes the program. The Symphony on G was begun in 1948 and completed in the 1950s. It is a substantial work that is unique and transitional in Harrison’s output. Its writing spans the time Harrison retreated from the pressures of the New York music scene to Aptos, California where he now lives. Stylistically too, it is a pivotal work, being one of the few of Harrison’s to employ his teacher Arnold Schoenberg’s 12-tone technique (though it is decidedly tonal, maintaining G as a tonal center throughout). In the Symphony on G, Harrison combines this rigorous construction with the strong melodic sense and holistic world view that characterize his later output. “There was a period where Lou’s music was really overlooked by the music establishment,” says Dennis Russell Davies. “Last year, with Lou’s 80th birthday celebration, people began to rediscover his innovative and lyrical style. I am glad to have the chance to help audiences understand the musical depth and strength of this man.”

The American Composers Orchestra is the nation’s only orchestra dedicated exclusively to performing symphonic works by American composers. Through its concert series at Carnegie Hall, recordings, radio broadcasts, educational programs, new music reading sessions, and commissions, the ACO identifies today’s brightest emerging composers, champions this country’s prominent established composers as well as those lesser-known, and increases regional and national awareness of the infinite varieties—stylistic, geographic and ethnic—of American orchestral music. Since its founding in 1977, the Orchestra has programmed 400 works by 343 American composers, including 108 world premieres and 87 commissions, generating more new American symphonic works than any other orchestra. Recordings by ACO are available on ARGO, CRI, Point, MusicMasters, and New World Records.

Major support of the American Composers Orchestra is from Alliance Capital Management L.P., AT&T Foundation, Mr. Thomas Buckner, Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, The Booth Ferris Foundation, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Mr. Francis Goelet, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, J.P. Morgan & Co., and the Helen F. Whitaker Fund. This concert is also made possible with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Additional funding comes from Meet the Composer, Inc., with support from ASCAP, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, JP Morgan & Co, and the Virgil Thompson Foundation.

Tickets for ACO’s Sunday, December 7, 1997 concert at Carnegie Hall are $40, $35, $20, $13 and $9 and are available through CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800. The concert begins at 3 pm. A pre-concert talk with composers Robert Ashley, Sebastian Currier and ACO’s Artistic Advisor, Robert Beaser, is free to ticket holders and begins at 1:45 pm.

 

Return to ACO Homepage

Concert Schedule