Recently named the second most-performed living composer, Mason Bates currently serves as the first composer-in-residence of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. His music fuses innovative orchestral writing, imaginative narrative forms, the harmonies of jazz and the rhythms of techno, and it has been the first symphonic music to receive widespread acceptance for its unique integration of electronic sounds. Leading conductors such as Riccardo Muti, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Leonard Slatkin have championed his diverse catalogue. He has become a visible advocate for bringing new music to new spaces, whether through institutional partnerships such as his residency with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, or through his club/classical project Mercury Soul, which has transformed spaces ranging from commercial clubs to Frank Gehry-designed concert halls into exciting, hybrid musical events drawing over a thousand people. In awarding Bates the Heinz Medal, Teresa Heinz Kerry remarked that “his music has moved the orchestra into the digital age and dissolved the boundaries of classical music.”
Bates appears on several National Symphony Orchestra concerts at the Kennedy Center this season, with Mothership appearing in December and a full concert of his music in April. That concert featured Anne Akiko Meyers performing his Violin Concerto, which tours this season with the New Zealand Symphony, as well as The B-Sides and The Rise of Exotic Computing. In April the San Francisco Symphony premiered Auditorium, which haunts the modern orchestra with processed recordings of a baroque ensemble. The SFS is also releasing his three largest works — Alternative Energy, Liquid Interface, and The B-Sides — which appeared on last season’s Beethoven & Bates Festival. Another symphonic CD was released by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project in fall 2015, featuring some of his most-performed works. Currently he is composing an opera on the topic of Steve Jobs to be premiered at Santa Fe Opera in 2017. Continuing performances of works such as Mothership, which premiered at the Sydney Opera House by the YouTube Symphony to an online audience of 1.8 million, have demonstrated that electronic sounds can be a welcome addition to the orchestral palette with minimal logistics.
Acoustic, Chamber, Vocal Works.
Many purely acoustic works complement his diverse catalogue, such as Observer in the Cloud, an a cappella work being toured this season by the superstar chorus Chanticleer. A great deal of his recent chamber music was composed for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNOW series, with works such as the percussion trio Stereo Is King and Difficult Bamboo being released on a recent Bates CD.
Bringing classical music to new audiences is a central part of Bates’ activities as a curator. With composer Anna Clyne, he transformed the Chicago Symphony’s MusicNOW series into an imaginative concert experience drawing huge crowds, with cinematic program notes and immersive stagecraft. Another new take on new music is Mercury Soul which embeds sets of classical music into a fluid evening of DJing and immersive stagecraft. Sold-out performances from San Francisco’s famed Mezzanine club to Miami’s New World Symphony have brought a new vision of the listening experience to widespread audiences, and the project recently returned to San Francisco’s Ruby Skye to a crowd of eight hundred. Mercury Soul is being presented by the Sioux City Symphony in May and features a guest appearance by violinist Gil Shaham. As part of his multi-year residency, he will work with the Kennedy Center’s broad range of artistic constituents, from performances with the National Symphony to appearances with Jason Moran on Kennedy Center Jazz, often integrating electronic artists into the Center’s unique spaces. In fall he launched a new-music series, KC Jukebox, that features the eclectic programming, immersive production, and projected information for which his curating projects have become known.