Press

Wed, September 21, 2016

Ferveur et exaltation
Le Devoir

Christopher Jackson, cofondateur du SMAM il y a 42 ans (son complice Réjean Poirier tenait lundi la partie d’orgue), directeur musical emblématique de l’institution pendant près de trois décennies et leader de la musique ancienne au Canada, affectionnait particulièrement les Vêpres de la Vierge de Monteverdi. Le programme du concert en son hommage, lors duquel les musiciens ont offert leur prestation afin que l’ensemble des recettes contribue à la pérennité de l’institution, allait donc de soi.

La seconde annonce préalable fut celle du chef Julian Wachner nous informant que, contrairement à ce qu’indiquait le programme, les Vêpres seraient données sans pause. Heureuse et capitale initiative, préservant le souffle et l’architecture de l’oeuvre, mais confrontant également l’auditeur à l’éclatement progressif des espaces sonores (déploiement en double-choeur, puis utilisation des effets d’écho) comme en un big bang musical.

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CRITIQUE CONCERT

Ferveur et exaltation

21 septembre 2016 |Christophe Huss | Musique

Concert à la mémoire de Christopher Jackson. Monteverdi : Vespro della Beata Vergine. Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal, Julian Wachner. Église Saint-Léon de Westmount, 19 septembre 2016.

Un grand moment musical en mémoire d’un grand bonhomme, à quelques jours du premier anniversaire de la mort. L’église Saint-Léon de Westmount était pleine à craquer lundi soir pour un concert que Marie-Christine Trottier, présidente du Conseil d’administration du Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal (SMAM), annonçait au micro« rempli d’amour et de reconnaissance ».

Christopher Jackson, cofondateur du SMAM il y a 42 ans (son complice Réjean Poirier tenait lundi la partie d’orgue), directeur musical emblématique de l’institution pendant près de trois décennies et leader de la musique ancienne au Canada, affectionnait particulièrement les Vêpres de la Vierge de Monteverdi. Le programme du concert en son hommage, lors duquel les musiciens ont offert leur prestation afin que l’ensemble des recettes contribue à la pérennité de l’institution, allait donc de soi.

La seconde annonce préalable fut celle du chef Julian Wachner nous informant que, contrairement à ce qu’indiquait le programme, les Vêpres seraient données sans pause. Heureuse et capitale initiative, préservant le souffle et l’architecture de l’oeuvre, mais confrontant également l’auditeur à l’éclatement progressif des espaces sonores (déploiement en double-choeur, puis utilisation des effets d’écho) comme en un big bang musical.

Grande ferveur

Un événement si émouvant avait toutes les chances d’être habité par une grande ferveur. Mais il courait aussi le risque d’être paralysé par l’émotion, d’autant que les principaux solistes — Marie Magistry, Stephanie Manias, Nils Brown, Michiel Schrey, Bernard Cayouette, Normand Richard et Martin Auclair — émanaient du choeur. Absorber une vague d’émotion débordante en choeur est une chose ; l’assumer en s’exposant au-devant de la scène en est une autre. Et pourtant, à tout moment, ferveur et exaltation dominaient.

Certes, le premier « exposé », Michiel Schrey dans Nigra sum, a converti sa tension en une nasalisation excessive. Mais la réussite de ce solo très orphique l’a détendu pour la suite et a rassuré tous les solistes, qui se sont engagés dans une positive joute vocale.

Élan mystique

Dans l’esprit de Christopher Jackson, Julian Wachner a amené les troupes du SMAM à célébrer ces Vêpres de la Vierge avec un sens exceptionnel de l’élan mystique. Dans la lecture de l’oeuvre, nous étions nettement sur le versant sacré du théâtre, avec une vision grandiose, plutôt que sur l’imbrication sacré-profane plus bondissante et à taille humaine prônée par un Leonardo Garcia-Alarcon. De là, de cette célébration d’une oeuvre plus grande que nature, l’explosion vocale de Lauda Jerusalem, la gradation duNisi Dominus, mais aussi des jeux d’ombre et de lumière dans le Dixit Dominus, de plans et de volumes dans le Laetatus sum.

Les grands moments (appariement vocal des deux sopranos dans Pulchra es, mystérieuse invocation de la Trinité dans Duo seraphim) ont cimenté une soirée inoubliable, un digne hommage, montrant au passage l’unicité et le caractère vital du SMAM dans notre paysage musical.

Mon, September 19, 2016

Remembering Christopher Jackson
Breakfast Television Montréal

Julian talks to BTMTL about a special concert to honor the memory of his good friend Christopher Jackson, founding artistic director of Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal.

Fri, September 16, 2016

Classical Music to Come: A Finnish Star, Minimalism and Wagner
The New York Times

‘TIME’S ARROW’ Fresh from its revivifying holiday performances of Handel’s “Messiah,” which set the New York standard, the musical forces of Trinity Wall Street, under Julian Wachner, turn to their annual winter festival, formerly known as Twelfth Night. Early and new music come together this year to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the completion of the church’s St. Paul’s Chapel. The premieres include Paola Prestini’s installment in Trinity’s ongoing “Mass Reimaginings” series. Jan. 1-12, trinitywallstreet.org.

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Classical Music to Come: A Finnish Star, Minimalism and Wagner

By ZACHARY WOOLFESEPT. 16, 2016

Dates are subject to change.

September

JACK QUARTET This essential, uncannily assured new-music ensemble is making a personnel change, trading out two of its members for new players. A transitional version of the team performs at the end of a four-day festival at the tiny loft space Spectrum, featuring the alert music of Robert Morris. (The fully new JACK makes its debut Oct. 30 and 31 at the Park Avenue Armory, with the premiere of Roger Reynolds’s multimedia, acoustic- and computer-derived “FLiGHT.”) Sept. 18, jackquartet.com.

ALAN GILBERT’S FINAL SEASON As the New York Philharmonic’s music director since 2009, Mr. Gilbert has done his best to deliver a jolt of experimentation to a hidebound (not to say intransigent) institution. He will depart in June with a final program promising to “foster the idea of a global community,” but before that he will lead premieres by John Corigliano, Wynton Marsalis, HK Gruber, Lera Auerbach, Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Philharmonic’s composer in residence, including his new cello concerto for Yo-Yo Ma. Not all is new: Classics by Berlioz, Beethoven, Brahms and others are on Mr. Gilbert’s agenda, as is his first time leading Handel’s “Messiah” as music director and an impeccably cast concert performance of Wagner’s “Das Rheingold.” It’s a characteristically heady, even giddy, blend — a reminder that if New York may be gaining a more charismatic force in the standard repertory in Mr. Gilbert’s successor, Jaap van Zweden, it may well be losing something more precious than that. Sept. 21, David Geffen Hall, nyphil.org.

‘BREAKING THE WAVES’ Based on the bleaker-than-bleak 1996 Lars von Trier film about a woman whose disabled husband urges her to have sex with other men, this new opera by Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek is likely to elicit fewer laughs than “The Barber of Seville.” But the work’s ambition is par for the course for the young Opera Philadelphia, whose season also includes a setting of Verdi’s “Macbeth” in war-torn Africa and Rossini’s “Tancredi,” starring the redoubtable Stephanie Blythe. Opens Sept. 22, operaphila.org.

‘TRISTAN UND ISOLDE’ Wagner’s epochal experiment in duration pushed tonality and the human voice nearly as far as they could go. Opening the Metropolitan Opera’s season, “Tristan” is less upbeat gala fare than a test of a company’s resources — particularly its orchestra. The Met players, long buffed in Wagner by James Levine, will be led by the more febrile Simon Rattle, in just his second Met outing. (On Sept. 18, he conducts the St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys in a tribute to its late director, John Scott.) Mariusz Trelinski, who staged a haunting double bill of “Iolanta” and “Bluebeard’s Castle” at the Met last year, directs; Nina Stemme, bringing both power and control, and Stuart Skelton are the star-crossed leads, joined by Ekaterina Gubanova, Evgeny Nikitin and René Pape. Opens Sept. 26, metopera.org.

DETROIT SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Under its music director, Leonard Slatkin, this ensemble punches well above its weight in presenting new, often American music. A thread running through this season, “Gershwin and His Children,” explores the influence of pop culture on classical music, featuring works by Milhaud, Bernstein, Corigliano, Lalo Schifrin, Terence Blanchard and Gabriel Prokofiev, among others. The opening concert includes “Big Data” by the Spanish composer Ferran Cruixent, known for blending traditional instruments and technology. Sept. 29, dso.org.

JOHN ADAMS AT 70 Philip Glass may have the mainstream recognition, but Mr. Adams is the contemporary American composer most enthusiastically embraced by the classical establishment. His 70th birthday will be celebrated around the country: On Sept. 29, the Los Angeles Philharmonic opens its subscription season with the Beethoven-sampling “Absolute Jest,” which the New York Philharmonic will also play, alongside the grand “Harmonielehre,” in March. Los Angeles will later present the endearing oratorio “El Niño” and the seminal opera “Nixon in China,” which will also return to Houston Grand Opera, the site of its 1987 premiere. In March, the St. Louis Symphony brings to Carnegie Hall Mr. Adams’s swarming “Gospel According to the Other Mary.” (St. Louis’s recording of Mr. Adams’s violin concerto “Scheherazade.2” is to be released by Nonesuch Records on Sept. 30.) laphil.com.

TENET The medieval innovator Guillaume de Machaut is the subject of “The Cycle of Invention,” this accomplished early-music ensemble’s trio of concerts at the Tenri Cultural Institute. (The group will also perform Monteverdi’s Vespers in December and Bach’s “St. John Passion” in March.) Sept. 30, Jan. 13, May 5, tenet.nyc.

‘THE HUNGER’ Using opera to relate history, Donnacha Dennehy’s lush new score explores Ireland’s Great Famine, drawing on first-person accounts, video commentary and early recordings of Irish folk songs. Alan Pierson conducts the ensemble Alarm Will Sound at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; the staging is by Tom Creed, with designs by Jim Findlay. Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, bam.org.

October

SIMÓN BOLÍVAR SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA OF VENEZUELACarnegie Hall opens its season with this barnstorming ensemble of young musicians from a nation in crisis, led by its star conductor, Gustavo Dudamel. The first night of three has a dance theme, including Ravel’s “La Valse” and Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” The next evening brings works by Juan Carlos Nuñez, Paul Desenne and Heitor Villa-Lobos; the run closes with Messiaen’s sprawling “Turangalîla-Symphonie.” Oct. 6-8,carnegiehall.org.

‘TRANSCENDENTAL’ When the young pianist Daniil Trifonov played Liszt’s complete “Transcendental Études” at Carnegie Hall in 2014, David Allen called it a “flabbergasting, exhausting achievement” in The New York Times. In the liner notes of his new recording, Mr. Trifonov calls these pieces “existential meditations,” and he has added a second disc to encompass Liszt’s other solo-piano études. (He returns to Carnegie in December, not with Liszt but Schumann, Shostakovich and Stravinsky.) Oct. 7, Deutsche Grammophon.

‘THE HOUSE TAKEN OVER’ Based on a short story by Julio Cortázar, Vasco Mendonça’s tense opera disintegrates from realism into stylization. R. B. Schlather’s production, the work’s American premiere, is copresented by National Sawdust, the Manhattan School of Music (Etienne Siebens conducts the school’s orchestra), and the Aix-en-Provence Festival, where the opera had its premiere in 2013. Oct. 9, nationalsawdust.org.

‘CASSANDRA’ A musicologist once wrote that an almost telepathic similarity of subject and style links this crushing 1905 opera by Vittorio Gnecchi with Strauss’s “Elektra” (1909). The comparisons can be made anew as Teatro Grattacielo, devoted to Italian rarities, brings the Gnecchi work out of mothballs at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Gerald W. Lynch Theater. Oct. 8, grattacielo.org.

GLENN BRANCA A master of the overwhelmingly ecstatic, this composer and guitarist continues his experiments with the fearsome roar of multiple electric guitars, in different tunings, with “The Third Ascension” and “The Light (for David),” dedicated to David Bowie, at Roulette. Oct. 8,roulette.org.

PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA Appearing first with a longtime collaborator, Simon Rattle, for Mahler’s Sixth Symphony at Carnegie Hall, this luxe ensemble then has three more Carnegie dates (Nov. 15, March 7, May 9) with its current music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. The programs suffer from a puzzling dearth of music by living composers — instead, Ravel, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Schumann — and, indeed, little off the beaten path at all, though Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1 (“Jeremiah”) gets an unusual hearing, and Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” will show off an as-yet-little-heard Expressionist side of Mr. Nézet-Séguin’s opera work. Oct. 10, philorch.org.

‘CIRCLE MAP’ It’s Kaija Saariaho’s fall in New York, with a number of events surrounding the Met premiere of her opera “L’Amour de Loin” in December. The New York Philharmonic offers a preview of sorts with a program of four mostly recent works, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen (a longtime Saariaho collaborator) and staged by Pierre Audi in the soaring drill hall at the Park Avenue Armory. (The Mannes School of Music presents Ms. Saariaho’s somber oratorio “La Passion de Simone” in November, and the Juilliard School’s Axiom ensemble will devote a concert to her on Dec. 12.) Oct. 13-14, armoryonpark.org.

PEOPLES’ SYMPHONY CONCERTS One of the best deals in classical music, this venerable series presents world-class performers for less than $10 a ticket. The season begins with the violin-piano team of Jennifer Koh and Shai Wosner and also includes the violinists Augustin Hadelich and Christian Tetzlaff; the Juilliard String Quartet; and the pianists Yefim Bronfman, Paul Lewis and Garrick Ohlsson. Oct. 15, pscny.org.

‘WINTERREISE’ Last year, the piercingly poignant tenor Mark Padmore sang this classic Schubert song cycle to open Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival. Do you need to hear him do it again? Yes — because this time it’s not precisely Schubert, but rather Hans Zender’s constantly surprising “composed interpretation” of the cycle, an arrangement for small orchestra being performed at Carnegie Hall with Simon Rattle conducting the hall’s resident Ensemble Connect. (It’s truly a “Winterreise” season at Carnegie, with more traditional renditions coming from Ian Bostridge and Thomas Adès on Oct. 23, then Alice Coote and Julius Drake on Feb. 4.) Oct. 16.

WHITE LIGHT FESTIVAL Vaguely spiritual in theme, Lincoln Center’s fall festival begins with “Human Requiem,” a staging of Brahms’s great “German Requiem” organized by Simon Halsey, choirmaster par excellence, and featuring the Berlin Radio Choir. That group also performs a program of Bach, Brahms, Schoenberg and Knut Nystedt, and Gianandrea Noseda leads the London Symphony Orchestra, its chorus prepared by Mr. Halsey, in Verdi’s Requiem. The choreographer Mark Morris has organized an immersion in Indian music; William Kentridge directs a puppet-theater production of Monteverdi’s “Il Ritorno d’Ulisse”; and the pianist Jeremy Denk’s solo recital spans Machaut to Philip Glass. (On Oct. 15, Mr. Denk opens the 92nd Street Y’s season with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.) Oct. 16-Nov. 16, whitelightfestival.org.

‘GUILLAUME TELL’ Rossini’s expansive final opera, not heard at the Met since 1931, returns to the company in a light-soaked production by Pierre Audi. In his last season as principal conductor (a position once widely thought to be his steppingstone to the music directorship that has now gone to Yannick Nézet-Séguin), Fabio Luisi leads a cast that includes the intelligent baritone Gerald Finley in the title role, Marina Rebeka as Mathilde and the platinum-toned tenor Bryan Hymel as Arnold. Opens Oct. 18.

AMERICAN SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Leon Botstein uses his ensemble as a kind of drill, delving deep into the repertory to unearth forgotten treasures. A four-program season at Carnegie Hall begins with a double bill of one-act operas — Krenek’s “Der Diktator” and Strauss’s “Friedenstag” — written between the world wars. (The other concerts explore Leonard Bernstein’s circle in Boston, 20th-century Czech composers and Elgar’s oratorio “The Apostles.”) Oct. 19,americansymphony.org.

‘THE SOURCE’ A 21st-century masterpiece, Ted Hearne’s harrowing oratorio about Chelsea Manning and her revelations to WikiLeaks blends rock propulsion, chamber-music intimacy and four eerie, Auto-Tuned voices to create an enigmatic space of reflection on horrors of recent history, aided by Mark Doten’s collage text and Daniel Fish and Jim Findlay’s ambiguous, claustrophobic staging. The ambitious Los Angeles Opera presents the work’s West Coast premiere in a tantalizing month or so that also offers Philip Glass’s “Akhnaten,” Bernstein’s “Wonderful Town” and Matthew Aucoin’s new score to accompany the silent film “Nosferatu.” (“The Source” travels north in February for a run at San Francisco Opera.) Oct. 19-23, laopera.org.

SPHINX ORGANIZATION Devoted to promoting racial diversity in classical music through competitions, grants and educational activities, this invaluable organization also presents an annual concert at Carnegie Hall featuring its flagship orchestra, the Sphinx Virtuosi, and the Catalyst Quartet, this year focusing on repertory with a Latin bent. Oct. 20,sphinxmusic.org.

COMPOSER PORTRAITS The Miller Theater’s signature series of dives into one artist’s work at a time begins with the New York landmark John Zorn on a program that includes five world premieres played by the Talea Ensemble, JACK Quartet and American Brass Quintet. (If that doesn’t tucker you out, Mr. Zorn’s recent, sprawling series of bagatelles will be performed in a 10-hour marathon on Oct. 22 at National Sawdust.) Portraits of Lei Liang, Zosha di Castri, Beat Furrer, Misato Mochizuki, Johannes Maria Staud and Klas Torstensson round out the Miller season. Oct. 20, millertheatre.com.

EIGHTH BLACKBIRD To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the gorgeous Arts Club of Chicago, David Lang has written a piece based on Gertrude Stein’s 1925 lecture “Composition as Explanation,” to be performed by this admired Chicago-based ensemble. Oct. 22,artsclubchicago.org.

DANISH STRING QUARTET This fiery group presents a program at Carnegie Hall that explores finality: On the docket are Shostakovich’s last quartet (his 15th) and Schubert’s last chamber work (the String Quintet in C, with the cellist Torlief Thedeen joining in). Oct. 26.

