It's autumn in New York, and all eyes and ears are focused on Alan Gilbert as he begins his tenure as one of the youngest- ever music directors of the New York Philharmonic. But, in addition to the exciting native New Yorker, someone else will also be making waves at Avery Fisher Hall this season: Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg, whose two-year tenure as the Philharmonic's Composer-in-Residence begins when Mr. Gilbert ascends the podium.
The very first notes people will hear under the Music Director's baton at the Opening Night Concert on September 16, 2009, are those of Mr. Lindberg's EXPO, a work commissioned to usher in the Orchestra's new era. According to the composer, "The title is self-explanatory: it's the exposition of Alan's season. It's a piece built on qualities I find so gorgeous in Alan's way of making music : absolute technical and physical straightness, no mystery around the rational part of it, and then on top of that, the highly irrational and mysterious part of how you actually put music together."
Frequently, new works premiered on orchestral concerts have nothing in common with the rest of the programs' repertoire, but Magnus Lindberg has striven for a greater sense of continuity with EXPO. Since the Opening Night Concert also includes Messiaen's Poèmes pour Mi (with soprano Renée Fleming) and Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, those pieces somehow also informed what he created. "Being influenced by references to masterpieces from the past is a natural way of feeling that I belong," Mr. Lindberg explains. "I find it so inspiring to think about the context, and especially sitting in front of empty music paper, you need to start from somewhere. The very moment I have anything around, like thinking about a Messiaen chord or a strange cadenza of Berlioz, it spins off and lets me go on. You can trace some Messiaen in the piece if you want, but hopefully no deliberate quote. You might also be able to trace something of the spirit of what I would say is one of the most extreme pieces in the classical repertoire, the Symphonie fantastique."
Still, while EXPO's premiere will be performed on a program that also includes Messiaen and Berlioz, it will reappear on one of his first subscription concerts of the season (September 30 _October 3), and will also be performed on the Philharmonic's October tour of Asia, each time alongside different repertoire. "The task is also to make the piece such that it's independent of those starting points," Mr. Lindberg says.
There will be many other opportunities to hear the Philharmonic play Magnus Lindberg's music this season. For the Philharmonic's Carnegie Hall appearance on Saturday, February 13, Finnish clarinetist kari kriikku will appear as the soloist in Lindberg's exuberant Clarinet Concerto, a bona fide crowd pleaser that weaves instantly hummable melodies into a virtuoso tour de force that also offers more daredevil pyrotechnics, like otherworldly sounding multiphonics and a completely improvised cadenza. "With this concerto I wanted to include everything I know about the instrument," the composer says. "Then the cadenza is the soloist's extension or commentary on that. I never know what to expect; kari kriikku's a truly inventive musician."
Mr. Lindberg's relentlessly frenetic Feria will be the centerpiece of a Young People's Concert on March 6. "It's a virtuoso piece and a noisy one, so I'm very excited to see how that will communicate with a younger audience," he confides. The June 10 _12 and 15 program will include his colorful Arena, and the season's final subscription program (June 23 _24 and 26) will include a second Lindberg World Premiere _New York Philharmonic Commission, one that prefaces Beethoven's Missa solemnis. About that work the composer says, "It's not written yet, but I have plenty of sketches. It's better not to say too much since the piece is not written, because sometimes it takes an entirely different direction. But I've been working so much with huge, massive, big sounds, and looking at what I have in terms of material and thoughts about the piece; it will most probably be set up with big contrasts from one extreme expression to another."
Magnus Lindberg will have to be creative about finding time to work on that new piece because he will also be involved with the Philharmonic's new CONTACT series (including conducting the December 17 and 19 concerts, at Symphony Space and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, respectively), which will feature new works by Marc-André Dalbavie, Lei Liang, Arlene Sierra, and Arthur kampela. Mr. Lindberg elaborates: "From a composer's point of view it's fantastic to get access to new pieces by colleagues and younger composers and to bring them in contact with the Philharmonic musicians."
About the composers he and Alan Gilbert selected, who also include those commissioned for the CONTACT program that Mr. Gilbert will be conducting April 16 _17 (Sean Shepherd, Nico Muhly, and Matthias Pintscher), he explains, "I picked composers whose music I like and am interested in and challenged by : composers who have come up with ideas that I do my best in stealing, and I try to make it less obvious as I pick up their ideas. There are many other composers whom it would have been great to include, but I'm proud of the package we managed to put together. It's an opening : having a top American orchestra involved with so many premieres of younger composers is very primary in terms of what we should be doing.
"We are not naïve, saying that orchestras should only play contemporary music," Magnus Lindberg says, "but the contemporary scene could be a natural part of the activity with the combination of the wonderful classical repertoire we have. Younger people today are genuinely interested in this apparatus and trying to do sincere music. And if I can help at all, I'll be happy."
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New York-based composer and music journalist Frank J. Oteri is the Composer Advocate at the American Music Center and the Founding Editor of its web magazine, NewMusicBox (www.newmusicbox.org).