From “Jobs” to the new season

As the 2017-18 season awakens, I look ahead to upcoming performances and premieres still glowing from an enchanting summer in Santa Fe. Here are some reflections on the premiere of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs and an overview of performances and new projects for the coming season.

Wrapping up Jobs

greenThe last week of performances of my opera in late August were both exciting and poignant. For one thing, we were performing to sold-out houses in front of an incredible mix of first-time opera audiences and, interestingly, 2nd- or 3rd-time viewers of the piece. Strong word of mouth propelled this opera to become one of the best-selling productions in the history of Santa Fe Opera of any era, and the energy in the audience was palpable every night. I once had to check on some tickets left for friends at the box office right before a show, and moving through the lobby was like going to a revivalist church at Christmas. Such infectious electricity infused everyone.

As the performances wrapped up, both cast and creative team seemed to realize the uniqueness to our bond. Many opera productions are plagued by infighting or drama due to the large personalities that inhabit the medium, yet we were thankfully as close-knit and collegial a group as any could remember. A lot of the credit goes to our fearless leaders, director Kevin Newbury and conductor Michael Christie – their positivity infected everyone. But a great deal of the credit also goes to our stunning lead, baritone Edward Parks, who created the mammoth role of Steve Jobs while remaining gracious and mellow offstage. The cast included two families – Sasha Cooke (Laurene) and Kelly Markgraf (Paul Jobs), and Garret Sorensen (Woz) and his son Jonah (Young Steve) – as well as the lovely Jessica Jones and the magical Wei Wu. He made us all smile both onstage and off.

I was also a bit wistful to see my performance of the electronic part come to a close. Being a performer in the orchestra pit gave me not only a shot of adrenalin every week, it also offered special insights into the piece as I consider minor nips and tucks. There is no better way to understand your own music’s strengths and weaknesses than performing it yourself. But as much as I love being part of the performance, I carefully design each piece to work with minimal extra tech requirements – hence the “laptop part” for a future percussionist. As the piece moves to Seattle, San Francisco, Indiana University and beyond, it needs to live on its own. But I’ll always cherish those nights in Santa Fe when I’d climb behind my rig in the pit, with a crackerjack cast and God on our lighting team (there’s a sunset in Scene Three that always looked especially beautiful through the back wall).  To keep me from a post-partum meltdown, a busy schedule this year awaits:

2017-18: Kennedy Center, Mercury Soul, Chanticleer…

The third year of my composer-in-residency at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts features a variety of appearances, starting with the National Symphony’s performance of my Baroque thriller Auditorium Oct 12-15. This piece haunts the modern orchestra with original neo-baroque music composed for period instruments. Premiered by the San Francisco Symphony, this is the work’s East Coast premiere.

MSCPA_480Also at the Kennedy Center is my KC Jukebox series, which features new music in new formats. Each show features immersive production and ambient information to educate the audience, as well as post-parties with DJs to allow people to debrief in a fun space. We open on Nov 15 with German electronica due Mouse on Mars, the heirs to Kraftwerk. Their music is ear-tingling mix of funky industrial techno and alluring sound design, and it will be thrilling to feature them at the Center.

On Dec 8 we feature music and visual art in a show called Eye/Ear, with Christopher Rountree conducting a wide range of music by Marcos Balter, Anna Clyne, Timo Andres, and Jacob Cooper. Later in the spring (April 25), as part of the year-long celebration of John F. Kennedy’s centennial, we present a show called JFK Jukebox featuring music in response to civil rights challenges. The highlighted work is by Julius Eastman, a newly re-appreciated composer who early minimalist experiments show a unique musical mind. We also hear from Carlos Simon and from David Little’s band Newspeak, which performs Electric Proletariat.

A central part of the Jukebox series is this year’s inaugural Direct Current festival at the Kennedy Center. A huge range of new works from all manner of art forms will be presented, including on two Jukebox events. California Mystics offers music from California visionaries past and present, with music by legends Lou Harrison and Steve Reich complemented by electric cellist Zoe Keating, the Junkestra of Nathaniel Stookey, and my own Mass Transmission. The festival also includes a Jukebox presentation of Mercury Soul, with music by Derek Bermel, Ted Hearne, Missy Mazzoli, and Jennifer Higdon. I’ll be presenting my own Digital Loom and also DJing with Chicagoan Justin Reed.

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 4.24.10 PMNot far from DC, my hometown of Richmond, Virginia is premiering my first work for chorus and orchestra for the Richmond Symphony’s 60th anniversary. Children of Adam is a high-octane collection of exuberant American celebrations of creation, with a special focus on secular poets exploring sacred themes. The work also includes creation texts from Native Americans of the Virginia area, as well as completely novel celebrations of the creative power of the Industrial Age from Carl Sanburg.

Elsewhere, the legendary Joffrey Ballet is premiering a new ballet Feb 7-18 on The B-Sides by Nicholas Blanc, who first choreographed my Mothership for New York City Ballet. The superstar chorus Chanticleer tours my new work Drum-Taps around the country on a program responding to armed conflict. And in San Francisco, Mercury Soul presents three classical-meets-club shows at the DNA Lounge. Our first, on Nov 17, is entitled “Burlesque & Beats: the 1920’s French Underground” and features imaginative collisions of cabaret, burlesque, and EDM.

That’s enough to keep my mind from drifting into too much nostalgia for the high desert.  The season is on!