So claims the homepage of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music — with good reason. The festival's opening concert, conducted by Marin Alsop tonight in Santa Cruz, California, is nothing but premieres — one U.S. premiere and three world premieres.
The work new to the U.S. is James MacMillan's Stomp (with Fate and Elvira). That title is less confusing than it first appears: those two names in the parentheses refer to the "Fate" theme from Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony and the famous melody from the slow movement of Mozart's "Elvira Madigan" Piano Concerto (No. 21), both of which were on the program when the piece had its world premiere (from Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra) this past March. MacMillan's score takes the two themes, plays with them, whirls them around — as the Financial Times put it, "Imagine Mozart and Tchaikovsky in kilts, thrown into the middle of a highland fling." Or take MacMillan's own description: "The dark, brooding cloud of Fate that had been hovering over St. Petersburg lifted and drifted west to Sweden, where it made an amorous encounter with a young tightrope walker, Elvira Madigan. They eloped, and headed west again, ending up at a ceilidh in Kilkenny or Kilmarnock, or somewhere ..."
First of the three world premieres is Colourful World by English composer David Heath. "Inspired by his young son's artwork of the same name," say the Festival's notes, "Heath's music imagines, in Crayola coloration, the journey of an outer space visitor approaching our planet from afar, and then discovering the glorious beauty of Earth and its people."
Next is a Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Orchestra by Philadelphia-based Jennifer Higdon, by now one of the world's most widely performed living composers. The piece is an adaptation — made, she says, following the requests of several sax players — of her 2005 Oboe Concerto. The soloist tonight is Timothy McAllister of the renowned PRISM saxophone quartet.
Mark O'Connor, the highly popular violinist who bridges the worlds of classical music and traditional American fiddling, has a long relationship with the Cabrillo Festival, going back to the 1994 premiere of his Fiddle Concerto. Tonight's concert closes with his Symphony No. 1, subtitled "Variations on Appalachia Waltz" (which is one of his most popular works).
The Cabrillo Festival continues through August 12 in and around Santa Cruz, with five more concerts as well as open rehearsals and talks by Alsop and several of the week's featured composers. Complete information is available at www.cabrillomusic.org.