Myth, fantasy and a centuries-old Stradivarius violin star at the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra Friday, as musicians conjure the work of two contemporary composers.
In a program titled “The Fantastical Imagination” at the Orpheum Theater, the 60-member LPO will perform, for the first time, Mason Bates’ “Anthology of Fantastic Zoology” and Lera Auerbach’s “The Infant Minstrel and His Peculiar Menagerie.”
Vadim Gluzman is violin soloist in the Auerbach piece, accompanied by the Loyola Chorale and the NOVA VOCE chorus. Carlos Miguel Prieto conducts.
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Gluzman will perform on a Stradivarius violin built in 1690, which has been on loan to him for the past 20 years by the Stradivari Society of Chicago.
Composers Bates and Auerbach are both heavily influenced by the works of Argentine writer Jose Luis Borges. Bates’ 30-minute, 11-movement composition bears the name of one of Borges’ most famous books. Auerbach’s 10-movement piece contains a libretto of eight verses of original poetry, set to music and sung by both choirs and five vocal soloists.
Gluzman, for whom Auerbach wrote the piece and who premiered it with the Bergen (Norway) Philharmonic Orchestra in 2016, termed it a “spectacle.”
"It is a phantasmagorical journey of highly unexpected proportions,” Gluzman said. “I can’t imagine that anyone who comes to hear this piece will expect to experience what they are going to experience.”
The Stradivarius has its own role in the piece, Gluzman said.
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“The violin is the protagonist, and it is basically leading this whole story from one character to the other,” Gluzman said. “It is interacting with and reacting to them. The orchestra, chorus and soloists from the chorus will be portraying all these mystical creatures that Lera has imagined.”
The poems in Auerbach’s libretto, according to one reviewer, “tend to follow the historical form of nonsense verse, many of them taking the story of Mother Goose as a point of departure. The orchestration is full of coloristic alchemy that has become Auerbach’s trademark.”
The Bates composition, commissioned and premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2015, “depicts a journey through the forest with specific movements depicting all sorts of creatures, some familiar, some of Borges’ own invention,” as stated in the program notes. Bates described it as “a kind of psychedelic ‘Carnival of the Animals.’”
Listed by one source as “the second-most performed living composer in the United States,” Bates’ extensive canon includes more than two dozen symphonic works, 17 chamber pieces, eight recordings, an opera (“The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs”) and a film score (“The Sea of Trees”).
He has won several Grammy Awards and, in 2018, he was named Composer of the Year by “Musical America.” His “Mother Ship” composition was performed by the LPO two seasons ago.
LPO Chief Executive Officer James William Boyd said it will be the first time in modern history that the orchestra has devoted an entire program to contemporary music by living composers.
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“This is great for the orchestra and exciting for all of us,” Boyd said. “I’m hopeful that the audience here in New Orleans will come with us for this, even though it might be repertoire they haven’t heard before.”
Although both pieces are avant-garde and vary stylistically from the standard classical repertoire, LPO musicians are up to the challenge, Boyd said.
“I view this as part of a greater progression for the orchestra and a great opportunity for the community to experience some new music — a chance to hear cutting-edge compositions by living composers,” Boyd said. “We always hope for the next Beethoven. You just never know.”
The Fantastical Imagination
WHAT: A concert of contemporary works by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Orpheum Theater, 129 Roosevelt Way, New Orleans
INFO: (504) 523-6350. lpomusic.com