NEW JERSEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Never quite getting the respect it deserves playing across the Hudson River from the New York Philharmonic and an international parade of guests, this excellent orchestra introduces its charismatic new music director, Xian Zhang, who begins her tenure with Tchaikovsky: the Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Simon Trpceski) and Symphony No. 5. (The entire season seems an effort to show that she and her band can more than hold their own in symphonic classics by Strauss, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Schubert, Shostakovich and Brahms.) Oct. 27-30, njsymphony.org.

‘JENUFA’ The soprano Karita Mattila caused a sensation when she sang the title role in this riveting Janacek masterpiece at the Met a decade ago. She returns now as the tortured Kostelnicka, part of a cast that also includes Oksana Dyka as Jenufa, Daniel Brenna, Joseph Kaiser and Hanna Schwarz; David Robertson conducts. Opens Oct. 28.

‘CANTICLES OF THE HOLY WIND’ This stirring, hovering work for four choirs will be performed by the Crossing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s airy Medieval Sculpture Hall; the group will perform “Canticles” again in May on the Upper West Side under the auspices of Symphony Space, to celebrate the release of its recording of the work on Cantaloupe Records. (Symphony Space will also present Alarm Will Sound in Mr. Adams’s “Ten Thousand Birds” in Morningside Park on May 14.) Oct. 29, metmuseum.org.

November

STEVE REICH AT 80 Not resting on his laurels, this Minimalist master spends the season holding the Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall, which hosts a celebratory birthday concert that includes “Pulse,” a new work for winds, strings, piano and electric bass. Its composer says that it’s calmer than his recent “Quartet,” which joins “Pulse” on the program alongside his video opera “Three Tales.” Other tributes come at the Miller Theater (Ensemble Signal, on Oct. 25), the Juilliard School (the Axiom ensemble, on Oct. 29), National Sawdust (a World Music Institute program juxtaposing “Drumming” and the Ghanaian music that inspired it, on Dec. 10) and Symphony Space (a marathon “Wall to Wall” concert on April 30). Nov. 1.

RHYS CHATHAM A veteran of the New York downtown scene, this impresario, composer and musician blended Minimalism and punk in influential works of the 1970s and ’80s. Issue Project Room presents him in solo concert at its ornate space in Downtown Brooklyn, still in the process of a major renovation. Nov. 3, issueprojectroom.org.

BERLIN PHILHARMONIC In two concerts at Carnegie Hall, the world’s most dazzling orchestra takes a brief break — for Boulez’s “Éclat” — from a dive into classics of the Viennese tradition: Brahms’s Second and Mahler’s Seventh Symphonies and works by Schoenberg, Webern and Berg. Nov. 9 and 10.

PAULINE OLIVEROS Presented by the collective Bang on a Can and designed to accompany “Take Me (I’m Yours)” — an exhibition at the Jewish Museum of works blurring the line between artist and audience — this beloved composer and performer plays a digitally enhanced accordion and invites listeners to contribute sounds from their own meditations. Nov. 10, thejewishmuseum.org.

MORTON FELDMAN AT 90 It’s startling to realize that Feldman, the magician of glacial slowness who died in 1987, was just 10 years older than Steve Reich. To honor what would have been his 90th birthday year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art hosts the Calder Quartet at its Cloisters location to play his sublime String Quartet No. 2, which can last five or six hours. Nov. 12.

ACCADEMIA BIZANTINA One of the most vibrant early-music ensembles, which recently released a thrilling recording of Haydn symphonies, arrives at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall with a Bach program under its inspired director, Ottavio Dantone. Nov. 15.

‘FLIGHT’ This sweetly melancholy ensemble show, inspired by the true story of a refugee who lived for years in a Paris airport, has been popular since it was written in 1998 by Jonathan Dove, his nervous, pulsing style not dissimilar from John Adams’s. Juilliard Opera performs it to open a season that also includes Handel’s “Agrippina” (a collaboration with the school’s period ensemble, Juilliard415) in February and Janacek’s searing “Katya Kabanova” in April. Nov. 16, 18, 20, juilliard.edu.

BEHZOD ABDURAIMOV With intriguingly personal interpretations of standards, this young Uzbek pianist, who gave an impressive recital in Carnegie Hall’s smallest space earlier this year, gets a chance on the hall’s big stage, bringing a program of Bach, Schubert, Beethoven, Prokofiev and Balakirev. Nov. 17.

JAAP VAN ZWEDEN The read on Mr. van Zweden, the New York Philharmonic’s next music director, is that he’s a bit antipathetic to new music; we’ve heard he’s a Beethoven-and-Bruckner kind of guy. That’s not exactly borne out by a careful look at his career, and he’ll have a first chance to prove his contemporary bona fides with the orchestra at David Geffen Hall as he leads the premiere of “Unearth, Release,” Julia Adolphe’s new concerto for principal violist Cynthia Phelps. Rounding out the program are favorites: the Prelude to Act 1 of Wagner’s “Lohengrin” and Tchaikovsky’s seething Fourth Symphony. Nov. 17-19.

WILD UP This boisterous Los Angeles ensemble, led with sweat-flying energy by Christopher Rountree, lands in Brooklyn for three concerts at National Sawdust in two days. Nov. 18 and 19.

‘SEE YOU LATER’ This evening-length performance, featuring Third Coast Percussion and directed by Cathie Boyd, combines works by David T. Little (“Dog Days”), Peter Garland and Gavin Bryers under the auspices of Montclair State University’s adventurous Peak Performances series. (The season there continues with Amy Beth Kirsten’s “Quixote” and a string quartet festival focusing on the composer William Bolcom.) Nov. 18-20,peakperfs.org.

‘ALICE’S ADVENTURES UNDER GROUND’ For those who found Gerald Barry’s operatic version of “The Importance of Being Earnest” uproarious when it played at Lincoln Center this spring, his new theatrical work, based on Lewis Carroll, may be even more madcap. The brilliant soprano Barbara Hannigan stars as Alice; the composer Thomas Adès conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s New Music Group at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Nov. 22, laphil.com.

December

‘L’AMOUR DE LOIN’ For the first time since 1903, the Met will stage an opera by a woman. Kaija Saariaho’s shimmering piece about a medieval troubadour, which had its premiere at the Salzburg Festival in 2000, arrives in New York under the incisive baton of Susanna Malkki, in her Met debut. A talented cast — Eric Owens, Susanna Phillips and Tamara Mumford — will be directed by Robert Lepage (of the Met’s disastrous “Ring” cycle), who promises to fill the stage with LED lights. Opens Dec. 1.

CLAIRE CHASE This vividly dramatic flutist, also the founder and artistic director of the International Contemporary Ensemble, presents the fourth installment in “density 2036,” her 22-year project aiming to commission a wide new repertory for solo flute. This year’s performance, at the Kitchen, includes works by Richard Beaudoin, Suzanne Farrin, Vijay Iyer, Pauchi Sasaki and Tyshawn Sorey. (It’s a flutish fall: Tim Munro, long a member of Eighth Blackbird, begins his solo career with “Recounting,” a program at the Miller Theater on Nov. 10.) Dec. 1- 2, thekitchen.org.

‘AL-QUDS: JERUSALEM’ Mohammed Fairouz, a prolific and inventive young composer, has written a new oratorio seeking to capture some of Jerusalem’s complex dynamics and sounds. Presented in conjunction with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s fall exhibition “Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven,” the work features the Metropolis Ensemble under Andrew Cyr. (Mr. Fairouz’s Machiavellian opera, “The New Prince,” has its premiere at Dutch National Opera in March.) Dec. 9,metmuseum.org.

KATE SOPER Known as Empac, the dazzling Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is a hotbed of the new, giving artists luxurious amounts of time and space. New to the center this season is a dizzyingly complex audio system consisting of 496 independently controllable loudspeakers; fall performances include, on Sept. 22, the pianist Mabel Kwan playing Georg Friedrich Haas’s “Trois Hommages.” And Ms. Soper, a pure-voiced singer and composer, leads the premiere of her “Ipsa Dixit,” featuring a collage of texts that call understandability and expression into question. Dec. 9,empac.rpi.edu.

LOFTOPERA Attending one of this young company’s packed warehouse performances, you wouldn’t know that classical music was (as we always read) in trouble. Socialites and hipsters are pressed together watching productions of irresistible exuberance and polish; the beer flows freely. After opening its season with Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte,” the group turns to Verdi’s grim “Macbeth.” Opens Dec. 9, loftopera.com.

DIANA DAMRAU As the New York weather chills, it will be up to this silky, effortlessly humane soprano to warm us up. In town for a few months of opera at the Met, she takes a night off for a recital on Dec. 10 at Alice Tully Hall with the harpist Xavier de Maistre, with helpings of Debussy, Strauss and others (lcgreatperformers.org). Then she rings in the new year at the Met with the company premiere of Bartlett Sher’s production of Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette,” conducted by Gianandrea Noseda and also starring Vittorio Grigolo, with whom Ms. Damrau partnered excitingly in “Manon” last year. And there’s more: She’ll sing Elvira in Bellini’s “I Puritani” at the Met starting on Feb. 10; the sensational bel canto tenor Javier Camarena is Arturo.

TALEA ENSEMBLE Dazzlingly, even disconcertingly precise and confident in the most demanding new music, this crucial group comes together with the Neue Vocalsolisten ensemble of Germany for two American premieres at the Alliance Française: Ramon Lazkano’s “Ceux à Qui” and Fabien Lévy’s “Après Tout.” Dec. 14, taleaensemble.org.

CHRISTIAN GERHAHER His voice airy yet grounded, his intelligence and compassion deep, this German baritone has provided some of the most memorable opera and recital performances in recent years. He joins his longtime collaborator, the pianist Gerold Huber, at Alice Tully Hall for a program of Mahler: selections from “Das Lied von der Erde” and “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” and the five “Rückert-Lieder.” (Count the dry eyes in the house for “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen.”) Dec. 17,lcgreatperformers.org.

January

‘TIME’S ARROW’ Fresh from its revivifying holiday performances of Handel’s “Messiah,” which set the New York standard, the musical forces of Trinity Wall Street, under Julian Wachner, turn to their annual winter festival, formerly known as Twelfth Night. Early and new music come together this year to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the completion of the church’s St. Paul’s Chapel. The premieres include Paola Prestini’s installment in Trinity’s ongoing “Mass Reimaginings” series. Jan. 1-12, trinitywallstreet.org.

PROTOTYPE: OPERA/THEATER/NOW Now in its fifth year, this festival of contemporary chamber opera and performance has become New York’s most dependable home for intriguing music theater. Presented by Beth Morrison Projects and Here Arts Center, this season’s offerings include Matt Marks and Paul Peers’s “Mata Hari,” David Lang and Mark Dion’s “anatomy theater” and Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s “Breaking the Waves,” fresh from its premiere in Philadelphia. Jan. 5-15,prototypefestival.org.

‘SERIAL COPLAND’ He wasn’t just the populist of “Appalachian Spring” and “Billy the Kid”: Last season, the San Francisco Symphony gave us a helping of Aaron Copland’s thornier works, and this intimate concert at Le Poisson Rouge delves deeper, as the pianist Adam Tendler, joined by the JACK Quartet, plays the early Piano Variations and the late Piano Quartet and Piano Fantasy. Jan. 19, lpr.com.

STAATSKAPELLE BERLIN An awe-inspiring, mildly insane endeavor: Daniel Barenboim and his vigorous ensemble bring all nine of Bruckner’s numbered symphonies to Carnegie Hall, in nine concerts that juxtapose those epic spans with Mozart, including six piano concertos that Mr. Barenboim will lead from the keyboard. Jan. 19-29.

FOCUS! FESTIVAL Joel Sachs, the Juilliard School’s doyen of the new, organizes this important annual immersion, diving this year into the contemporary music of Latin America. Jan. 20-27, juilliard.edu.

NEW YORK FESTIVAL OF SONG As part of the New York Philharmonic’s festival “Beloved Friend — Tchaikovsky and His World,” this well-loved vocal series delivers a program of songs at Merkin Concert Hall by that composer and his Russian contemporaries, featuring the soprano Antonina Chehovska and the baritone Alexey Lavrov. (A delightful, very different program on Feb. 21 includes selections from a new William Bolcom opera, the premiere of a song cycle by Gabriel Kahane, and Paul Bowles and James Schuyler’s “Picnic Cantata.”) Jan. 24, nyfos.org.

February

‘DUST’ Mannes School of Music planned to present this 1998 work by Robert Ashley (1930-2014) last season, but experimental opera is a challenge to produce within a traditional, tradition-bound conservatory. The school, which has a renewed focus on contemporary music to go with its new home downtown, has persevered, and “Dust,” set among five denizens of a small urban park, will finally make it to the Mannes stage. Feb. 1-4, newschool.edu.

‘RUSALKA’ The director Mary Zimmerman has struggled at the Met (a handsome yet bloodless “Lucia,” a muddled “La Sonnambula,” a cutesy “Armida”), yet she has been engaged once more to stage this dark, gorgeously lyrical Dvorak fairy tale. Setting the opera vaguely in the 18th century, Ms. Zimmerman has on her side the slender-toned Kristine Opolais, a potent singing actress, in the title role; a cast that also includes Brandon Jovanovich, Jamie Barton, Katarina Dalayman and Eric Owens; and a veteran conductor, Mark Elder. Opens Feb. 2.

GILLES VONSATTEL This thoughtful, quietly powerful pianist plays “Revolution,” a solo recital under the auspices of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at the Rose Studio, where the society hosts an excellent new-music series. Mr. Vonsattel’s program ranges over 200 years, from Dussek (“The Sufferings of the Queen of France”) to Rzewski (“Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues”), by way of Beethoven, Liszt and Janacek. Feb. 2, chambermusicsociety.org.

‘LA SERENISSIMA’ Highlights of Carnegie Hall’s festival celebrating the cultural legacy of Venice include performances by Jordi Savall and his ensemble Hespèrion XXI, Vivaldi’s “Juditha Triumphans” and Monteverdi’s “L’Incoronazione di Poppea.” Feb. 3-21.

ORPHEUS CHAMBER ORCHESTRA The composer Michael Hersch has often taken inspiration from art and death, and his new tone poem “End Stages” is no exception. This conductorless ensemble pairs it with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto (the soloist is Vadim Gluzman) and Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony as part of its four-concert series at Carnegie Hall. Feb. 4, orpheusnyc.org.

BUDAPEST FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA Ivan Fischer, this vital ensemble’s playfully brilliant director, can make even a pair of programs at David Geffen Hall focusing on Beethoven standards seem new: the First, Fifth, Eighth and Ninth Symphonies and the Piano Concerto No. 4, with Richard Goode as soloist. (If all that wasn’t enough, Lincoln Center follows up the concerts with a trio of programs of classic filmed Beethoven performances at the Walter Reade Theater.) Feb. 5 and 6,lcgreatperformers.org.

IGOR LEVIT A week after Gilles Vonsattel plays Rzewski’s classic “Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues,” this pianist makes his Carnegie Hall debut with a program that includes the American premiere of that composer’s “Dreams,” Part 2, as well as Beethoven’s daunting “Diabelli” Variations and three pairs of Shostakovich preludes and fugues. Feb. 10.

VIENNA PHILHARMONIC Reuniting for three evenings at Carnegie Hall with a frequent collaborator, the conductor Franz Welser-Möst, this peerlessly plush ensemble plays Schubert (the Eighth and Ninth Symphonies), Strauss (“Ein Heldenleben”), Brahms (the Piano Concerto No. 1, with Rudolf Buchbinder), Bartok (the “Miraculous Mandarin” Suite) and Schoenberg (“Verklärte Nacht”), as well as the American premiere of “Time Recycling,” by one of its own violinists, René Starr. Feb. 24-26.

ARS LONGA The relaxing of American relations with Cuba scores another victory, in the New York debut of this veteran ensemble, performing 17th- and 18th-century Cuban music by the descendants of African slaves. The concert at Corpus Christi Church, presented under the auspices of Gotham Early Music Scene and the Americas Society, is part of the invaluable series Music Before 1800. Feb. 26, mb1800.org.

BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Flexing its muscles as a new-music powerhouse, this stylish ensemble and its music director, Andris Nelsons, bring to Carnegie Hall the New York premieres of George Benjamin’s aching song cycle “Dream of the Song” and Sofia Gubaidulina’s new work for violin, cello, bayan (a kind of accordion) and orchestra. (The New Juilliard Ensemble celebrates Ms. Gubaidulina’s 85th birthday year, 2016, on Nov. 14 with “Perception,” a chamber cantata from 1983). The Boston Symphony also showcases its recent focus, Shostakovich (with the “Leningrad” Symphony), as well as works by Gunther Schuller, Mozart, Beethoven, Ravel and Berlioz. Feb. 28, March 1 and 2.

March

‘IDOMENEO’ Mozart’s great opera seria, which James Levine brought to the Met for the first time in 1982, returns under his baton in the same Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production. The cast is superb: Matthew Polenzani in the title role, Alice Coote, Nadine Sierra and Elsa van den Heever. Opens March 6.

‘THE HANDEL PROJECT’ Building on their masterly “Messiah,” the brilliant ensembles of Trinity Wall Street add to their schedule more Handel, performing four of his oratorios (“Jephtha,” “Belshazzar,” “Israel in Egypt” and “Solomon”), one act at a time, over the course of nine hourlong Wednesday afternoon concerts. March 8-May 3.

JULIA BULLOCK Already a force in new music, this eloquent young soprano sings the premiere of Jonathan Berger’s “Rime Sparse” as part of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s program “Love Sonnets” at Alice Tully Hall. March 12.

LES ARTS FLORISSANTS This pre-eminent Baroque ensemble is joined at Alice Tully Hall by the harpist Xavier de Maistre (Diana Damrau’s recital accompanist in December) for little-heard concertos in a program devoted to Marie Antoinette, a harp amateur. (Getting in on the prerevolutionary vibe is the Boston Early Music Festival, which in November brings to the Morgan Library & Museum two chamber operas: Charpentier’s “Les Plaisirs de Versailles” and Lalande’s “Les Fontaines de Versailles.”) March 15,lcgreatperformers.org.

AKADEMIE FÜR ALTE MUSIK BERLIN Just a week after Les Arts Florissants comes to New York, it’s followed, at Carnegie Hall, by one of its only real competitors on the early-music stage, with a program that roams over Baroque Europe. Those who relish the group’s fiery recordings of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos will thrill to a performance of the Fourth. March 23.

