Brad Lubman’s appearance at Cabrillo this coming weekend redresses a shortfall of his exposure on the West Coast. He’s something of a new music celebrity in New York and takes his vast experience as a new music advocate abroad, mostly for conducting but also as a composer. It’s easy to see why Marin Alsop might have recommended him as a replacement at the Cabrillo Festival following the injury that sidelined her this summer. (A photo of her with the ‘original cast’ on her right arm appears in the Cabrillo program book.)
While Lubman’s conducting experience covers a comprehensive catalog of the classical repertoire, his authority with new music, along with his own Ensemble Signal, has made him one of the few go-to leaders in the field. (You can’t fail to recognize Marin Alsop’s similar path to international recognition.) Lubman has conducted such new music specialists as Ensemble Modern (Frankfurt), London Sinfonietta, musikFabrik (Cologne), ASKO Ensemble (Amsterdam), Ensemble Resonanz (Hamburg), Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, Chicago Symphony MusicNOW, and Steve Reich and Musicians.
In addition, he has appeared in music festivals in Lucerne, Salzburg, Berlin, Huddersfield, Paris and Oslo, and can readily be found on CD recordings released by various labels.
At Santa Cruz Civic this Saturday, he takes the podium for the Symphony No. 10 (2012) by Philip Glass and recent works by Andrew Norman and Enrico Chapela, both Festival artists-in-residence. On Sunday, at San Juan Bautista, Lubman conducts Sinfonia No. 4 Strands (2012) by George Walker (now 91), the clarinet concerto (2002) by Magnus Lindberg and Night Ferry (2012) by Anna Clyne, whose Within her Arms for 15 strings made a big hit at the 2011 Mission concert. Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony premiered Night Ferry and included it in their 2011 West Coast tour. (There may be some tickets still available for the 7:30pm performance.)
Marin Alsop may have missed the 2013 Cabrillo Festival, but her splendidly performed recording with the Baltimore Symphony of Kevin Puts’ Symphony No. 4 From Mission San Juan has just been released by Harmonia Mundi. Alsop premiered the piece at Cabrillo in 2007 and the new CD affords a look-back to impressions gleaned at the time.
Puts likes to take inspiration from outside sources (though his flute concerto, premiered last Friday in Santa Cruz, provided an outlet for a tune that, as he explained, had roamed his mind for years.) The Fourth Symphony is more or less programmatic. Its serenely atmospheric opening movement, Prelude, establishes a yearning theme and savors the long acoustic decay time of the large mission church in hymnodic character. For the second movement, Arriquetpon, Puts imagines dances of the native Mutsun people who were taught and converted by the padres at San Juan.
With those two contrasting pieces representing thesis and antithesis, Puts quite naturally moves toward synthesis. The now-familiar theme of the opening movement appears as brief digressions in the second, which abruptly changes mood when bassoons set up a long, increasingly energetic crescendo topped off with blaring brass fanfares, until the dances, the original theme and bells slowly quiet it down.
The mood of the first movement begins the third, Interlude. The winds grow restless along with the orchestra as a storm approaches. A huge climax draws on the brass again, this time without attenuation until woodwinds at last recall the Mutsun dance music, just before the movement elides into the finale, Healing Song. Here the familiar theme swells on the strings into a great gush of ‘feel-good’ unisons that blossom into full romantic harmony before its theme leads it to yet another climax. The Mutsun music again gentles down the energy, this time more melodic than rhythmic. A final crescendo brings the work home.
Craftsmanship, one of Puts’ strong suits, accounts for the symphony’s artistic success and audience appeal. Bits of Carlos Chavez, Aaron Copland, Lou Harrison, Igor Stravinsky and Howard Hanson can be detected, mostly but not entirely assimilated into Puts’ musical rhetoric. Relatively speaking, this is easy listening and low on the scale of ‘challenging.’
But that was then and this is now. The new (2012) material on the CD, all sung by the à cappella Conspirare, under Craig Hella Johnson, introduces a new facet to Puts’ music. In Fleda Brown’s If I were a swan Puts recalls the contrapuntal/harmonic madrigal/anthem style of late 16th century Europe and England, and includes some special effects like ones encountered in the works of Eric Whitaker.
To Touch the Sky is a collection of nine settings on texts by women—the ‘divine feminine’ as Puts and Johnson agreed ahead of time—including Sappho, Hildegard of Bingen, Mirabai, Emily Brontë, Christina Georgina Rossetti, Amy Lowell, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Marie Howe. This is largely ecstatic stuff. Mirabai’s Unbreakable is salted with tormented harmonies. Hildegard’s Most noble evergreen anticipates St. Francis’ Canticle of the Sun. Soprano Mela Dailey is featured in the opening and closing numbers. The choir’s diction is superb.
(The recording of the San Juan symphony was sponsored by Howard and Caroline Hansen of Aptos and Amy Anderson and George Somero of Carmel.)
Last April, Cheryl Anderson, Cantiamo!, Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus and Ensemble Monterey produced a chamber orchestra version (thanks to Stephen Tosh’s skillful arrangement) of Benjamin Britten’s great War Requiem. This was to celebrate the centenary of Britten’s birth, an event otherwise sadly ignored in Monterey Bay communities. However, this coming Sunday afternoon Melinda Coffey Armstead and guest artists will present a program of verses set to song by Britten at Pebble Beach’s Church in the Forest. (See our Calendar page.)
Find coverage of Cabrillo’s first two orchestra concerts on our Music Reviews page. Before heading to Ashland for the Shakespeare Festival, our theater critic, Philip Pearce, posts his coverage of the Wharf Theater’s Pirates of Penzance; see it on our Theater Reviews page.
Scott MacClelland, editor