Like most of our concerts, our March 2019 program is an eclectic mix of music from multiple centuries and countries. This time we explore the many ways that the natural world has been depicted by composers like Haydn, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky, as well as by contemporary composers, including three pieces written specifically for this concert.
We asked Artistic Director Magen Solomon to tell us a little bit about what to expect, and how she built a program out of contrasting approaches to the theme of Nature.
This concert’s title is “Out of the Garden, Into the Woods: from Paradise to Scary.” What led you to this notion of “paradise to scary”?
Much choral music about nature describes a benign, even an insipid, anodyne world. I thought it would be interesting to explore the darker side as well as the ways in which poets have explained, described or ascribed human behavior to the natural world.
For example, the garden can be a dreamy vision (Stenhammar) or a place of nightmares political (Haydn) or psychological (McClellan).
San Francisco Choral Artists’ programs are known for the variety of styles and unexpected juxtapositions. What is in store for us with this one?
We’re including simple folk song settings, Romantic part songs, descriptive tone poems, and some playful jabs at serious choral music, ranging from the Classical period to the 21st Century with several stops in between. The English, French, Danish, German, Italian, and Russian texts reveal characteristic colors and textures and range dynamically from the barely audible to the shockingly loud.
The concert is organized by topic: Flower, Birds and Beasts, Night and Day, etc., and the unusual juxtapositions that result allow the listener to get contrasting snapshots of the subjects.
Elsewhere we move from a close-up of just a few leaves, then zoom out to a forest; and we hear a barely perceptible rustling (Van Brink), contemplate a beautiful but lonely forest (Hensel), and take a wild jaunt into the woods to cut down a tree (Nelhybel).
In another set Nature offers both a heartbreaking love story and a challenging commute!
This program contains world premieres by Composer-in-Residence Jean Ahn and Composer-Not-in-Residence Robinson McClellan. What sort of direction did you give them in commissioning pieces with this theme in mind?
(There is also this year’s New Voices Project winner Jarred Main, whose piece “Cicadas” was written in response to our call for scores specifying the theme of nature for this concert.)
In general, I try to find balance between directing a composer toward the program’s theme and giving him or her the freedom and flexibility to follow his or her instincts and muse. Since I try also to construct a context in which any new piece can really be heard, we often communicate about other works planned for the program, and what sort of mood, color, and meaning the premiere will contribute. Finally, I ask to see the proposed text before composition begins so I can ensure a good “home” for it in the final program.
The “dreamy vision” Magen refers to above is “I Seraillets Have” (In the Seraglio’s Garden) by Danish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927) from his Three Choral Songs.
Here it is performed by Det Jyske Kammerkor of Denmark.