AMERICAN COMPOSERS ORCHESTRA The young composer David Hertzberg impressed last year with “Sunday Morning,” an unusually unshowy, memorably delicate cantata for New York City Opera. This indefatigable new-music band gives the premiere of his new symphony at Carnegie Hall alongside works by Paola Prestini, Trevor Weston and Steve Reich, part of a characteristically rich season under its artistic director, Derek Bermel, and music director, George Manahan. March 24.

SHIFT: A FESTIVAL OF AMERICAN ORCHESTRAS The energy and creativity of the all-too-short-lived Spring for Music festival, a celebration of large American ensembles at Carnegie Hall, has found its way to the Kennedy Center in Washington. The name is different, but the spirit will be similar in an inaugural week of community events and performances featuring the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Boulder Philharmonic, the Knights and the North Carolina Symphony. March 27-April 2,washingtonperformingarts.org.

‘THREE GENERATIONS’ Steve Reich has organized four concerts at Carnegie Hall charting a Minimalism-inspired, largely American genealogy of contemporary music, including works by Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, Mr. Reich, Terry Riley, John Adams, the Bang on a Can trio — David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon (whose electric-guitar work “Amplified” has its premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in December) — and premieres by Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly. March 30, April 6, 19, 26.

April

‘LA CAMPANA SOMMERSA’ This lushly orchestrated Respighi opera from 1927 will get a rare hearing at the Rose Theater in a new production by the rebooted New York City Opera. March 31, April 1, 4, 5, nycopera.com.

REYKJAVIK FESTIVAL Home to an otherworldly blend of classical, pop and electronic styles, Iceland travels to California for a musical immersion with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, organized by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the composer Daníel Bjarnason and featuring a slew of premieres as well as performances by the art-rock band Sigur Rós. April 11-17, laphil.com.

JÖRG WIDMANN One of the world’s leading composers is also one of its leading clarinetists. He gives his New York recital debut at Carnegie Hall featuring his own works as well as ones by Brahms, Berg, Schubert and Schumann, in luxurious company, alongside the eminent pianist Mitsuko Uchida. (On March 30, she’ll play the New York premiere of Mr. Widmann’s “Sonatina facile” at Carnegie.) April 2.

‘DER ROSENKAVALIER’ As the star soprano Renée Fleming winds down her performances in staged opera, she takes a farewell turn of sorts at the Met, starring as one of her signature creations: the wistful Marschallin in Strauss’s nostalgic masterpiece, a favorite of divas saying goodbye. The glamorous mezzo Elina Garanca plays her young lover, Octavian, and the cast also includes Erin Morley, Matthew Polenzani and Günther Groissböck, an unusually youthful Baron Ochs. Robert Carsen sets the action on the eve of World War I; the experienced Sebastian Weigle conducts. Opens April 13.

LOUISVILLE ORCHESTRA Young and adept in the language of social media, Teddy Abrams has worked mightily to open this ensemble to its community since becoming music director in 2014. That includes broadening its repertory, and this season includes a two-part festival of American music. The first concert will be co-conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, and the second features the premieres of Mr. Abrams’s own “Muhammad Ali Portrait” and his arrangement of “Louisville Concerto II,” by four local musicians, as well as Andrew Norman’s savvily frenetic piano concerto, “Split.” April 15, 29, louisvilleorchestra.org.

ANNE SCHWANEWILMS An elegant artist, particularly in Strauss, this German soprano makes her New York recital debut at Alice Tully Hall with songs by that composer and others, alongside the sensitive pianist Malcolm Martineau. April 16, lcgreatperformers.org.

‘DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER’ James Levine defined his Met tenure in large part by his sumptuous way with Wagner; now Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who will succeed him, leads his first opera with the company by that composer. The dramatic propulsion of “Holländer” should suit his gifts, and a strong cast — Michael Volle, Amber Wagner, Dolora Zajick, Ben Bliss, Franz-Josef Selig and Jay Hunter Morris — will help, too. Opens April 25.

‘ARIODANTE’ Harry Bicket continues his crisp, distinguished series of Handel operas in concert at Carnegie Hall, leading his English Concert ensemble and a glorious cast, including Joyce DiDonato, Christiane Karg, Joélle Harvey, Sonia Prina and David Portillo. (December will have already brought aficionados of this elegant piece a workshop performance at National Sawdust under the young director R. B. Schlather, who has staged memorable versions of Handel’s “Alcina” and “Orlando.”) April 30.

May

‘PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE’ Franz Welser-Möst, music director of the subtle, responsive Cleveland Orchestra — possibly America’s most memorable symphonic ensemble — leads operas with airy, catlike grace. His style may well prove a natural fit with Debussy’s enigmatic masterpiece, staged here by the imaginative Yuval Sharon and starring Elliot Madore, Martina Jankova and Hanno Müller-Brachmann. May 2, 4, 6,clevelandorchestra.com.

50TH ANNIVERSARY GALA The Metropolitan Opera House — with its curvy staircases, scalloped and gold-leafed ceiling and sputnik chandeliers — opened its doors in September 1966. The Met celebrates 50 years in the stunning (if almost always way too large) theater with a rich roster of house stars, including Piotr Beczala, Plácido Domingo, Juan Diego Flórez, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Susan Graham, Anna Netrebko and Sonya Yoncheva. May 7.

BROOKLYN YOUTH CHORUS A dozen composers have contributed to “Silent Voices,” a multimedia work about power, privilege, gender roles and economic inequality commissioned by this lively ensemble and performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. May 12-13, brooklynyouthchorus.org.

MET ORCHESTRA Esa-Pekka Salonen, who delivered an eerily poised “Elektra” at the Met last season, replaces James Levine for its orchestra’s traditional post-opera-season run at Carnegie Hall. Emphasizing Mahler’s vocal works, the programs include “Das Lied von der Erde” (with Karen Cargill and Stuart Skelton), “Kindertotenlieder” (Anne Sofie von Otter) and selections from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” (Susan Graham and Matthew Polenzani). Works by Schumann and Sibelius round out the three concerts. May 31, June 3, June 6.

June

‘ANGELS IN AMERICA’ Peter Eotvos’s vivid adaptation of Tony Kushner’s sprawling masterpiece condenses two large plays into a single evening. It had its premiere in Paris in 2004 and comes to New York for the first time under the auspices of New York City Opera. June 10, 12, 14, 16, Rose Theater.

‘YOUNG CAESAR’ Solemn, clangorous and a little loopy, this 1971 opera by the American maverick Lou Harrison (who would have turned 100 in 2017) draws on puppet theater and gamelan traditions. It can easily fall into absurdity or camp, but here the director is the resourceful Yuval Sharon, the founder of the experimental company the Industry, who is beginning a three-year position as artist-collaborator with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. June 13, laphil.com.

Wed, September 14, 2016

‘Ouroboros Trilogy’ Review: A Mythic Chinese ‘Ring’
The Wall Street Journal

Madame White Snake’s stratospheric music taxed the soprano Hila Plitmann, and Mr. Constanzo was wasted on yet another formless lament from Xiao Qing. As Ku, Ming’s wife, Heather Buck prettily sang a third version of the same lullaby text that appeared in the other operas; Julian Wachner conducted. The video effects were spectacular, particularly the scene of Ms. Plitmann cocooned in a begging bowl as a giant image of Ming ( Christopher Burchett), loomed over her. But the high production values had no corresponding musical payoff as the epic fizzled out.

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‘Ouroboros Trilogy’ Review: A Mythic Chinese ‘Ring’
A story drawn from a Chinese folk tale about a snake demon that takes on human form in order to experience love.

By 
HEIDI WALESON
Sept. 14, 2016 6:24 p.m. ET

‘Ouroboros Trilogy,” a three-opera cycle that had its premiere in Boston at the Cutler Majestic Theater on Saturday, is the brainchild of Cerise Lim Jacobs, a lawyer turned librettist. Conceived as a kind of mythic Chinese “Ring,” though with three different composers, this trilogy examines the intersection of love and power from a female perspective. As is the case in Wagner, things don’t end well, but the similarity ends there. Each of the operas is under two hours in length, but they often felt much longer, and with the librettos clearly the drivers in the project, the music took a back seat. Two of the operas were world premieres; the middle one, “Madame White Snake” by Zhou Long, was performed by Opera Boston in 2010 and won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Ms. Jacobs drew her story from a Chinese folk tale about a snake demon that takes on human form in order to experience love. In the course of the three operas, Madame White Snake’s pursuit wreaks general havoc, including a cataclysmic flood. She is destroyed, and reincarnated to go through the whole process again, hence the Greek ouroborosreference: the infinity loop of the snake eating its tail. The librettos borrow liberally from other texts as well, and with Genesis (especially Adam and Eve and the snake), the Song of Songs, Greek mythology, Shakespeare, and the Sumerian tale of Gilgamesh in the mix, it’s quite the cultural mashup.

In “Naga,” with music by Scott Wheeler, Madame White Snake stalks a young monk, who has left his pregnant wife in order to seek Nirvana. The piece is static and oratorio-like, with an adult chorus and a children’s chorus commenting on the journey. Mr. Wheeler’s choral writing has heft and complexity, but the arias often meander, accommodating the overlong text. Musical high points included the Queen of the Night-like flights of Madame White Snake, scintillatingly performed by Stacey Tappan, and the climactic battle between the snake, trying to seduce her way out of captivity, and the chorus, crying out for her destruction. The charismatic countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo rose above his dull arias as Xiao Qing, the female, partly human green snake who serves, and hopelessly loves, the white snake. Sandra Piques Eddy was poignant as the Wife; Matthew Worth,announced as ill, husbanded his strength as the Monk. Carolyn Kuan conducted, and the Boston Children’s Chorus, here as in the other two operas, was splendid.

Zhou Long’s music for “Madame White Snake” has more dramatic tension and is livelier: It features a Chinese flute, an erhu (two-string Chinese fiddle) and rain sticks, and uses the swooping phrases and extreme leaps of Chinese opera to color the nonhuman qualities of the two snakes. Madame White Snake ( Susannah Biller) falls in love with a human ( Peter Tantsits) and becomes pregnant. But she is outed as a demon by Abbot Fahai ( Dong-Jian Gong), and their ensuing struggle drowns the world. The central love duet is overly sweet, and the lengthy confrontation between Madame White Snake and the Abbot sags, but the choral parts, warning of the destruction to come, are striking.Michael Maniaci was Xiao Qing here; Lan Shui conducted.

The opera was more moving when I saw it in 2010. The cast, other than Ms. Biller, is the same, but the current production, directed and designed by Michael Counts, is more abstract. Mr. Counts uses ingenious and often beautiful video (by S. Katy Tucker) to create the world of all three operas. Video depicts nature (a brilliant night sky, blossoms on trees) and symbols from the story (the leaping snake; a woman bleeding in childbirth; a recurrent, haunting image of drowning people). But throughout, the static directing, with the singers declaring instead of interacting, made the stage pictures stiff and kept humanity at bay. Even Zane Pihlstrom’s elaborate, bejeweled costumes for the two snake-women—Xiao Qing sported a long tail—constricted them as characters.

Still, “Naga and “Madame White Snake” were both engaging; “Gilgamesh,” with music byPaola Prestini, was another story. Ms. Jacobs’s libretto, even wordier and more stuffed with external text references, featured too many rhymes that were hackneyed (tear/year) or jarringly weird (shrapnel/apple), and Ms. Prestini’s lush music felt overblown and shapeless. The plot—30 years after the flood, Madame White Snake’s son, Ming, whose wife is expecting their child, is summoned to rescue his mother from captivity and is horrified to discover his origins—had promise, but the husband-and-wife and mother-and-son interactions were soggily overwritten.

Madame White Snake’s stratospheric music taxed the soprano Hila Plitmann, and Mr. Constanzo was wasted on yet another formless lament from Xiao Qing. As Ku, Ming’s wife, Heather Buck prettily sang a third version of the same lullaby text that appeared in the other operas; Julian Wachner conducted. The video effects were spectacular, particularly the scene of Ms. Plitmann cocooned in a begging bowl as a giant image of Ming ( Christopher Burchett), loomed over her. But the high production values had no corresponding musical payoff as the epic fizzled out.

Ms. Waleson writes about opera for the Journal.

Tue, September 13, 2016

An Ambitious Marathon, ‘Ouroboros Trilogy’ Brings Operatic Innovation To Boston
The ARTery

Prestini’s score was less intriguing than either Wheeler’s or Zhou’s, but was equally appropriate. She also invested the singing with her own extended technique, a kind of alternate tone pitch jump, which proved effective in conveying surprise or anger.

Costanzo sang impeccably, and Plitmann’s part as the shifty White Snake was incredibly challenging in the upper ranges. Heather Buck sang more traditionally but no less beautifully as Gilgamesh’s wife. Wachner’s work in the pit and with the hard-working double chorus was sophisticated and enthusiastic.

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An Ambitious Marathon, 'Ouroboros Trilogy' Brings Operatic Innovation To Boston

September 13, 2016
By Keith Powers

Boston opera hasn’t seen an event like this in a long while — if ever.

The ambitious "Ouroboros Trilogy" opened Saturday at the Cutler Majestic Theatre. Ouroboros featured three different composers, three different conductors, an international team of staging innovators and a rotating cast with some of the best young singers and choristers anywhere — all brought together through the vision of librettist and producer Cerise Lim Jacobs.

There were many outstanding moments of innovation and artistry during Saturday’s marathon, which began in the morning with “Naga,” had a mid-afternoon staging of “Madame White Snake” and concluded in the evening with “Gilgamesh.” There were plenty of misses as well.

“Naga,” with Scott Wheeler’s score and Carolyn Kuan conducting, set the trilogy in motion. An engaging but often overwhelming amalgam of sight and sound, “Naga” outlines the overarching themes: love, colored and made meaningful by death, and the hope of rebirth.

A monk (Matthew Worth) and his wife (Sandra Piques Eddy) fill the central action in “Naga.” Having renounced monasticism for his wife’s love, and thus losing his way, the monk must leave her. They vow to meet again, in an uncertain future.

The immortal Madame White Snake (Stacey Tappan) and her own companion, Xiao Qing (the Green Snake, sung with great artistry by Anthony Roth Costanzo), observe their love and their parting, envious of its depth of commitment.

The monk wanders through temptations, and the snakes observe, unseen. They cause him to be rescued from death by a Master (David Salsbery Fry), who in turn captures the White Snake. The Master’s death at the hand of the Monk ends “Naga” on an unpredictable note.

The tale is ancient and beautiful. Love invests life with meaning, but only because it ends. Trying to fracture the boundaries — gods becoming mortal, mortals striving for eternity — causes havoc.

Wheeler’s score, and the musicians who brought it to life, filled the intentions of the narrative in every way. The score has chamber music at its heart, but turns swashbuckling and sensitive with facility. Unusual colors permeate — electric guitar and saxophone complement the orchestra — but the variety generally comes from traditional means: percussion, pizzicato, solo strings or winds.

The woefully non-idiomatic libretto and overwhelming bursts of multimedia occasionally undermine the cohesion. “Naga” is a timeless story, but the talky libretto over-explains its elegance.

The staging has some great moments. Some tableaux — singers in costume (Zane Pihlstrom), beautifully posed, a lush color palette filling the background — are thrilling. Director Michael Counts has everyone moving with grace and intention, no matter how unruly the set becomes with its video projections and properties.

The singers were powerfully cast. Some moments were memorable: like the trio of soloists, with chorus support, singing over the apparently dead monk as Act 1 closes. Or the pizzicato opening of Act 2 — a symphony of simplicity, ending with Costanzo doubled by oboe in one final, tender note.

“Madame White Snake” filled the afternoon slot. The only non-premiere, it brought back of the Pulitzer Prize-winning score and production first staged in 2010 by Opera Boston. The music (Zhou Long) remained largely the same, but the sets and effects were considerably gussied up.

Where “Naga” plays to the celestial, “Madame White Snake” plays to the vernacular. The struggle between mortality and immortality is secondary to the romance of the now-human Madame White (sung rapturously here by soprano Susannah Biller), her snake identity subsumed after a thousand year meditation, for Xu Xian (Peter Tantsits). Her former lover, and fellow snake-in-hiding Xiao Qing (countertenor Michael Maniaci), serves in this iteration of the epic as her unwilling matchmaker.

Lan Shui conducted, with the chorus in a starring role, bringing to life many of Zhou’s unique extended techniques.

“Madame White Snake” maintains its drama with much more integrity than “Naga.” Again we heard an imaginative score — Zhou’s particular blend of western forms and eastern sounds. The top-shelf singing featured some gorgeous aria moments, including Dong-Jian Gong (as the Abbott seeking vengeance) offering his considerable bass artistry.

The solo highlight came at the outset, with Maniaci’s agonizing recitative prologue, a preview of the entire narrative. It was a tour-de-force of emotion, strength and drama, delivered in the most measured tones.

Once again Michael Counts’ direction placed each of the singers in organic acting positions. The set worked wonderfully, full of technical charm without violent excess. A scene closing audience-grab by the slithering white snake created an exhilarating 3-D moment of virtual reality.

One scene was transcendent: A summer teatime, a tense and tender wooing between Madame White and the doomed Xu Xian, could hold its own with any of the finest operatic moments. What truly makes “Madame White Snake” a pivotal work is its integrity. Music, score, libretto (still excessively non-idiomatic, but less obtrusive than “Naga”), costumes and video (S. Katy Tucker) never clamored for attention.

The evening presentation, “Gilgamesh,” was composed by Paola Prestini and conducted by Julian Wachner. The story moves ahead 30 years; Gilgamesh (sung by Christopher Burchett), the baby that Madame White gave birth to at the cataclysmic end of the previous opera, is now a man.

He knows nothing of his origins, but the Green Snake (the brilliant Costanzo returning to the role) reaches out to him. Gilgamesh learns of his half-snake origins when returning to the monastery to free his mother (sung here courageously by Hila Plitmann). But instead of a battle with the Abbott (Andrew Nolen) for his mother’s freedom, Gilgamesh uncovers his mother’s secret, and instead alters the future by giving up his own son.

“Gilgamesh” suffered from an unbroken evenness of pacing. The characters moved slowly. They sang deliberately. They paused frequently, attempting to invest their words with gravity. The presentation dragged.

