Rambling about Tanglewood: Tanglewood Music Center's Festival of Contemporary Music takes over
LENOX, MASS. — One international coup deserves another by the same composer. So on Monday night, the Tanglewood Music Center will climax the five-day Festival of Contemporary Music with the American premiere of George Benjamin's "Dream of the Song." It follows the TMC's 2013 American premiere of Benjamin's opera "Written on Skin," which has gone on to international acclaim.
"Dream of the Song," a 20-minute work for countertenor, women's voices and orchestra, is a Boston Symphony Orchestra co-commission for the TMC. It was premiered during the past year by two other underwriters: the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, in Amsterdam, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, in London.
Like "Written on Skin," the new work superimposes past on present to show what Tanglewood annotator Robert Kirzinger describes as "the persistence of human concerns." The last movement, for example, presents two simultaneous visions of dawn, conceived a millennium apart.
Both Benjamin works employ a countertenor soloist, whose high voice suggests music of the past while being of the present.
"One of the inspirations," Benjamin writes in a program note, "was the idea of writing a work for countertenor and female chorus in which the sound of eight solo singers would surround and encase the sound of the countertenor."
"Dream of the Song" is paired on a TMC Orchestra program with Messiaen's rapturous, seldom performed "Turangalila" Symphony. Stefan Asbury, head of the TMC conducting program, will conduct. The guest Lorelei Ensemble takes the choral role.
Daniel Moody, a TMC student, sings the countertenor part.
"I first heard 'Dream of the Song' back in January when TMC asked if I would be interested in singing this piece for the FCM [festival] project," Moody said via email. "The piece fascinated me because of the poetic imagery and the rhythmic excitement of the orchestral parts. I knew I wanted to sing it and started learning it just before coming to Tanglewood."
Internationally renowned, Benjamin, who is English, has a long association with the BSO and Tanglewood. He served in 2000 as director of the contemporary festival and has returned several times since as a TMC composition teacher. He conducted "Written on Skin," and many of his other works have been performed here.
"Dream of the Song" is in six sections setting verse by three poets who spent formative years in Granada: two Hebrew poets of mid-11th century, Samuel HaNagid and Solomon Ibn Gabirol (sung in English), and the 20th-century Gabriel Garcia Lorca (sung in the original Spanish).
For countertenor Moody, "the sounds and colors from the orchestra create a particular sound world, which is thrilling, magical and mysterious. It's been a wonderful journey, working to make sense of the poetry and how it corresponds to the sound world Benjamin has created."
The new-music series, which opens tonight with a chamber orchestra program, was planned and programmed by composer Steven Stucky before his death earlier this year.
"There are family trees, lineages, speaking across the generations to bring us the solace of tradition and continuity, but leavened too by the spark of innovation," he wrote. He noted, for example, that Messiaen taught Benjamin.
At the end of every Tanglewood season, composer Michael Gandolfi said, he hears the refrain from students, "Back to the real world!"
"No, no, NO! This is the real world," he told the students and guests assembled in Ozawa Hall. "This is OUR real world and Tanglewood is the pinnacle of this real world of ours. That world out there? I have no idea what it is. I have no epiphanies to share with you that make sense of that world. That world is anathema to me."
Gandolfi, the head of the TMC composition program, delivered his take on reality as the keynote speaker for the school's opening convocation. Out in the other world, he said, people shoulder the responsibility of making a living and putting a roof over their head.
"In fact," Gandolfi went on, "if we could bring the inhabitants of that world into ours and show them the dedication, passion, love and care that we have when we roll, as it were, the entire world would be a far better place in which to live."
Speaking of passion: Within a week, seated in front of me, busily occupied at separate concerts, I had: a man who trained binoculars on musicians onstage; a woman who jiggled and shook her head vigorously in time to the music, and a woman who industriously sketched the musicians.
Somewhere up front, music was actually playing.
THIS WEEK AT TANGLEWOOD
• Festival of Contemporary Music: Weekend-long festival of performances, which includes chamber music by TMC faculty and fellows. July 21-July 25. Ozawa Hall.
• Boston Symphony Orchestra with conductor Sir Andrew Davis and violinist Lisa Batiashvili: 8 p.m. Friday, July 22. Shed. Vaughan Williams' 'Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.'
• Boston Symphony Orchestra with conductor Juanjo Mena, pianist Garrick Ohlsson and soprano Raquel Lojendio: 8 p.m. Saturday, July 23. Shed. Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 and Falla's 'The Three-cornered Hat.'
• Boston Symphony Orchestra with conductor Juanjo Mena and violinist Veronika Eberle: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 24. Shed. Performance marking the 100th anniversary of Alberto Ginastera's birth with Ginastera's 'Variaciones concertantes.'
• Chanticleer: 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 27. Ozawa Hall. Lunar-inspired program by a cappella group.