by Diane Wittry
A world premiere! For a composer, a world premiere of a composition that they wrote is similar to having a baby. A piece can be created, finely crafted and fine-tuned for months, and even years, but there is always that very special moment when it comes to life; when in fact it is born into sound for everyone to hear. No matter how many times you hear the piece in your head, pound it out on the piano, play it through on a modern synthesizer, or sing it to your friends, the sound of the actual orchestra is like nothing else. As a budding composer myself (my first orchestral work will be performed in Allentown, PA in March 2008), I think I truly understand the composer’s anxiety and excitement over the performance and acceptance of the piece that they created with such love and attention. Over hundreds of years, orchestras have premiered pieces to various reactions from the audiences. Often pieces which were scorned or rejected upon their first performance are later loved and treasured by the following generations. Sometimes, this has to do with the audiences ears not being ready for new sounds and textures, and sometimes it has to do with the fact that the composer was stretching the technique of the instruments involved and that the players, with little rehearsal time, were not always up to the challenge of producing a quality performance the first time around.
Fortunately, neither of these problems will be the case with our performance of a world premiere at the opening concert of the Norwalk Symphony on Saturday, September 29th. The piece we will perform is dedicated to Richard Epstein and Ina Chadwich, long time Westport residents. Richard and Ina have spent countless of hours over the years helping to raise money for the orchestra and encouraging people to attend concerts. Richard is also a member of the bassoon section of the orchestra and serves on the Board of Directors. Their incredible dedication to the Norwalk Symphony was honored last October at a benefit brunch, and during this brunch the dedication rights to this piece were purchased by a group of attendees in their honor. It is not often that one has a piece dedicated to them. Just think, two hundred years from now, when this piece is performed, Richard Epstein and Ina Chadwick’s names will be right there on the inside cover!
The composer of the piece is Douglas Townsend, an Adjunct Professor of Composition at the University of Bridgeport (CT), and an experienced composer who studied with Aaron Copland. He has composed symphonies, concertos, chamber and ballet music, film scores, and incidental music for theatrical productions. His vocal works include operas, operettas and choral music; and he has also written extensively for wind ensembles and concert bands. Douglas Townsend has been the recipient of numerous commissions and a grant in composition from the National Endowment for the Arts. I feel very fortunate to be able to conduct the world premiere of his “Overture Concertante” for orchestra.
Douglas Townsend’s style of composition is pretty straight forward. You won’t be hearing any of those crazy rhythms like in the Rite of Spring, nor will you be hearing any Schoenbergesque 12-tone sounds. There are no “chance” music elements like those used by John Cage. In fact, the opening is rather march-like (complete with snare drum and bass drum and cymbals), straight forward in 4/4 time, but Townsend intrigues us with interesting harmonic twists. The contrasting theme is lyrical and accompanied by a pulsating rhythm. Instrumental sections of the orchestra (Woodwinds, Strings, Brass) tend to echo each other throughout the middle section. He has lots of “flourishes” in the wood winds and eventually works his way back to his opening March. It is always an interesting journey when you hear a new piece for the first time. I think the audience will score a “thumbs-up” for this one.
The concert also includes two other works that I am especially fond of, Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (1919), with its wonderful colors and textures, and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. We are very fortunate to be featuring an incredibly talented young pianist, Yuja Wang, on the Tchaikovsky, who is really making a mark on the music scene. Just 20 years old, Yuja has already won prizes all over the world. Her performances have been called “electrifying.” When she recently performed with the Boston Symphony, the entire audience immediately jumped to their feet. In the 2006-2007 season alone, she performed with the New York Philharmonic, the Houston Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, and San Francisco Symphony, the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Japan, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic in the Netherlands, the China Philharmonic in Beijing, the Guangzhou Symphony, and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Just imagine, you can hear her on Saturday night at the Norwalk Concert hall with the Norwalk Symphony, and in addition, parking is free!
As the conductor of the Norwalk Symphony, I always strive to bring you interesting and exciting concerts featuring the finest new talent. I think we have an excellent evening in store for you on Saturday, September 29th (8:00pm at the Norwalk Concert Hall). We feature a world premiere with words from the composer himself; a stunningly superb guest pianist; and a powerful performance of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. Who would dare stay home and miss this fantastic evening out? Hopefully, I will see all of you there!