The staging and blocking were once again superb. Some of the scenes were stunning: when the curtain raised, showing a dreaming Gilgamesh under a huge video thought-cloud, the goal of investing standard operatic stage treatments with sophisticated video techniques seemed fully achieved.

Prestini’s score was less intriguing than either Wheeler’s or Zhou’s, but was equally appropriate. She also invested the singing with her own extended technique, a kind of alternate tone pitch jump, which proved effective in conveying surprise or anger.

Costanzo sang impeccably, and Plitmann’s part as the shifty White Snake was incredibly challenging in the upper ranges. Heather Buck sang more traditionally but no less beautifully as Gilgamesh’s wife. Wachner’s work in the pit and with the hard-working double chorus was sophisticated and enthusiastic.

The libretto was deeply at fault for the pacing of “Gilgamesh.” Jacobs relied far too heavily on quotations to build meaning. Repeated verses from the Old Testament and other ancient sources — even from “King Lear” — were meant to be poignant, but sounded like a survey-class lecture.

One general premise of the trilogy — that the works are cyclical, but can be played in any order — remains to be seen, but audiences will have that chance as the operas repeat all week in individual stagings, and then on Saturday, Sept. 17, again as a marathon in a different sequence.
Most impressive of all in this ambitious presentation proved to be the team. The choruses, under Michele Adams and Emily Howe (children) and Lidiya Yankovskaya (adults), sang with robust expertise day and night.  The composers formed a dream team of modern artists, blending traditional techniques and exploring standard practices. Counts’s direction was spot-on, and for the occasional misses and excesses of the staging technologies, the work of Tucker (video), Yi Zhao (lighting) and Pihlstrom (costumes) proved consistently effective.

The “Ouroboros Trilogy” runs through Sept. 17 at the Cutler Majestic Theatre at Emerson College. For tickets and complete schedule information visit ArtsEmerson or call 617-824-8400.

Mon, September 12, 2016

Review: A Sublime Survey of Baroque Music
The New York Times

The execution was as delightful as the notion was preposterous: a comprehensive survey of Baroque music by a hardy band of four (or slightly more) in four hourlong concerts. Such was the annual 4x4 Baroque Music Festival, presented last week by its founder and director, the keyboardist Avi Stein [and hosted by Julian Wachner, Director of Music and the Arts], at Trinity Church on Lower Broadway.

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Review: A Sublime Survey of Baroque Music

By JAMES R. OESTREICH

SEPT. 12, 2016

The execution was as delightful as the notion was preposterous: a comprehensive survey of Baroque music by a hardy band of four (or slightly more) in four hourlong concerts. Such was the annual 4x4 Baroque Music Festival, presented last week by its founder and director, the keyboardist Avi Stein, at Trinity Church on Lower Broadway.

Two programs were devoted mostly to the sonata as it began to separate from the dance suite in the 17th and early-18th centuries. These featured German composers who preceded and influenced Bach (last Tuesday) and English and French composers who adopted Italian style, itself represented by the Neapolitan-born English resident Nicola Matteis (Wednesday). Mr. Stein was joined in these concerts by excellent colleagues: Robert Mealy andJulie Andrijeski, violinists, and Beiliang Zhu, violist da gamba.

The performing forces expanded a bit on Friday for Handel’s early secular cantata “Apollo e Dafne” and on Saturday for three of Bach’s ripest creations. Handel, in a quick succession of recitatives, arias and duets, tells of the god Apollo’s somewhat bullying courtship of the nymph Daphne, who wants no part of him. She escapes his clutches in the end by turning herself into a laurel tree.

Jesse Blumberg sang Apollo with a free, strong and attractive baritone (once past some early low notes that challenged his range) and a lively dramatic sense. Sherezade Panthaki’s soprano, as Daphne, was also strong yet delectably sweet.

Her opening aria, a celebration of an unfettered soul and an unattached heart, was a thing of special beauty with its accompaniment of pizzicato strings and soaring recorder, gorgeously played by Priscilla Herreid. The instrumentalists added a sinfonia from Handel’s oratorio “Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno” (“The Triumph of Time and Truth”) to start and the Chaconne from his ballet prologue “Terpsichore” to close.

The Bach program included another fine baritone, Tyler Duncan, excelling in the death-resigned Cantata No. 82, “Ich Habe Genug” (“I Have Enough”), right down to its depths. Hearing the opening aria of this work, with an oboe solo laying the groundwork for the sublime vocal melody, you invariably think that nothing could be more beautiful, an idea dispelled moments later by the second aria, “Schlummert ein, ihr matten augen” (“Fall asleep, you weary eyes”), with Bach in his inimitable lullaby mode. Gonzalo Ruiz played the oboe solo superbly.

Mr. Stein opened the program as harpsichord soloist in Bach’s Concerto in D minor (BWV 1052). And all the instrumentalists joined in the concluding Orchestral Suite No. 3, the one with the famous Air. (“A medium version,” Mr. Stein called it, since it lacked the trumpets evidently added by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel.)

The 4x4 festival roamed a lot after its founding in 2008 before settling in Trinity Wall Street’s St. Paul’s Chapel, which is now undergoing renovation. (The festival disappeared altogether last year, when Mr. Stein’s new duties as organist at Trinity monopolized his time.) Trinity Church, though large for the purpose, served well enough acoustically, but a return to the intimate, refurbished St. Paul’s next year will be welcome.

Mon, September 12, 2016

Enchanted ‘Ouroboros’ trilogy explores eternal mysteries
The Boston Globe

The three conductors, Carolyn Kuan, Lan Shui, and Julian Wachner, cleanly directed the orchestral waters where they needed to go, with minimal sonic flooding.

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Enchanted ‘Ouroboros’ trilogy explores eternal mysteries

By Zoë Madonna GLOBE CORRESPONDENT  

SEPTEMBER 12, 2016

To sprawl, spread, and swell is the nature of mythology. No wonder, then, that Cerise Lim Jacobs’s 2005 birthday present idea for her husband — a song cycle based on an ancient Chinese myth about love between an immortal and a human — could not be contained in its natal skin for long. The final incarnation of that project, 11 years in the making, took over the Cutler Majestic Theatre all day on Saturday. “Ouroboros,” a cycle of three mystic operas (“Naga,” “Madame White Snake,” and “Gilgamesh”) by three profoundly distinct composers, is an enchanted exploration of the eternal mysteries humanity has always turned to mythology to explain: love, loss, hubris, mortality.

Bostonians and new music enthusiasts may have been familiar with one of the three offerings, all of which have libretti by Jacobs. Zhou Long’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Madame White Snake,” which premiered here in 2010, was performed second on Saturday. The cycle can be started at any point but must go in the same direction. Jacobs’s program note on the reincarnation of mortal characters between operas ignores the chronology, giving the impression that all the events are at once cyclical and simultaneous, as in “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” The loves, betrayals, births and rebirths are written into history before they happen.

Madame White Snake, the subject of the original legend, appears in each opera. Stacey Tappan, playing a recently reborn White Snake in “Naga,” was cool and exacting as a crescent moon in her long beaded sheath and fang-shaped headpiece. She wheeled through Queen of the Night-esque coloratura fireworks in a pining Act I aria, and pulled the tides back to sweetly plead for her freedom in the final scene.

Susannah Biller in “Madame White Snake” came out with her character reincarnated as human, and her harvest-moon voice was the warmest and fullest of the three White Snakes. Her acting was at its best when she was separate from the object of her ardor, tenor Peter Tantsits as a bold-voiced but slightly wooden Xu Xian. She was splendid in her first scene exalting in her transformation, and pleading with Dong-Jian Gong’s imperious Abbot that she loved Xu Xian. The legendary love might have been more convincing if the lovers had looked at each other once in a while. In the final betrayal scene, her white dress replaced by a bare pregnant belly and blood-red raiment, the two showed a first hint of connection.

Hila Plitmann as a captive White Snake in “Gilgamesh” was a half moon rising: luminous while enfolding a darkness not often found in coloratura voices, and impossible to ignore despite only appearing in one scene. Possibly because the beaded gown of the other White Snakes would have been uncomfortable as she lay on the floor, costumer Zane Pihlstrom dressed her in a flowing white robe and wig straight out of Galadriel’s closet.

The other recurring character was Xiao Qing, a man who once loved the White Snake reincarnated as a female green snake to be her loyal servant. As a nod to the character’s past and Peking Opera conventions, the role is played by a countertenor, making for a kind of reverse trousers role. Michael Maniaci, who originated the role in 2010, returned to perform in “Madame White Snake,” injecting an omnisciently sardonic streak. Anthony Roth Costanzo, appearing as Xiao Qing in both “Naga” and “Gilgamesh,” was marvelously emotive. Singing a haunting, expressive Act II aria in “Naga” and soaring modal themes in “Gilgamesh,” he was at once commanding and vulnerable, bearing the character’s 25-pound bejeweled necklace and wheeled tail like the weight of unconditional devotion.

Matthew Worth’s struggle with an illness (announced from the stage) did not detract from his singing or his portrayal of a conflicted Monk in “Naga,” and Sandra Piques Eddy was a hardy and tender Young Wife. “Gilgamesh” brought on Christopher Burchett’s Ming, the White Snake’s half-immortal son, vocally and visually puissant. Heather Buck as his wife, Ku, sang with sparkling lyricism in her rapturous Act I aria, and visceral desperation as she gave birth and had her child stolen at the end. Unfortunately, she was given some of the libretto’s clunkiest lines, addressing her pomegranate tree: “Pomum Gratum, Punicum Malum, Red Grenade.”

Jacobs’s libretti cut deepest when the characters express their individual experiences. “Your hands are like liquid gold,” Madame White Snake rhapsodizes. “Like petals unfolding, I understand my birth.” Less effective are the ponderous platitudes and prayers most often delivered by the choir. Jacobs drew on her childhood in Singapore for a mosaic of cultural references, and “Gilgamesh” is the most indulgent in that way, with biblical quotes, Buddhist and Hindu deities, ancient Chinese and Greek myths, and Shakespeare all jumbled together within a few minutes of one another.

Emerson College professor Scott Wheeler’s music for “Naga” was influenced by hymns, opera through the ages, Japanese gagaku, and Broadway. Theatricality abounded, but it never felt centered. Zhou Long’s music seamlessly fused Chinese and Western conventions, placing a Chinese flute and two-stringed erhu in the pit and giving lush pentatonic melodies to the strings, as well as putting Peking Opera contours and inflections in the singers’ parts. The scene changes were covered by his “Four Seasons,” short settings of ancient poems performed by the sublime Boston Children’s Chorus. Paola Prestini’s atmospheric but tuneful music for “Gilgamesh” inhabited an indie-opera rain forest of its own. The three conductors, Carolyn Kuan, Lan Shui, and Julian Wachner, cleanly directed the orchestral waters where they needed to go, with minimal sonic flooding.

The leviathan production was designed and directed by visual artist Michael Counts, presented by ArtsEmerson and produced by the Friends of Madame White Snake and New York-based Beth Morrison Projects, which is not known to shy away from the high-concept or risky. S. Katy Tucker’s video projections and animations colored the stage. Trees shimmered with light and bloomed with flowers, and many giant screens allowed for some neat forced-perspective tricks involving an animated snake that looked friendly until it ate the audience.

Mon, September 12, 2016

Trilogy Thrills, Madame White Snake Still Shines
The Boston Musical Intelligencer

Gilgamesh, the work of composer Paola Prestini [conducted by Julian Wachner] begins with a thunderous eruption of percussion-capped sound. Her writing for percussion remains a highlight throughout her score. It sparkles, both literally and figuratively, using glockenspiels and drums for powerful magic, and marimba in motivic development and the undercurrent drone of tense moments. Her melodies entice and speak of a modern, yet accessible flair. As Long employed at times, Prestini uses the voice for the sake of sounds rather than just pitches at special moments. Gilgamesh’s dramatic conclusion works well for the end spot it was presented in, but would likewise work as a backward foreshadow when placed otherwise in the cycle.

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SEPTEMBER 12, 2016
Trilogy Thrills, Madame White Snake Still Shines
by Justin Casinghino

Binge worthy? This question is often posed in our increasingly couch-centric retreats, but what about in the live-performance universe? Can we binge there? Cerise Lim Jacobs’s brainchild “Ouroboros Trilogy,” comprising Scott Wheeler’s Naga, Madame White Snake by Zhou Long, and Paola Prestini’sGilgamesh makes a strong contender for the appellation. The trilogy premiere promised (including world premieres of both the Wheeler and the Prestini) grand opera scale, impactful music, dazzling costumes and stunningly inventive visual imagery.

“The Ouroboros Trilogy,” with libretto by Jacobs, follows the cyclic life of Madame White Snake, a mythical being inspired by Asiatic folklore, as she slithers between the boundaries of mortals and immortals, life and death, love and hatred. Accompanied by Xiao Qing, a once man turned into a half human, half female green snake, Madame White Snake finds and destroys love as the universe begins and ends around her.

The question of whether a trilogy by three different composers can really be a trilogy is not a new one to this journal. Cashman Kerr Prince posed the question in the August BMInt preview of the trilogy (also a fantastic resource for background on the project, which can be read HERE). The question has also come up in casual conversations with other composers in town. And my answer is…apparently yes! This trilogy works as a three-part package. A concept akin to the movie Four Rooms comes to mind, where four directors tackle four separate portions of a single film. Here, three composers take on the three similar versions of a story. A few ever-present objects (a circular anklet and a round alms bowl), along with the overarching direction and production design of Michael Counts make the triptych work as a cycle. Something of a large-scale twist on the cadaver exquis idea finds each composer contributing to the whole with limited awareness of the other sections. In fact, one wonders less whether the three operas work as a cycle than whether all three of the components can hold up individually.

Jacobs’s original concept indeed came at once in three parts. However, Madame White Snake was composed first; it premiered in 2010, and subsequently earned the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for music. On Saturday, Naga and Gilgamesh were respectively premiered on either side of Madame White Snake. The remaining two runs of the three shows re-order this placement based on Jacobs’s vision of an interchangeable unit of three. All three operas offer strong and entertaining musical journeys, but Madame White Snake remains the grand tour. The cast of each opera, with recurrent characters being handled by different singers (with one impressive exception), performed not just adeptly, but  captivatingly. The visual display of the trilogy took advantage of modern digital technology to create awe inspiring sets worthy of the praise and growing interest the Beth Morrison Projects production group has garnered.

In the spirit of mutli-teleological orderings, let’s start with the latter. This production’s use of digitally projected imagery and animation is astounding—or in Boston terms—wicked cool. Rather than merely having impressive scenery, the sets come to life as trees have leaves swaying in the breeze, the waters of oceans and rivers ripple in the distance, and a breathtaking moon slowly pulls back into the distance as a boat floats across the stage. In addition to its use in scenic devices, animation added to the characters on stage via a projected white snake. It is here that a virtual 5th wall, one between tangible stage props and digital imagery, is defined and smashed. In amazingly well-timed movements, images pass from lighted stage effects to living creatures, parts of the moving whole. Film is also used in Naga and Gilgamesh to give the audience a glimpse into the minds of the characters. It is also used to create a feeling of depth and size by projecting pre-filmed video of a singer, with the role being sung from offstage in a lineup that was so well rehearsed, it compelled me to ask the tech crew if any of it was live action video.

These video elements are extremely effective and undeniably help entertain today’s audiences. They are no doubt part of how Beth Morrison productions are breathing a new young life into the theater. Whether you are a fan of opera or simply of stage production, or someone just wanting to try something new, these digital elements are absolutely worth seeing, as they will captivate and impress. There are a few issues. The well-timed voice-to-video synching just mentioned was remarkable in its timing, but the singer was so far off stage, it created a disconnect with the projected image. And if you are wondering if any animated elements might distract from the stage drama rather than adding to it, the answer is: yes, when an animated white anaconda is flying through the quasi-psychedelic cosmos. But these constitute minor details in an otherwise extremely effective production.

The remaining question with the digital elements in these operas touches on the work as a triptych. As mentioned, filmed elements are only used in Naga and Gilgamesh, while the projection in Madame White Snake is solely for the use of scenery and the addition of the white snake in serpent form. The hitch with this is not an artistic problem, but simply that it helps to create a definition around Madame White Snake. All three operas make successful impressions, but Madame White Snake stands out as the Pulitzer winner it is, and creating any more defining elements around it only helps to highlight its distinction.

Now to say Madame White Snake stands out is not to say the others aren’t good. In fact, it is quite the opposite, they are good—very good. But Madame White Snake is excellent, a near perfect score. From its first chord it grabs the listener and keeps him in its special world until its very last note. While all three are worth seeing, and do make a viable triptych, Madame White Snake stands as a definable centerpiece, which I believe will be true, even when not performed in the center.

The strength of Naga comes from the seamless, varied textures Scott Wheeler weaves throughout. From welcoming, bright sonorities set to oddly dark texts in the children’s choir (seated house right), floating into stark, pointed rhythmic stretches punctuated with shocking Stravinsky-esque attacks, Wheeler admirably supports his well set vocal writing. A particular stand out moment was the beginning of Act II, where pizzicato stings subtly pointed to the eastern influence within Wheeler’s Western voice. If any issues existed, it may be with the use of the electric guitar, which by its nature stood out from the others in the pit. A valiant attempt at creating an other worldly aura, particularly when sonically contrasted with the purely acoustic harp, the balance of the guitar was problematic at times, creating some moments of unfortunate cover of the singers. This is a good opera, but it’s a question as to whether it stands alone. Its story and music seems compelled to be coupled with the rest. As I knew the day was continuing, it was difficult not to hear its end awaiting more to come.

Zhou Long’s Madame White Snake is impeccable. Without question, Long’s greatest success here is his ability to manipulate tension—both harmonically and rhythmically—to stimulate undeniable emotional pulls in the listener. When his chords are dissonant, they are voiced in a way that allows them to breathe while still feeling the palpable tension within. He creates clear motivic elements, such as the rhythmically metallic clamoring of doubt in love. His use of choir (seated house left) was impressive, taking advantage of a huge range to create impactful choral settings. Also of note in Long’s score is the use of eastern instruments: percussion, erhu and wooden flutes combing into the Western score. The beauty of this is his subtle combination of non-Western sounds into the modern whole. An example is the gliss, a common performance tool on erhu. Long offers this simple gestural element as connective tissue throughout the work, where we appreciate the gliss in the erhu, the voice, the orchestral strings, the trombones, the theremin. It is a simple but incredibly effective tool to unify the whole.

Long’s score impresses in how it will speak to a wide array of opera goers. It is undeniably modern, yet also has the melodies and rich harmonic worlds that the lovers of Puccini will melt into. Elements of the east, such as a returning pentatonic motive accompanying the Green Snake are orchestrated adeptly with the clarinets, making us understand each of its returns. One element that further separates Long’s opera is his ability to weave-in lighthearted humor. He gives us brief moments of relief—times we can hear, not just see the coy interplay of two lovers. This is a special skill and speaks to Long’s mastery. The subject matter of Madame White Snake, more love than horror, perhaps offers Long more of an opportunity for humor than his counterparts, but still, he does it so well that his prowess is clear. It really should be heard.

Gilgamesh, the work of composer Paola Prestini begins with a thunderous eruption of percussion-capped sound. Her writing for percussion remains a highlight throughout her score. It sparkles, both literally and figuratively, using glockenspiels and drums for powerful magic, and marimba in motivic development and the undercurrent drone of tense moments. Her melodies entice and speak of a modern, yet accessible flair. As Long employed at times, Prestini uses the voice for the sake of sounds rather than just pitches at special moments. Gilgamesh’s dramatic conclusion works well for the end spot it was presented in, but would likewise work as a backward foreshadow when placed otherwise in the cycle. It is a fine work, but perhaps due its subject matter, never really lets go of its intensity. We are not granted the brief masterful moments of relief offered by Long, yet it holds its intensity with valor through its end.

All three operas were performed brilliantly, with no roles being an easy sing. Two characters, the white and green snakes, are found in each of the stories. The character of Madame White Snake is portrayed by a different soprano in each, and each offered captivating performances. Stacey Tappan wielded Scott Wheeler’s coloratura acrobatics with refined finesse in her Naga role. In Madame White Snake, Susannah Biller enchanted us with a purity of tone that captured the mesmerizing essence of white snake’s powers. Finally, Hila Plitmann’s white snake in Gilgamesh rose into the stratosphere of the human voice with such control that it was magic incarnate. The only disconnect in the portrayal of these roles was the costuming. Though her place in this opera is undeniably different, the change of hair and headdress kept the Madame White Snake of Gilgamesh separated from her counterparts in the others.

Xiao Qing, Madame White Snake’s traveling companion, half man, half snake, was turned female so that he could accompany his love (white snake) through time and space. To capture this androgynous role, the part is cast for a man with a female range. Impressively, this role was portrayed by countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo in two out of the three operas (Naga and Gilgamesh). Costanzo delivered spellbinding performances. Decked out in a bejeweled gown and trailing a tail longer than he was tall, Costanzo delivered his role with a direct and penetrating projection. However, during Gilgamesh we are given a glimpse of the character’s tender side and Costanzo tenderly rolled the edge off his tone, making us feel for this half-serpent being. When he was on the stage, he commanded it—semi-serpent androgyny at its finest.

Male soprano Michael Maniaci portrayed the role of Xiao Qing in Madame White Snake. The distinction here is that Maniaci does not produce the falsetto of a counter tenor, but because of a unique development (or non-development) of his larynx, he sings naturally in the soprano range. Maniaci’s voice is beautiful and his diction exquisite. The only consideration one must make is in taking all three operas as a binge-worthy whole. With no questioning of Maniaci’s performance, when bookended by the falsetto of the counter-tenor, the quality of Maniaci’s natural soprano seems to speak more to the female nature of the role rather than to its gender-limbo.

Abbot Fahai, the force against white snake’s power, is found in Madame White Snake and Gilgamesh, with an “Old Master” counterpart in Naga. These paralleled roles were performed by basses David Salsbery Fry (Naga), Dong-Jian Gong (Madame White Snake) and Andrew Nolen (Gilgamesh). All three men delivered their roles with mystery and power, while Gong’s impressive bass-baritone range wowed in Long’s extensive Madame White Snake setting.

Paralleled characters of a monk (Naga), Xu Xian (the husband to Madame White Snake), and Ming (the white snake’s son in Gilgamesh) respectively featured tenors Matthew Worth, Peter Tantsits and Christopher Burchett. It was announced before the start of Naga that Worth was feeling under the weather, but was going to try to make it through the show. Had his sickness not been mentioned, it would not have been noticed, as he delivered a solid performance. Tantsits’s high soaring tenor combined lovingly with Biller during Madame White Snake’s beautiful duet writing. In the last of the triptych, Burchett’s emotionally honest performance of Ming and the personified Gilgamesh created unquestionable connections to his audience.

Mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy (the Monk’s wife in Naga) and soprano Heather Buck (Ku, Ming’s wife in Gilgamesh) both conveyed Jacobs’s message depicting both the joy and pain of motherhood. Eddy, in the midst of a swirling psychological quasi-dream sequence, offered a tender and heart-wrenching moment in her rich tone. Buck later made us feel the joy of her character that waited so long to be with child—the love for the unborn was in each note—into singing through her labor and the subsequent taking of her child. She pulled us into the role.

The two choruses—adult and children—performed wonderfully and powerfully. These groups hold special roles throughout the cycle, Jacobs discussing in her notes that they are the voices of the drowned children and the parents thereof. The Boston Children’s Chorus did a splendid job, as did the several soloists who deserve citation in the program. The day began and ended with the solo voice of a child.

On what mayor Marty Walsh proclaimed as “Ouroboros Day,” each segment of the three-part performance hummed with excitement. Will-call lines stretched down the sidewalk, with Beth Morrison greeting people at the door. Each opera played to a nearly full house. As they strolled the streets of Chinatown and paths of the Commons and Gardens between shows, people could be overheard talking about what they just saw, and  its multi-national folktales as basis. Simply said, a true opera event happened right here in Boston. The music should be heard, the production should be seen, and there is wisdom in the text.

Binge-worthy? Absolutely.

Sun, September 11, 2016

ArtsEmerson’s “Ouroboros”: A Trilogy of Culinary Tails
South Shore Critic

Conducted by Julian Wachner, Prestini’s music was another wondrous take on this mythological world.

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ArtsEmerson's "Ouroboros": A Trilogy of Culinary Tails

The ouroboros, an ancient icon depicting a serpent eating its own tail, symbolic of eternal renewal, is now also a symbol of three grand operas, created and written by Cerise Lim Jacobs, consisting of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning Madame White Snake, along with two World Premieres, Naga and Gilgamesh, presented by ArtsEmerson as The Ouroboros Trilogy. The endless cycle of life, death and rebirth, with each opera a fully realized production, features libretti by Jacobs, each set to music by one of three composers. Naga (composed by Scott Wheeler) is the story of a young Monk who renounces everything to find nirvana, but is tempted to abandon the path when he encounters Madame White Snake (composed by Zhou Long), which is the story of a demon who longs to become human in order to experience love, while Gilgamesh (composed by Paola Prestini) finds the demigod son of Madame White Snake realizing his true power while being pushed into a position where he must choose between his family and happiness. The operas will be performed on separate nights as well as in full day marathon events; each is less than two hours in length, performed in English with surtitles. Any serious opera buff would do well to secure tickets quickly,as these will be performed only twice more, all of them with Director and Production Designer Michael Counts at the helm.

Naga (referring to a semi-divine snake), as noted above, is the story of a young monk (baritone Matthew Worth) who has denied himself everything. The White Snake encounters him saying goodbye to his wife (mezzo Sandra Piques Eddy). Moved by the couple’s grief, she longs to experience such powerful emotion herself. The monk subsequently comes upon Xiao Qing (countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo), the Green Snake, who tempts him three times. The monk resists the first two attacks, but his resistance weakens during the third. The White Snake (soprano Stacey Tappan) stops him from turning back and leads him to a renowned healer, the Master (bass David Salsbery Fry), who takes him in as an apprentice. When the healing master discovers the White Snake, he recognizes her magic as the answer to his prayers for the salvation of the world. He believes that whoever eats of her will be healed. The monk, however, feels she should be free so the universe will appreciate her beauty and uniqueness. The Master orders him to hold the White Snake so he can sacrifice her. In the ensuing struggle, the monk releases the snake and the master is stabbed. The singing was uniformly excellent, including an adult choir and a children's chorus. The challenging score by Wheeler, utilizing electric guitar and a soprano sax as well as more ancient instruments, was lovely and wonderfully conducted by Carolyn Kuan.

Madame White Snake (soprano Susannah Biller) is the story of a white snake demon who longs to become human to experience love. She transforms herself into human form as a woman, encountering Xu Xian (tenor Peter Tantsits), a mortal man, and marries him. Afraid to disclose her true identity, she meets Abbot Fahai of the Golden Mountain Monastery (bass Dong-Jian Gong) who recognizes her for who she is. He sows the seeds of doubt in Xu Xian’s mind and gives him a truth potion which re-transforms Madame White back into a snake. The Abbot leads Xu Xian away but White Snake raises the waters to drown the Abbot. A great flood covers the world as she is defeated by the Abbot after giving birth to a son, rescued by the Green Snake (Michael Maniaci, one of the world's rare male sopranos). This too was sung expertly by the entire cast including two choruses, ably conducted by Lan Shui, and beautifully composed by the Pulitzer-winning Long.

Gilgamesh, or Ming (baritone Christopher Burchett), the semi-divine son of Madame White Snake (soprano Hila Plitmann), was abandoned during his mother’s epic battle with the Abbot (bass Andrew Nolen). He encounters her for the first time in her human form as she is imprisoned in the Golden Mountain Monastery. She reveals to him his birthright, the power to control the waters, begging him to use his power to save her. Ming returns home to find that his wife Ku (soprano Heather Buck) has just given birth to a white, iridescent baby girl who resembles her grandmother. Giving the baby to the green snake (Costanzo again), who had saved him when his mother was defeated, he returns to the Monastery. A robe and empty alms bowl are all that are left. Ming dons the robe, takes the alms bowl, and departs. Once again, the singers (and two more choruses) were all in great form, especially Costanzo in his difficult register. Conducted by Julian Wachner, Prestini's music was another wondrous take on this mythological world.
Just as impressive as the audio elements were the visuals created for all three operas: the striking Costume Design by Zane Pihlstrom, the dramatic Lighting Design by Yi Zhao and the absolutely stunning Video and Projections Design by S. Katy Tucker. Tucker's work was especially mesmerizing.

The crowning moment was a (well deserved) standing ovation for Jacobs, whose obvious glowing elation with the reception of this audience was unforgettable. After decades of work on her trilogy, the palpable warmth from the opera-lovers present seemed to overwhelm her, as well it might. It was a magnificent night for opera. And, if you're in the mood for even more of an opera fix, note that Odyssey Opera Boston is producing, for one night, 9/16 only, Dvorak's Dimitrij, and Boston Lyric Opera begins its season at the end of this month with several performances of Carmen. Suddenly, Boston is awash with operatic opportunities, and Ouroboros truly shouldn't be missed.

Sat, September 10, 2016

Ouroboros Trilogy: Naga, Madame White Snake and Gilgamesh
Opera News

Prestini’s neo-Romantic score, more meditative and less incisive than the other two, was ably steered by Julian Wachner.

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Ouroboros Trilogy: Naga, Madame White Snake and Gilgamesh 

BOSTON
Beth Morrison Projects | ArtsEmerson, Cutler Majestic Theater
9/10/16

ZHOU LONG'S OPERA MADAME WHITE SNAKE , which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011, was originally intended as part of a trilogy conceived by librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs. After the death of Jacobs’s husband and collaborator, Charles M. Jacobs, the other two parts lay unfinished until Scott Wheeler and Paola Prestini were engaged to compose the remaining operas, Naga and Gilgamesh, respectively. On September 10, the full cycle premiered as Ouroboros Trilogy at Boston’s Cutler Majestic Theater, produced by Beth Morrison Projects in an all-day marathon: Naga opened at 11 a.m., Madame White Snake at 3:00 p.m. and Gilgamesh at 7:30. (The following week offered one solo outing of each opera, plus another three-opera marathon.) 

Ouroboros is the serpent in ancient mythology whose head devours its own tail, but in so doing, provides itself with the sustenance to regenerate in an infinite circle of life and death. The three operas are united by their depiction of the White Snake, who alternates between reptile and female human form and is equally seductive in both. She is dogged by Xiao Qing, her former male lover, who has been transformed into a hybrid of woman and snake, doomed to follow his beloved through all her incarnations without ever attaining the intimacy he longs for. The two snakes interfere in the lives of three sets of humans, and their relationship patterns repeat as they are reincarnated on their path to Nirvana, souls drawn to each other by intangible recollections of their previous existences. 

In all three operas, Xiao Qing is a countertenor, Madame White Snake is a coloratura soprano, and the holy man bent on her destruction a bass. While the operas all employ a double Greek chorus of adults and children (the impressive Boston Children’s Chorus), the non-recurring humans vary in vocal range. Michael Counts staged the trilogy, but chose to meet the challenge of adding dramatic tension to a fundamentally presentational narrative by substituting projections for direction. The singers rarely made eye contact with one another, and the overuse of S. Katy Tucker’s video, though imaginative and often dazzlingly three-dimensional, only called attention to the fact that long stretches were dramatically static. Some of the visual imagery was helpful in connecting the dots from opera to opera, as were Zane Pihlstrom’s ornately bejeweled recurring snake costumes. The humans were attired appropriately to their stations, but somewhat ambiguously in terms of time and place.

Although the stories are sequential, the producers offered three different starting points along the continuum. For the all-day marathon on September 10, the operas were performed in this order: Naga, Madame White Snake andGilgamesh. Each begins with a prologue, but Naga’s, which relates the birth of the White Snake at the beginning of time and establishes her as a mythic archetype across multiple cultures, seemed to serve as an introduction to the trilogy as a whole, reinforcing this as the preferred order. In the story proper, the White Snake, intrigued by a Buddhist Monk who strayed from the Way to marry, yearns to experience the intensity of human passion. The Monk forsakes his pregnant wife to resume his journey, but succumbs to visions of her dying in childbirth. The White Snake alerts a nearby herbalist Master, who saves the Monk but traps the White Snake in a cage. Beguiled by her incandescence, the Monk sacrifices his karma to kill the Master and free the White Snake, who assures him they will meet again.

Stacey Tappan made an imperious White Snake, tossing off Wheeler’s staccati and roulades with shining, crystalline tone and astonishingly clear diction even in the stratosphere. The extraordinary Anthony Roth Costanzo explored every nuance of the quixotic Xiao Qing. Dragging a giant wheeled tail that protruded from his skirt, Costanzo allowed the appendage to inform his movement rather than impede it as he glided across the stage, head tilted at a watchful angle. His burnished countertenor was more expressive and powerful than ever, and he and Tappan turned the eternal power play between the two snakes into a tussle worth watching. Performing despite an announced indisposition, Matthew Worth paced himself well as the Monk; his forthright baritone sounded underpowered only in the final moments. Sandra Piques Eddy brought intelligence and a pleasing dark mezzo to the Wife, while the stygian bass of David Salsbery Fry wrung conflict from the Master’s decision to kill the White Snake. Wheeler’s appealing, primarily tonal score featured spiky vocal lines, transparent choral writing, and the idiosyncratic but effective inclusion of soprano saxophone and electric guitar. Conductor Carolyn Kuan was simultaneously fluid and precise. 

Madame White Snake remains the most musically inventive and dramatically taut of the three,with an intrinsic completeness that allows it to stand on its own. Long’s ravishing score combines delicacy, lyricism, and power with a patina of exoticism provided by Chinese flute, erhu, and harp. He lets no dramatic moment pass without illuminating it with bold orchestral strokes, propelling the action forward. Sprechstimme and other vocal effects borrowed from the Peking Opera tradition often push the singers to the extremes of their ranges, but never derail them. Here, the White Snake, after 1,000 years of meditation, is granted human form, although she must still shed her skin every month. When she falls in love with the healer Xu Xian, she makes him promise never to question her periodic disappearances. The Abbot of the Golden Mountain Monastery (the reincarnated Master) recognizes Madame White for the snake she is and offers to tell Xu Xian the truth about her. Forced to decide between knowledge and unconditional love, Xu Xian succumbs to the Abbot’s temptation, and Madame White, locked in deadly combat with her nemesis, accidentally kills her husband before bearing their child. 

Soprano Susannah Biller rode the sumptuous strings with honeyed tone and melting poignancy, displaying flashes of the temptress while maintaining an air of detachment. Lurking in the shadows like a disapproving duenna, Michael Maniaci’s Xiao Qing offered a silvery soprano timbre that emphasized the feminine over the reptilian. His serpentine nature emerged in sliding vocal swoops and dives, and even in moments of stillness, his face radiated deep pain at being relegated to servitude. Tenor Peter Tantsits wielded his penetrating tenor like a weapon as Xu Xian, while the gravitas of bass Dong-Jian Gong’s Abbot evoked centuries of wisdom. All three men reprised the roles they originated in the 2010 Opera Boston premiere. Conductor Lan Shui demonstrated complete mastery of the score, and the rain-stick-wielding chorus excelled executing Long’s pointillistic susurrations.

In Gilgamesh, the snakes, far more compelling characters than the humans, are relegated to supporting roles, and the opera suffers for it. Thirty-year-old Ming, son of Madame White Snake and Xu Xian, knows nothing of his parentage, despite having inherited his mother’s magic powers and his father’s man bun. Ming dreams he is Gilgamesh, a demigod from Sumerian mythology who embarks on a fruitless quest for immortality. The libretto is repetitive, with multiple characters relating the same events, while extended sequences built on oft-used quotes from Shakespeare’sThe Tempest and King Lear were lazy substitutes for active storytelling. 

Director Counts also seemed to have run out of ideas. One stunningly weak directorial choice becalmed the proceedings utterly: a moving projection of Ming (Christopher Burchett) loomed on a large screen behind Madame White Snake, as she revealed the truth to him, while Burchett sang from the wings. Burchett, to his credit, kept his pre-filmed facial reactions contained, but the stunt only further estranged the performers, who in that moment, desperately needed to connect in real time as real people. In less capable hands, Ming could come off as an entitled and tiresome protagonist, but Burchett, an intense, committed actor with a focused, resonant baritone, plumbed the depths of confusion and anger. He was especially moving when deciding whether to abandon the mother who abandoned him or save her by setting her free from the alms bowl in which the Abbot has imprisoned her. 

Hila Plitman used her violin-like timbre to project acute pangs of loss, making the most of the mortally aging Madame White Snake’s single scene, despite the ungracious, multi-octave leaps that replaced traditional coloratura. Similarly, Costanzo, returning as Xiao Qing, was forced into chest register for no apparent reason, but his technical proficiency allowed him to revert to his superlative countertenor register with minimal disruption. Ku, Ming’s pregnant wife, exists primarily to fill in narrative blanks—they’ve been wanting a child for ten years; she’s scared of snakes—without being accorded much of a personality. Although the role sat low for her, soprano Heather Buck sang sweetly, especially in her opening ode to the fertility-granting pomegranate tree. Marooned upstage on top of a bridge, the authoritative bass Andrew Nolen was an imposing Abbot, despite being distanced acoustically and visually. Prestini’s neo-Romantic score, more meditative and less incisive than the other two, was ably steered by Julian Wachner. The opera ends with Xiao Qing spiriting away Ku’s baby—a white snake—finally explaining the video image that beginsNaga, and so the cycle continues. —Joanne Sydney Lessner 

Fri, September 9, 2016

9/11 Memorial Concerts, Mostly Low-Key
The New York Times

Trinity Wall Street, in particular, positioned itself then as a major moral force in Lower Manhattan, with hourly concerts during the day at the home church and its satellite, the historic St. Paul’s Chapel. Choristers, instrumentalists and audiences alike repeatedly shuttled up and down Lower Broadway. And all those different versions of Maurice Duruflé’s glorious, haunting hymn setting, “Ubi Caritas,” which served as an anthem throughout the day!

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9/11 Memorial Concerts, Mostly Low-Key

By JAMES R. OESTREICH

SEPT. 9, 2016

In classical music, birthday celebrations and other anniversary observances sometimes seem strained, even ludicrous, marketing ploys. It is hard to argue with recognitions of round numbers in, say, multiples of 50. But something like Carnegie Hall’s 125th anniversary, which came in May? Borderline. And how does a 15th anniversary stack up against a 10th?

New York, as a whole, seems keenly attuned to the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on Sunday, yet classical music is scarcely taking notice. The contrast is all the more remarkable because the 10th-anniversary commemorations in 2011 were so memorable.

Trinity Wall Street, in particular, positioned itself then as a major moral force in Lower Manhattan, with hourly concerts during the day at the home church and its satellite, the historic St. Paul’s Chapel. Choristers, instrumentalists and audiences alike repeatedly shuttled up and down Lower Broadway. And all those different versions of Maurice Duruflé’s glorious, haunting hymn setting, “Ubi Caritas,” which served as an anthem throughout the day!

This Sunday at 7 p.m., the observance will be far simpler: A brass octet composed of members of Novus NY will perform a memorial program in the St. Paul’s churchyard. Then listeners so inclined can troop down to Trinity Church for a brief compline (end of day) service.

Julian Wachner, Trinity Wall Street’s director of music and the arts, confessed to mixed feelings about the modesty of this year’s commemorations. “But so much has changed since 2011,” he said. He singled out the completion of the nearby National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

“And a closed chapel on top of things,” Mr. Wachner added. St. Paul’s Chapel, which long sat in the shadow of the World Trade Center but somehow survived the attacks to serve as a refuge for emergency medical workers, is undergoing a major renovation to prepare for its 250th-anniversary celebration (yes, a big one) on Oct. 30. It is currently closed to the public, but the extensive musical activities there in recent years will resume when it reopens as a year-round standing memorial.

“If you visit the museum, you will want to retire either to a bar or to a church,” he said wryly, and St. Paul’s should serve the purpose nicely.

On Sunday morning, firefighters from New York and elsewhere will march from ground zero to the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn for a noon Mass featuring a performance of Mozart’s Requiem, presented by theFoundation for the Revival of Classical Culture. The performers — members of the Schiller Institute NYC Community Chorus, vocal soloists and a sizable orchestra — will already have done the Requiem in concert in the Bronx (Friday, at Lehman College) and Manhattan (Saturday evening, at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Midtown), and will repeat it in Morristown, N.J., at the Presbyterian Church on Monday evening.

Bargemusic, the splendid floating concert hall moored in Brooklyn near the Brooklyn Bridge, used to offer a wonderful view of the World Trade Center, along with the rest of Lower Manhattan, through its picture windows. It has presented a memorial concert every year on Sept. 11 and will do so again on Sunday afternoon.

“I can’t imagine not doing the concert,” said Mark Peskanov, Bargemusic’s artistic and executive director. “It all happened so close by, and we felt such a part of it. Horrible as it was, it brought people together, at least for a time. We try to capture a little of that feeling once a year.”

The free 4 o’clock concert on Sunday is scheduled to run an hour, but listeners may want to linger in the area to see the “Tribute in Light,” the towering blue light installation near ground zero, activated at 6 p.m.

A couple of other concerts more or less related to Sept. 11 are scheduled, but they mostly conflict with these, the programs most likely to live in memory.

Thu, September 8, 2016

Review: Texas Camerata
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Kline’s Alma Redemptoris Mater and Wachner’s O clarissima Maria were beautifully sung by countertenor Ryland Angel. For their texts, the two composers reached back about a thousand years to two medieval poets: Herimann the Lame (1013-1054) and Hildegard von Bingen (ca. 1098-1179).

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Review: Texas Camerata

BY OLIN CHISM

The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra may have gone on strike Thursday, but there were still some angelic sounds to be heard downtown. The Texas Camerata, several of whose members are FWSO musicians, presented a program called Sacred Art in St. Patrick Cathedral. (The Camerata is not, of course, involved in the current artistic strife.)

Seven of the nine composers on the program were active in the late 17th and early 18th centuries — familiar territory to Camerata, which specializes in music played on old-timey instruments or replicas thereof. What made the program a little unusual was the inclusion of two works by composers still alive.

This worked out very well, for Phil Kline (who was born in 1959) and Julian Wachner (1970) obviously weren’t intent on creating any stylistic clashes. Their music was gentle, appealingly lyrical, reverent even. Their sounds blended well with those of their 17th- and 18th-century brethren.

Kline’s Alma Redemptoris Mater and Wachner’s O clarissima Maria were beautifully sung by countertenor Ryland Angel. For their texts, the two composers reached back about a thousand years to two medieval poets: Herimann the Lame (1013-1054) and Hildegard von Bingen (ca. 1098-1179).

For me, the most moving work of the evening was Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater, a sad and deeply touching composition again showing Angel’s mastery of this sort of material.

The music wasn’t all religious or somber. Some highlights included two bright fanfares, with Adam Gordon and Leigh Anne Hunsaker as the featured trumpeters; an appealing trio by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, with flute player Lee Lattimore as the featured soloist; and Vivaldi’s catchy La Folia, with violinists Kristin Van Cleve and Ania Bard taking the lead.

Other participants in a pleasant evening were violist Donna Hall, cellist Karen Hall and organist Corey Candler.

Tue, August 30, 2016

This September, Boston Proves It’s Still An Opera Town With Big Names And Even Bigger Productions
WBUR ARTery

The first major event of the classical music season (presented by ArtsEmerson) is one of the largest: a trilogy of operas, two of which are world premieres. Under the overall title of “Ouroboros Trilogy” (the circular image of the snake eating its own tail — an ancient Greek symbol of life, death and rebirth), the project is really the brainchild of Cerise Lim Jacobs, a retired lawyer born in Singapore, who wrote the librettos for all three operas, basing them on Chinese legends…

...The other new opera “Gilgamesh,” composed by Paola Prestini [and conducted by Julian Wachner], is about the half-demon son of Madame White Snake. Prestini, a New Yorker and Juilliard graduate who was born in Italy and grew up near the Mexican border, should be a welcome addition to the Boston musical scene.

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This September, Boston Proves It's Still An Opera Town With Big Names And Even Bigger Productions

August 30, 2016
By Lloyd Schwartz

They say Boston isn’t an opera town, and September isn’t usually a big opera month. Most companies need more time to prepare for performances, so what operas we get usually come later in the season. But not this year.

"Ouroboros Trilogy" | ArtsEmerson, Sept. 10-17

The first major event of the classical music season (presented by ArtsEmerson) is one of the largest: a trilogy of operas, two of which are world premieres. Under the overall title of “Ouroboros Trilogy” (the circular image of the snake eating its own tail — an ancient Greek symbol of life, death and rebirth), the project is really the brainchild of Cerise Lim Jacobs, a retired lawyer born in Singapore, who wrote the librettos for all three operas, basing them on Chinese legends.

“Naga,” one of the premieres, deals with the dangerous encounter between a monk and the mysterious, sexually alluring figure of the White Snake. The music is by the Boston composer and Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble director Scott Wheeler, whose latest CDs are the Bridge recording “Portraits and Tributes” with the superb pianist Donald Berman, and a section on an Albany recording called “Songs to Fill the Void” with baritone Robert Barefield. Wheeler’s major musical influences are Charles Ives and his teacher Virgil Thomson, and I’ve been a particular fan of his operatic jeux d’esprit “The Construction of Boston.”

The other new opera “Gilgamesh,” composed by Paola Prestini, is about the half-demon son of Madame White Snake. Prestini, a New Yorker and Juilliard graduate who was born in Italy and grew up near the Mexican border, should be a welcome addition to the Boston musical scene. 

The central opera, and the earliest, is Chinese-American composer Zhou Long’s “Madame White Snake,” based on the legend of the snake who falls in love and turns herself, tragically, into a real woman. The opera was written for the now defunct Opera Boston, which presented it in 2010. I had very mixed feelings about its familiar combination of Chinese and Western musical styles and the stilted diction of the libretto, but the Pulitzer Prize committee didn’t agree with me and awarded it the 2011 prize for music. 

The cast for the trilogy includes two of the star countertenors of our day. In "Madame White Snake," Michael Maniaci reprises the role he created of the White Snake’s woman servant and former lover. In both "Naga" and "Gilgamesh," that character will be played by the Met’s Anthony Roth Costanzo. Each opera will have a different Madame White Snake.

On both Sept. 10 and 17 at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, beginning at 11 a.m. there will be performances of all three operas, though in two different orders. Each opera will get a separate showing during the evening performances Sept. 13-15. There are special subscriptions for either all three operas or all nine performances.

"Dimitrij" | Odyssey Opera, Sept. 16

On Friday, Sept. 16 at Jordan Hall, Odyssey Opera will present its annual concert performance of an opera that’s too big for most companies to stage. So far, there have been exciting, sold-out versions of Wagner’s epic “Rienzi,” Korngold’s orgasmic “Die Tote Stadt,” and Massenet’s Technicolor “Le Cid.” This year’s concert opera may be the most unusual. It’s the first Boston performance of Dvořák’s grand opera, “Dimitrij,” a sort of sequel to Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” — a vast and colorful national canvas about what happens in Russia after the death of Czar Boris. Sung in Czech, it will feature leading artists from Czech opera new to Boston and a large chorus.

"Carmen" | Boston Lyric Opera, Sept. 23, 25, 30 and Oct. 2

A week later, Boston Lyric Opera brings its latest version of Bizet’s “Carmen” to — of all places — the Opera House, which hasn’t seen a full-fledged opera in quite some time. (It's also the concluding event of BLO's "40 Days of Opera" in honor of the company's 40th season.) This will be the BLO’s fourth “Carmen” since 1994, when the incandescent Lorraine Hunt Lieberson gave life and depth to the title role. In 2002, thousands of people attended the BLO’s “Carmen on the Common” (an “Aida on the Common” was supposed to follow, but there wasn’t enough money). And in 2009, BLO shortchanged the audience by making significant musical cuts.

This latest “Carmen” production (Sept. 23, 25, 30 and Oct. 2) already has a history. It will be the first time a Boston audience will get to see anything by the controversial Catalan director Calixto Bieito, as revived by Joan Anton Rechi (who recently oversaw the American debut of this 1999 production in San Francisco where it got quite a range of reviews). Updated to the late 20th-century and moved from Seville to Spain’s North African city of Ceuta, this comes with a warning: “Please note: This production contains violence, nudity and suggestive behavior. Parental discretion is advised.”

The role of Carmen will be sung here by mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano, who sang Donna Elvira in BLO’s 2015 production of “Don Giovanni.” In the Metropolitan Opera’s “Carmen,” she appeared in the smaller role of the Gypsy Mercédès. Last year, she was well received playing the title role in Savannah.

You can hear excerpts from “Carmen” by Maria Callas and Jonas Kaufmann on the BLO website.

"Der Rosenkavalier" | Boston Symphony Orchestra, Sept. 29 and Oct. 1

And leave it to the Boston Symphony Orchestra to put the cherry on top of this mini opera season (mit schlag). Andris Nelsons — especially admired here for his two Richard Strauss operas (“Salome” and “Elektra”) — will be conducting the most beloved of all Strauss operas, “Der Rosenkavalier,” with no less than super-diva Renée Fleming in one of her signature roles, the glamorous but aging Marschallin. Fleming has recently announced that her upcoming Strauss performances this season at Covent Garden and the Met “will be my last mainstream opera appearances.”

At the BSO, she’ll be joined by mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in the “trouser role” of her young and soon-to-be former lover Octavian. Coloratura soprano Erin Morley, the Met’s current Sophie of choice, plays the ingénue for whom Octavian abandons the Marschallin. The final trio, in which Octavian gives up his love for the Marschallin and his ensuing love duet with Sophie, are among the most luscious pieces of music for women’s voices in all of opera. The libretto by poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal is half farce, half bittersweet romance. Between the trio and the duet, Sophie’s father says innocently to the Marschallin, “Young people are just like that!” to which the Marschallin responds with knowing resignation and irony, “Ja, ja.”

There are only two performances at Symphony Hall, Sept. 29 and Oct. 1, at 7 p.m., and there are unlikely to be any empty seats.

Who says Boston isn’t an opera town?

Fri, August 26, 2016

The Take: Ouroboros Opera Trilogy Opening in Boston
The Take with Sue O'Connell

Is this the most ambitious opera project ever to debut in Boston? Cerise Lim Jacobs and Cori Ellison of the creative team tell Sue O’Connell about the upcoming “Ouroboros” opera trilogy at Cutler Majestic Theater [featuring Paola Prestini’s ‘Gilgamesh,’ conducted by Julian Wachner].

Fri, August 19, 2016

The Hubble ‘space opera’
Nature

In 2012, composer Paola Prestini began collaborating with astrophysicist Mario Livio — who worked at the Hubble Space Telescope’s operations centre from 1991 to 2015 — on a “space opera” celebrating the instrument’s 25th anniversary. The result, The Hubble Cantata, debuted on the telescope’s 26th. Performed on 6 August at the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! festival in New York City’s Prospect Park, it is a multidimensional paean to the ‘eye in the sky’, meshing Livio’s narration with performances by Norwegian orchestra 1B1, a 100-strong chorus and Metropolitan opera stars Jessica Rivera and Nathan Gunn [conducted by Julian Wachner], and a climax featuring a 3D virtual-reality (VR) experience incorporating Hubble images that allows viewers to drift through the Orion Nebula. Here Prestini talks about the joys and challenges of putting together a highly collaborative meld of science and art.

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A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE

The Hubble ‘space opera’

August 19, 2016 | 3:54 pm | Posted by Barbara Kiser | Category: Acoustics, Arts, Space, Technology

3Q: Paola Prestini

In 2012, composer Paola Prestini began collaborating with astrophysicist Mario Livio — who worked at the Hubble Space Telescope’s operations centre from 1991 to 2015 — on a “space opera” celebrating the instrument’s 25th anniversary. The result, The Hubble Cantata, debuted on the telescope’s 26th. Performed on 6 August at the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! festival in New York City’s Prospect Park, it is a multidimensional paean to the ‘eye in the sky’, meshing Livio’s narration with performances by Norwegian orchestra 1B1, a 100-strong chorus and Metropolitan opera stars Jessica Rivera and Nathan Gunn, and a climax featuring a 3D virtual-reality (VR) experience incorporating Hubble images that allows viewers to drift through the Orion Nebula. Here Prestini talks about the joys and challenges of putting together a highly collaborative meld of science and art.

What inspired this project?

About four years ago, I was asked by the nonprofit Bay Chamber Concerts — who were in touch with Matt Mountain, then-head of Hubble operations centre the Space Telescope Science Institute — to create a piece commemorating the telescope’s legacy and anniversary. I began to read what Mario Livio had written on hisblog, and after meeting, we began to pull together a loose narrative. With the librettist Royce Vavrek, I realised that Mario could become the inspiration for the opera’s main character. What emerged from our collaboration with Mario was a cantata drawing connections between human loss, love and sorrow, and the life cycle of a star. We decided that Mario would narrate and be the voice of the lead character, an astrophysicist who had lost his wife; there would be an adult choir, children’s choir and orchestra. No Hubble images would be used until the ending, which would culminate in a VR work exploring the beauty and depth of Hubble images. I began to record Livio, and that was the launch of the cooperation.

How does your composition incorporate science?

Both in its premise, of course, and in the technological underpinnings that have gone into creating it. I worked with sound designer Terence Caulkins from engineering firm Arup to create the 3D soundscape. To present the experience outdoors, in particular for the VR experience, we needed to create an immersive experience that gives the impression sounds are moving around and through the audience space. We mixed the music in a spatialized sound format called Ambisonics, which can be used for various loudspeaker layouts. For example, in its Soundlab Arup has a sphere of loudspeakers that allows you to place sounds around, above and below listeners to enhance the VR effect. Ambisonic sound can also be mixed down to “binaural”, which is a 360-degree sound format for headphones. (This is what people downloading our free app, Fistful of Stars, will hear.) For the performance, we designed a concentric eight-point loudspeaker system surrounding the audience. The electronic narration sequences include Mario speaking about everything from baryonic matter to extra-solar life. Filmmaker Eliza McNitt created the virtual-reality film in collaboration with the Endless Collective. This is a five-minute VR video that gives a 360-degree tour through space, comprising CGI-animated Hubble imagery of the Orion Nebula. We found a company to sponsor cardboard virtual-reality glasses for audience members.

What is it like for you as an artist to work with scientists?

It’s great fun. It’s fascinating to think about our creative processes and how different they are. Mario has worked with the Baltimore Symphony as a narrator for performances, but never really deeply in a music collaborative process before this one. There’s a great deal of learning going on for all of us. He needed to trust that we were going to bring these massive concepts to fruition, so there was a lot of back and forth. He is able to explain super-complex concepts, such as dark matter, to musicians; setting these texts as simple narrations was important to me so that they could be clearly understood. Hubble’s legacy and what it has done for our understanding of the Universe is at the core of our drive to give it a musical life. The loss of communication between loved ones in the cantata storyline is echoed by the expansion of the Universe “at the rate of our imagination” (something Mario often says). Yet as the fictional astrophysicist’s understanding of the Universe deepens, he reconstructs his wife’s story and understands her better. Woven together, those twin threads in the piece — the rarity of life in the grand cosmic scene, and Hubble’s revelation of that scene — connect human and cosmic scenarios, revealing realities that may exist at vastly different scales, but that are each vastly important.

Interview by Jeff Tollefson, a reporter for Nature based in Washington DC. He tweets at @jefftollef.

Paola Prestini is currently in conversation with several producers in the United States and overseas about presenting The Hubble Cantata again. The piece will be released as a recording by VIA Records and as a short film by an as-yet unnanounced distributor.

Sat, August 13, 2016

Outer Space, Via Virtual Reality, in Prospect Park
The New Yorker

Last Saturday evening at the Band Shell in Prospect Park, as part of the bric Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival, the composer Paola Prestini, who is also the creative director of the performance space National Sawdust, premièred her work “The Hubble Cantata.” Space fever was in the air. The concert, a free outdoor event, featured a virtual-reality trip to the Orion Nebula, in the Milky Way. Space is silent, but this would not be: the cantata, conducted by Julian Wachner, featured the soprano Jessica Rivera, the baritone Nathan Gunn, and members of the Washington National Chorus, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, the Norwegian string ensemble 1B1, and Trinity Wall Street’s new-music ensemble, Novus N.Y. We’d downloaded the V.R. experience, a short film written and directed by Eliza McNitt called “A Fistful of Stars,” in an app. When we affixed cardboard goggles to our phones, pushed play, and put the goggles on, the movie would provide a cosmic experience in three hundred and sixty degrees, re-creating actual images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Before the concert, a line of thousands of people snaked out of the park and down the block.

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OUTER SPACE, VIA VIRTUAL REALITY, IN PROSPECT PARK

 By Sarah Larson, AUGUST 13, 2016

What do we want from outer space? From here, on Earth, we marvel at its vastness and contemplate its black-and-white wonders. We thrill to the sight of cosmic funny business, such as an eclipse or a shooting star. We imagine going to space, and, perhaps, take solace from knowing that we’ll never have to. It can serve as a physical reminder of the unknowability of existence, the vastness of time and history, the ephemerality of you and me. Art and science that connect us to it—the moon landing, the wowings of Carl Sagan, the rollings of the Mars rover, the Treks, the Wars, Holst’s “The Planets,” David Bowie in general—can be imbued with some of its glory and mystery.

Last Saturday evening at the Band Shell in Prospect Park, as part of thebric Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival, the composer Paola Prestini, who is also the creative director of the performance space National Sawdust, premièred her work “The Hubble Cantata.” Space fever was in the air. The concert, a free outdoor event, featured a virtual-reality trip to the Orion Nebula, in the Milky Way. Space is silent, but this would not be: the cantata, conducted by Julian Wachner, featured the soprano Jessica Rivera, the baritone Nathan Gunn, and members of the Washington National Chorus, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, the Norwegian string ensemble 1B1, and Trinity Wall Street’s new-music ensemble, Novus N.Y. We’d downloaded the V.R. experience, a short film written and directed by Eliza McNitt called “A Fistful of Stars,” in an app. When we affixed cardboard goggles to our phones, pushed play, and put the goggles on, the movie would provide a cosmic experience in three hundred and sixty degrees, re-creating actual images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Before the concert, a line of thousands of people snaked out of the park and down the block.

That afternoon, actual reality had threatened to intervene. A couple of hours before showtime, a torrential rain fell in Brooklyn—batten-down-the-hatches stuff that doused the open-air seats and the lawn beyond. But the rain stopped abruptly and the sun came out. Before the show, Prestini was buzzing around the band shell, wide-eyed and happy, wearing a midnight-blue toga dress that floated around her like the cosmos. The many complex components of the performance—singers, orchestra, scrim, headsets, V.R., specially boosted Wi-Fi—were ready to go. “The weather is the one thing I can’t control,” she said.

Four years ago, Prestini was commissioned by Bay Chamber Concerts to compose a piece celebrating Hubble’s twenty-fifth anniversary. She collaborated with the Israeli-American astrophysicist and author Mario Livio (“The Golden Ratio,” “Brilliant Blunders”), who worked with Hubble for twenty-four years, and created a narrative about a widower, his late wife, and their lost child that also tells the story of the birth, life, and death of a star. Royce Vavrek wrote the libretto. “We decided to not actually show Hubble imagery till the very end of the piece,” Prestini told me. “The last thing we want to do is have it feel gratuitous, or like screen savers.” The goal was to have you be “really thirsty for it.”

We heard a thudding, collapsing sound. Prestini jumped. “The glasses!” she said. A stack of cardboard V.R. headsets had fallen over; someone scurried to fix it. “It’s going to be O.K.,” she said. Prestini said that she hoped attendees would come away with an appreciation of Hubble’s legacy. It’s still working, but “they dosay it’s going to fall into the ocean,” Prestini said. (Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, will be launched in 2018.) Near the stage, a blast of rainwater spilled out of something overhead, sounding like a splashdown in a flume ride—or, perhaps, like Hubble crashing into the ocean. Prestini jumped. “I can’t with this,” she said.

Livio, who lives in Baltimore, had come for the performance, in which his recorded voice would figure prominently. He told me that he hoped people would come away from the event having connected the Hubble imagery they’d see—“these stunning, breathtaking works of art”—to a more concrete understanding that these things actually exist, and to “the concept of a dramatic universe.” Because of Hubble, he said, the universe is “not totally mysterious to us now.” We know that it is expanding and that the cosmic expansion is accelerating; we have clear observational evidence for the Big Bang. “And we know that there are a few hundred billion galaxies like our own Milky Way, in which we live.” Livio has never wanted to go to space himself. “I’m content with living on our small planet,” he said. “But telescopes take us there.”

As the event began, people in the chairs around me fiddled with their V.R. glasses, excitedly fitting their phones to the lenses and looking around. The crowd included many families with kids. Organizers thanked people, including the Amateur Astronomers Association, who were “out there with telescopes on the hill,” and introduced “two esteemed men of space”: Livio and the astronaut Mike Massimino, the first person to tweet from space, who wore a blue nasaastronaut shirt. People cheered every time Massimino made a remark or waved a genial arm. When Livio tapped into space fever—“We literally are stardust!”—people whooped. (His description of the cantata’s plot—“a young woman loses a child, that leads her to suicide, and her husband is searching for answers in the cosmos”—was met with quiet, and, I imagine, surprise.) Livio added that Massimino, in the last Hubble servicing mission, had fixed something by breaking off a railing, as engineers on Earth had said he should. “He pulled it, with force, and he broke, in space, that railing. And this is why Hubble continues to work now!” The crowd went wild.

The lights went down. We could hear crickets in the park. Onstage, the performers appeared behind a scrim. The performance combined everything from children’s voices to operatic singing to what sounded like a jet engine. On the scrim, we saw a series of black-and-white photographs of Wendy Whelan, the ballet dancer, and an abstract man made of stars. “The atoms in our bodies were forged inside stars,” Livio’s voice said. “The universe has expanded just as fast as our minds. In that sense, we are the center of the universe.” Chiming, flutes, a chorus. Black-and-white stills of Whelan’s hands. “Hello, hello, hello,” Gunn sang. “I am a pilgrim.” At one point, a lighted plane flew overhead, and people looked up at it. Only a few stars were visible in the sky.

Crescendos, beauty, drama, and a distinct lack of pictures of space: after forty-five minutes, the thirst for Hubble imagery had been created. When the scrim read “Astronauts, Get Ready,” there was a blast of excitement in the audience. “Countdown Imminent.” We scrambled for our cardboard glasses and our phones. Glasses: on. Inside them we read a message—“Astronaut, Look in All Directions.” Then darkness. Was it working? Where was I? Then, a familiar curved shape, glowing with light: Earth, our old friend, our home. It astounded me, this feeling of floating above Earth, and tears began to emerge from my cardboard goggles. We roamed toward something cylindrical and metallic—were we getting sucked into a rogue jet engine? No: Hubble! We floated into it.Astronaut, look in all directions. I turned my head, seeing blackness and stars. To one side, where a high-strung neighbor had been—a chipper, distracting presence—there was nothing but the blackness of space, and, beneath that, fiery points of light and a flaming fireball. Peeking out of my goggles at the park around me, I saw rows and rows full of space-gawkers, fellow-adventurers clutching cardboard boxes to their faces, twisting this way and that, looking up and down. I remembered, a bit startled, that we were all looking at our phones—a gesture known to disregard the common experience, the present moment. Here, it was providing it: six thousand of us together, in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, floating around the Orion Nebula.

Thu, August 11, 2016

Paola Prestini’s “The Hubble Cantata”
VAN Magazine

At 7 p.m. on Saturday, August 6, the line just outside the entrance of the Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn, New York, was already sprawling around the block. It was the kind of large crowd that might be expected for, say, the U.S. folk-rock band The Lumineers, which had played a benefit concert at the venue only a few nights ago. But this particular evening’s entertainment offered an intriguing break from the festival’s usual diet of indie rock bands and world-music artists: the world premiere of a new classical work called “The Hubble Cantata.” Billed as “a live virtual reality performance,” according to promotional materials distributed on-site, the piece incorporated images and soundscapes, along with two soloists, chamber orchestra, and two choruses [conducted by Julian Wachner]. It also featured a five-minute virtual-reality film. As one might guess from its title—referring to the 26-year-old-telescope that, through the images it has captured of outer space, has enriched our understanding of the universe beyond Earth’s borders—these elements combined to take us on a journey into the cosmos.

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Paola Prestini's “The Hubble Cantata”

BY KENJI FUJISHIMA · PHOTOGRAPHY KATALINA STUDIO · DATE 08/11/2016

At 7 p.m. on Saturday, August 6, the line just outside the entrance of the Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn, New York, was already sprawling around the block. It was the kind of large crowd that might be expected for, say, the U.S. folk-rock band The Lumineers, which had played a benefit concert at the venue only a few nights ago. But this particular evening’s entertainment offered an intriguing break from the festival’s usual diet of indie rock bands and world-music artists: the world premiere of a new classical work called “The Hubble Cantata.” Billed as “a live virtual reality performance,” according to promotional materials distributed on-site, the piece incorporated images and soundscapes, along with two soloists, chamber orchestra, and two choruses. It also featured a five-minute virtual-reality film. As one might guess from its title—referring to the 26-year-old-telescope that, through the images it has captured of outer space, has enriched our understanding of the universe beyond Earth’s borders—these elements combined to take us on a journey into the cosmos.

It’s a journey that has been three years in the making, when “Hubble Cantata” composer Paola Prestini was approached by the Maine-based organization Bay Chamber Concerts in 2013 to create a piece to commemorate the anniversary of the Hubble telescope. Along with librettist Royce Vavrek—a prolific opera wordsmith (with recent credits including two acclaimed new operas with composer David T. Little, “Dog Days” and “JFK”),who had previously collaborated with Prestini on some smaller song-cycle projects—they were both put in touch with Dr. Mario Livio, an astrophysicist who spent 14 years at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates the Hubble telescope. But it wasn’t just his experience with the Hubble that impressed them both. 

“He has a wonderful, wonderful way of describing super-complex concepts,” Prestini glowingly remarks. Vavrek echoes his collaborator’s assessment. When they both went down to Baltimore to meet Dr. Livio at the Hubble Institute, he recalls that in addition to learning more about the science behind the Hubble, “we also understood that the scientific language that Mario was using was so poetic, and so utilizing the poetry of the science was something that we were really excited about, and something we implemented rather early on.” Thus his own words, spoken in his own voice, are sprinkled throughout “The Hubble Cantata,” during its many interstitial soundscapes, offering contextual musings that are simultaneously scientific and philosophical in nature. 

But though the piece is abstract to a certain degree, there is something of a storyline to draw us in. Originally, it began just with the idea of a woman searching for her lost child in the stars. “We knew we wanted to tell a story about a woman who was grieving, and she goes on a journey and becomes lost to the stars,” Vavrek explains, “but she begins by drawing these pictures based on the Nazca lines in Peru, and so she draws stories in the ground.” Only later—after “The Hubble Cantata” initially premiered as a 20-minute piece for soprano and small ensemble in Rockport, Maine, in 2013—was a second character, the woman’s husband, introduced. “If we were going to make this longer,” Vavrek says, “I would love to write a companion work where her husband goes out and tries to find her. He traces the lines she’s drawn and he searches for her in the heavens, but the heavens are so vast, how would you ever find somebody, especially in the future when galaxies open up?” Both characters eventually found their way into the final work unveiled in Brooklyn.

The idea of accompanying “The Hubble Cantata” with images and a virtual-reality film, however, was a more recent addition to the creative equation—and this is where Eliza McNitt comes in. Her filmography to date evinces a passion for cinematic depictions of science, a passion that began with research in high school into the disappearance of honeybees around the world, for which she made a documentary, “Requiem for the Honeybee,” that was eventually broadcast on the television cable channel CSPAN. “It made me experience firsthand the power of film through documentary means, [and] inspired me to further explore how to tell stories about science,” McNitt explains. Cut to seven months ago when, through a classmate of hers at a New York University screenwriting class, she was introduced to Prestini, who was immediately excited about the possibility of incorporating visual elements into the piece. “She really wanted to create something that essentially explored the Orion nebula,” Prestini recalls. “And so, honoring the collaboration with Mario with a visualization of the Hubble felt like the perfect match.” With the help of the VR firm The Endless Collective, McNitt created an immersive five-minute VR film called “Fistful of Stars” that offers a depiction of the life cycle of a star, based on Hubble imagery—in essence, what McNitt calls “an artistic interpretation based off scientific data.”

On top of all those moving parts, there were the 360-degree sound designs conceived by Arup; the black-and-white still photographs by Sasha Arutyunova, featuring stage actor Rufus Collins and former New York City Ballet principal dancer Wendy Whelan, projected onto a screen in front of the performers; and the presences of Jessica Rivera and Nathan Gunn, two renowned Metropolitan Opera singers, as the soloists. In short, “The Hubble Cantata” is an immensely ambitious production, with its multimedia aspects distinguishing it from many modern-day opera events. With some advance publicity in the preceding days thanks to articles in popular local publications like The Village Voice and Brooklyn Magazine, anticipation could not have been higher for its world premiere.

At a party earlier this year, I got into a brief conversation about opera with someone who admitted to finding it too much for her, with the interplay of musical, literary, and visual elements. I couldn’t help but think of this exchange as I watched “The Hubble Cantata” unfurl, because the work represents an attempt to push that interplay to the futuristic limit. Perhaps it’s too much to expect any work to measure up to such openly grand ambitions—though of course, that didn’t stop filmmaker Stanley Kubrick from forging ahead with “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which remains arguably the premier artistic meditation on outer space and man’s ultimate insignificance in the grander scheme of things. 

There’s certainly much to admire about “The Hubble Cantata” conceptually. The idea of setting a smaller human story about loss against the backdrop of the cosmos is a sound one: What better way to illustrate Dr. Livio’s own thoughts on “the multiverse” and the possibility that intelligent civilizations such as ours may be but a mere précis in the world’s broader timeline? But neither the woman nor her husband come off as much more than ciphers, which keeps us at an abstract intellectual remove even as the mother cries out about how “a mother should not outlive her son / on Jupiter, in fetal position.” (Supertitles might have helped; it wasn’t always easy to understand the words that were being sung, especially by two choruses, The Washington Chorus and Brooklyn Youth Chorus.) 

Thankfully, Prestini’s music compensates for a lot, vividly shimmering and raging with the emotional temperatures of characters as suggested in Vavrek’s libretto, and generally conjuring up an authentically cosmic atmosphere with its trembling strings, ethereal wind lines, and luminous glockenspiel. Prestini offers some imaginative touches in her orchestration, having a couple of the performers blow into Victrola horns and conch shells to contribute a sense of the primal to the proceedings. Even the miking of all the 1B1 and NOVUS NY players (under the direction of Julian Wachner, another frequent collaborator with Prestini) and singers adds to the atmosphere, with the extra reverberation giving the whole work a mythic feel. 

Then there are Arutyunova’s photographs: surreal black-and-white images, some of the husband and wife, either separately or together, posing in ways that suggested romance, pained yearning, and rapturous wonder. Seeing them projected with crystal clarity on the large white screen erected in front of the performing forces onstage was already impressive enough. But the pièce de resistance, of course, was McNitt’s “Fistful of Stars” VR film, at the end of the 55-minute work, contained in a smartphone app which all of the audience members (in a venue that can hold 6,000 people) were encouraged to download before donning custom Google Cardboard VR glasses distributed at the event. As awe-inspiring as the animated imagery was, this final stretch of “The Hubble Cantata” also suggested the possible limitations of Prestini & co.’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. While much of the audience was audibly dazzled by the transporting views inside the Orion nebula that McNitt offered, the act of donning those cardboard glasses and moving one’s head all around in order to get a fuller view of the 360-degree visual environment distracted from the words of both Dr. Livio from the soundscapes and the singers onstage. Even as a devotee of opera, or staged opera, productions like this, I could for once understand what that party guest was saying about having too much thrown at us all at once.

Still, warts and all, I’m glad something like “The Hubble Cantata” exists—if nothing else, to suggest possibilities for opera and classical music in general going forward. 

Even now, the term “classical music” for many conjures up associations of old works, performed in lavish settings, with generally older-skewing audience members rich enough to be able to afford the high-priced tickets they usually command. This is especially the case with opera, with the Metropolitan Opera still ruling the roost in New York, at least—even though many of their new productions in recent seasons have been either half-baked high-concept embarrassments (I’m still scratching my head over the useless meta-theatrical conceit behind Mary Zimmerman’s 2009 reimagining of Vincenzo Bellini’s “La Sonnambula”) or even bigger high-tech disasters (like Robert Lepage’s much-hyped “Ring” cycle with its cumbersome 24-plank machine and general lack of interesting vision beyond the pictorial). 

“The Hubble Cantata” represents an attempt to shake up that musty museum image of classical music that still persists in many people’s minds. Certainly, that’s the spirit with which Prestini has undertaken not only this particular project, but her work as the founder of the nonprofit VisionIntoArt—which she started back when she was still a student at Juilliard—and, more recently, creative/executive director of the new performing-arts organization/venueNational Sawdust in Brooklyn. “I’ve been thinking a lot about this for a long time, because I’ve always been very preoccupied with first being a woman composer and trying to find my way in the world when I was in my 20s,” Prestini says, “and realizing just how many doors I had to open. So for me, the beginning stages of this question occurred when I was in my 20s and I began to think of what is my responsibility to the art form. And so what I realized is that I couldn’t wait for opportunities. I had to create them, and I had to not just create opportunities for myself, but I had to also create opportunities for people in my field.” 

This perhaps explains the collaborative spirit she has fostered with many of her works, including “The Hubble Cantata.” It’s another aspect of her artistry that was fostered in her Juilliard years. “When I was in Juilliard,” she tells me, “there wasn’t a lot of collaborative work being done, and I started my company, VisionIntoArt, when I was there. The disciplines were there—there was a dance department, an amazing theater department—but they weren’t really working together at the time. It felt like something that really needed to be done, and it spoke to my calling as an artist. …I began playing with the idea of different disciplines in one concert. First, it was more about the juxtaposition of different forms. And then it really became about the integration of multimedia and different forms and different collaborative work.” It’s a generous ethos that Prestini brought to the rehearsal process for “The Hubble Cantata.” Even two days before the world premiere, Prestini was working closely with the musicians and technicians, patiently fielding suggestions and even making small last-minute adjustments to the score to accommodate their needs. Despite being the essential mastermind of this enterprise, she exuded not an ounce of ego as she either sat behind the players or, in the fuller rehearsal the next day, perched in the balcony observing the proceedings from above.       

“The Hubble Cantata” could be considered the highest fulfillment of this collaborative, boundary-expanding potential: a free public event incorporating multiple forms of media into one communal interactive experience. It didn’t necessarily pass by without hiccups: On a couple of occasions during the opening act’s set, one of the organizers of the event came out and implored people to turn off the wi-fi on their smartphones in order for others to be able download the “Fistful of Stars” app and film for the main event. But such difficulties are to be expected in trying to push an art form forward. Beyond the journey it chronicles, “The Hubble Cantata” suggests a deeper, more subtextual journey: a peek into the future of classical music, one as full of endless possibilities as the cosmos it explores. ¶

Wed, August 10, 2016

At a Concert, Floating Through Outer Space in Virtual Reality
Hyperallergic

Prestini’s operatic score, with a libretto by Royce Vavrek, did not encourage the “astronauts,” as the MC called the audience, to sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight: Instead, it was a thundering opus that obliquely told the story of a woman losing her child and committing suicide. The 20-person orchestra [conducted by Julian Wachner] was silhouetted behind a translucent screen projected with Sasha Arutyunova’s ghostly black-and-white photographs of a couple in despair, hands forming shadow puppets, and a glowing pregnant belly. This human tragedy was framed by a parallel narrative charting the birth, life, and death of a star, narrated by the Hubble’s lead astrophysicist, Dr. Mario Livio.

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At a Concert, Floating Through Outer Space in Virtual Reality

by Carey Dunne on August 10, 2016

On Saturday night, some 6,000 people gathered on the Prospect Park Bandshell’s grassy knoll and waited to be beamed up into space. Via Google Cardboard VR headsets, they would float through the Orion Nebula, a Milky Way star cluster more than 1,000 light years away. As they floated, they would listen to a Norwegian string orchestra, a choir of 100 and two Metropolitan Opera stars singing about the parallel life cycles of stars and humans.

This was the Hubble Cantata, a staggeringly ambitious work that attempted to bring the cosmos down to Brooklyn and make sweaty crowds bordered by beer tents and porta-potties feel like astronauts. Part of the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! concert series, the event fused music by composer Paola Prestini with astrophysics and a finale in virtual reality.

Prestini’s operatic score, with a libretto by Royce Vavrek, did not encourage the “astronauts,” as the MC called the audience, to sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight: Instead, it was a thundering opus that obliquely told the story of a woman losing her child and committing suicide. The 20-person orchestra was silhouetted behind a translucent screen projected with Sasha Arutyunova’s ghostly black-and-white photographs of a couple in despair, hands forming shadow puppets, and a glowing pregnant belly. This human tragedy was framed by a parallel narrative charting the birth, life, and death of a star, narrated by the Hubble’s lead astrophysicist, Dr. Mario Livio.

When composing the cantata, Prestini took a synesthetic approach to translating the Hubble’s Orion Nebula images into music. “There’s actually no sound in space,” Prestini told Hyperallergic. She asked herself, “What do collapsing clouds of gas sound like? What do stars sound like?” In her musical imagination, they sound almost apocalyptic, with foreboding timpani rolls and searing string runs. The bellowed lyrics — sometimes a little on-the-nose — mused on “intelligent life,” “exhausted promises, exhausted frontiers,” and “a filter of doom.”

Forty-five minutes into the piece, a message appeared on the screen: “Astronauts: Lift Off Imminent.” The choir began a countdown. Before the show, audience members had been told to download an app, called Fistful of Stars, featuring a five-minute VR video by filmmaker Eliza McNitt. In unison, the “astronauts” popped their smartphones into the VR headsets, handed out for free, and launched into a 360-degree tour through space composed of CGI-animated imagery of the Orion Nebula, first photographed by the Hubble Telescope in 1993.

“People have asked, did you actually send your cameras to space [to make the video]?” McNitt said.

No, it would take thousands of years to get the footage back. And to the human eye, [the Orion Nebula] would just look like white light. We used Hubble Telescope photos as reference, to create a photorealistic simulation of what it would be like to travel into pockets of the universe that only the Hubble gets to see. We tried to make things as accurate as possible, but also to create a sense of magical realism.

Looking through the headset’s plastic eyeholes, a glow on the horizon grew into a glaring white sun, and the astronauts, sitting on a patchwork of blankets in the grass, were virtually transported into the silver cylinder of the Hubble Telescope. But just as I was about to float into the telescope’s round eye, the VR experience stopped, interrupted by a low battery warning on my phone.

Sans headset, angrily tapping the phone screen, I was returned to a non-virtual reality of french fry trays and half-eaten burgers and $8 cups of beer littering the grass, mosquitoes biting my legs, a crying baby, and my own dumb lack of preparedness (why hadn’t I visited the “charging station” nearby?). Stars in the real sky overhead twinkled faintly behind the light pollution. Around me, hundreds of people stared into their headsets, swiveling around in wonder, like drunk cyborgs. They had blasted off without me. My escape had been thwarted.

My expectations for the Hubble Cantata, vaguely based on sci-fi imaginings of VR, were impossibly high. I had arrived in Prospect Park hoping to achieve something akin to astral projection. A lazy meditator, I thought maybe this technology could offer a shortcut to five minutes of enlightenment. “All elements in our bodies were forged at the centers of stars,” Dr. Livio had said at the start of the performance, “which means we literally are stardust.” This wasn’t news, because I had heard Crosby, Stills & Nash before, but I’d hoped this smartphone app, paired with loud opera, would kill my ego and make me feellike stardust, for once. I had hoped an animation of the Orion Nebula seen through a cardboard headset would give me a hallucinogen-level out-of-body experience without destroying brain cells. Of course, this was too much to ask. The experience of VR, so far, doesn’t live up to the fantasy of total escape. (For the sake of staving off a Black Mirror-esque dystopia filled with VR porn addicts, that’s probably a good thing.)

“We may be doomed and intelligent civilizations will not survive for very long,” said Dr. Mario Livio from the speakers. “Life is extremely rare.” As if rooting for the survival of intelligent civilization, my phone did not die, the video resumed, and massive peaked clouds of pink and orange and blue star stuff began to swirl around me in all directions. Flecks of dirt on the screen camouflaged into thousands of virtual stars, and the usual sounds of Prospect Park mixed into the booming orchestra: Airplanes, skateboards, and garbage trucks on the nearby road, cicadas and tree frogs. The effect was dazzling and so unreal.

Mon, August 8, 2016

“The Hubble Cantata” and Tigue at BRIC’s Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival
Feast of Music

The performance itself featured the first-rate string ensemble 1B1 from Norway, the amassed voices of the Washington Chorus and Brooklyn Youth Chorus, and soloists Nathan Gunn and Jessica Rivera, all conducted by Julian Wachner.

During some especially ravishing passages, I kept looking up towards the clear night sky speckled with stars, and felt a connection that was far more transporting than the mild VR one. I could only imagine what it would be like to hear this cantata in one of those places on the planet where the sky is teeming with millions of stars from our galaxy and not just a few pale pinpricks from the brightest ones.

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"The Hubble Cantata" and Tigue at BRIC's Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival

by Steven Pisano

"We are stardust/ Billion year old carbon/ We are golden/ Caught in the devil's bargain/ And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." --Joni Mitchell

For anyone interested in the origins of the Universe, the concepts of space and time, or the genesis of life, the spectacular, awe-inspiring photographs taken with the Hubble Space Telescope over the past 36 years have been a magical, almost religious source of wonder, enabling humankind to peer back 14 billion years into our collective past. These extraordinary photographs have inspired scientists to dream about what the future might hold for us. 

In Paola Prestini and Royce Vavrek's The Hubble Cantata, which received its world premiere as a full-length virtual reality experience at BRIC's Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival on Saturday night, the audience was invited to travel on a shared journey inspired by these majestic images, following the skeletal story of a woman who is born, dies, and seeks to be reborn, just as stars are reconstituted from their own stellar dust. Images of ex-New York City Ballet dancer Wendy Whelan were projected onto a scrim in front of the orchestra and chorus.

The tease of the show to the thousands of people in attendance was that it was the first-ever fusing of a major musical performance with Virtual Reality. But the VR experience--a wishy-washy video of theOrion Nebula called "Fistful of Stars" by filmmaker Eliza McNitt viewed on smartphones inserted into cardboard headsets--was underwhelming at best. I was anticipating oohs and aahs all around me, but mostly I saw a sea of shrugs. With a long line of feature film depictions of space from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Gravity, there has been no shortage of jaw-dropping footage of what space might look like.

Nevertheless, the performance itself was full of magic and wonder. Space, of course, is silent: there is no audible music of the spheres. But, Prestini has written some astonishing musical passages that capture a sense of what it might be like to be set adrift in a universe without the limitations of space or time. According to Hubble astrophysicist Dr. Mario Livio, who provided voice-over narration, all living matter on Earth is composed physically of star matter dating back to the Big Bang, so the stars are within us even as we are amongst the stars.

The performance itself featured the first-rate string ensemble 1B1 from Norway, the amassed voices of the Washington Chorus and Brooklyn Youth Chorus, and soloists Nathan Gunn and Jessica Rivera, all conducted by Julian Wachner. 

During some especially ravishing passages, I kept looking up towards the clear night sky speckled with stars, and felt a connection that was far more transporting than the mild VR one. I could only imagine what it would be like to hear this cantata in one of those places on the planet where the sky is teeming with millions of stars from our galaxy and not just a few pale pinpricks from the brightest ones.

Leading off the night, and getting the audience in the mood for some intergalactic travel, was the Brooklyn-based art-rock group Tigue (Matt Evans, Amy Garapic and Carson Moody), whose voiceless compositions lean heavily toward drone-like percussion that can often be trance-inducing. They played selections from their new album Peaks, including the spacey "Dress Well," featuring Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan on guitar and James McNew on electric bass.

There is a Kickstarter campaign seeking to raise additional funds to perform The Hubble Cantata again in this full-performance version -- it has previously been performed as a 20-odd minute piece without the bells and whistles -- and from there it may go on tour. And as for the Hubble Space Telescope itself? For all it has revealed about the Universe, it should continue working for many years to come - though it will soon have competition from the larger and more sophisticated James Webb Space Telescope, which will launch in 2018.

Mon, August 8, 2016

‘The Hubble Cantata’ Explores Orchestral Transcendence in Space by Embracing VR
The Observer

After four years in the making, the success of this multi-disciplinary performance lies in its ability to exist as both high art and popular entertainment. And so The Hubble Cantata is a work that knows no parallel, pushing boundaries of technology and presentation that push our city’s relationship with multi-disciplinary performance further into uncharted territory.

The piece’s world premiere last weekend at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival in Prospect Park not only utilized a 100-person choir, a 20-piece ensemble, baritone Nathan Gunn and soprano Jessica Rivera [conducted by Julian Wachner]—a massive production by normal standards alone—but a Virtual Reality climax to the piece, wherein the audience downloaded the VR film on their phones beforehand and raised their viewers (the same Google Cardboard boxes the NYT sent out to subscribers last fall) when the on-stage screen gave the signal.

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‘The Hubble Cantata’ Explores Orchestral Transcendence in Space by Embracing VR

By Justin Joffe • 08/08/16 12:27pm

There’s no experience more wondrous than the moment you first learn there’s music in space.

Generations of kids got wise when they heard Dark Side of the Moon for the first time, and some even earlier upon discovering the works of Sun Ra or Alice Coltrane. My fortunate musical education provided me with all of that, but it wasn’t until much later in life, when working for the record label of composer Philip Glass that it all made sense.

One evening Glass spoke with astrophysicist Greg Laughlin as part of the Rubin Museum’s BRAINWAVE speaker series about the music of the cosmos. They were how, when the sound of planetary orbits was recorded and adjusted to something we could hear on an audible spectrum, the orbits sounded just like Tibetan prayer bowls. This confirmed that music was not only innate to the universe, but that we humans are channeling it.

It also put those years in high school orchestra spent learning Gustav Holst’s 1916 astrological symphonic suite, The Planets, into perspective. The bright string runs that opened “Jupiter” still ring with the rush of interplanetary wonder, while the brass of “Mars” still sounds like impending cosmic conflict. Whether we consciously know it or not, the voices of orchestral music have long been well-versed in the music of the stars, too, for so long that they’re imbedded in our subconscious.

Those bright string runs and foreboding brass runs make brief textural appearances in The Hubble Cantata, composer Paola Prestini’s brilliant collaboration with librettist Royce Vavreck and the Hubble Space Telescope’s lead astrophysicist, Dr. Mario Livio. But in all other arenas, Hubble pushes its classical cosmic themes ever more upward than any orchestral work these ears have ear in a long time, upward and toward the stars.

After four years in the making, the success of this multi-disciplinary performance lies in its ability to exist as both high art and popular entertainment. And so The Hubble Cantata is a work that knows no parallel, pushing boundaries of technology and presentation that push our city’s relationship with multi-disciplinary performance further into uncharted territory.

The piece’s world premiere last weekend at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival in Prospect Park not only utilized a 100-person choir, a 20-piece ensemble, baritone Nathan Gunn and soprano Jessica Rivera—a massive production by normal standards alone—but a Virtual Reality climax to the piece, wherein the audience downloaded the VR film on their phones beforehand and raised their viewers (the same Google Cardboard boxes the NYT sent out to subscribers last fall) when the on-stage screen gave the signal.

“We decided to create a piece that would essentially follow a woman’s perspective, who had lost her child and killed herself,” Prestini told me. “We began to create this hyper-structure of the birth, life and death of a star, but within it a human narrative that connects to it.”

That story, told through Vavreck’s libretto and delivered by Metropolitan Opera stars Gunn and Rivera, was further advanced with Sasha Arutyunova’s beautiful black and white photographs on a giant, translucent screen that covered the stage. The orchestra was tastefully silhouetted, visible only in the moments appropriate to the piece.

Dr. Mario Livio’s narration explained the larger celestial implications at stake in a simple, coherent manner, further revealing our characters’ journey in the grand scheme of things.

“All elements in our bodies were forged at the centers of stars,” he told the audience before the performance, “which means we literally are stardust. Not only that, but it is possible that this atom in my body was formed in that star, and this atom in my body was formed in another star over there. So not only are we in the universe; the universe is inside us.”

Such a message might sound like boiler-plate inspirational dreck in lesser hands, but it’s to The Hubble Cantata‘s credit that the piece never panders to its audience or offers any easy answers to the difficult metaphysical quandaries it proposes.

Prestini’s score is equally dense and modern in moments that communicate our characters’ duress, while airy and light in the story’s moments of transition or epiphany. Her ability to intimately evoke specific emotions and feelings with her phrases speaks to time spent not only as an accomplished composer for new media and modern orchestral performance.

Prestini’s time spent perfecting 30-plus commissioned multidisciplinary works and serving as creative and executive director of Williamsburg’s National Sawdust has only further fortified her with the tact to balance all the voices, mixed media and technology that combine to make The Hubble Cantata such a spectacle. Hence, Eliza McNitt’s stunning five-minute VR climax doesn’t come off as gimmicky or tacked on. Instead, Prestini’s decision to use the Hubble’s imagery sparingly speaks to her tasteful intuitions as a multi-disciplinary artist. (Her production company, Vision Into Art, also produced the show.)

“We decided to not use Hubble imagery until the very end of the piece,” she said, “and holding back was very important. Because by the end, when you’ve really connected with the human story and you finally get to be in the Orion Nebula, it’s much more visceral.”

It’s such commitment to using new technology, not as a driving force but as a means to accent the work, that makes The Hubble Cantata a resounding success. More often than not technology puts us at a distance from establishing an emotional connection, but it doesn’t have to. And that’s a valuable lesson in of itself.

Many families brought young kids to the performance, which was both free and outside, and for its entire spectacle, a more enticing young person’s gateway into the world of classical music does not exist.

Astronaut Mike Mannino was also on hand, regaling youngsters with tales of his time spent servicing the Hubble, including one harrowing tale where he had to break off a support rod in the blackness of space so that the thing would work properly.

“We’re the repair people,” he told the crowd, “and we did the job so people like Mario could look at the images and make the great discoveries that they did.”

The packed house ran out of its 5,000 viewers, and even on the lawn an empty spot was tough to come by; The Hubble Cantata demonstrated that people will still turn out for classical music, even when it’s presented in new, more modern perspectives.

“It’s just really cool that we’re no longer at a time when only one type of classical music is allowed,” said librettist Royce Vavreck. “We are free to dream, and this piece really came from that liberation.”

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