V.com weekend vote: Have you performed in the premiere of a new work for solo instrument, ensemble or orchestra?

March 16, 2018, 11:26 AM · Have you played in premieres of new works, and have you enjoyed the experience?

new music

This week I spoke to violinist Margaret Batjer about premiering a new violin concerto by Pierre Jalbert, but that kind of high-profile commission and performance is not the only way to be involved in the premiere of a new work. Many orchestras and ensembles commission and premiere new music on a regular basis, so members of such groups have fairly frequent opportunities to perform new music.

Frankly, anyone with imagination, fund-raising savvy and the courage can call up a composer can get the ball rolling on the creation of a new piece. It helps to have a big name, of course, and a ready funding source, but I find the examples of several well-known violinists to be inspiring. For example, when Hilary Hahn commissioned 27 encore pieces, it all began as her own idea, from simply wanting to have encore pieces from modern composers. Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers simply decided to write an e-mail to a composer that she had admired for many years, Einojuhani Rautavaara, and he readily agreed to write her a piece, which wound up being the last piece he wrote in his long life.

As for me, I've sat in the orchestra for many, many premieres over the years. I greatly enjoyed some pieces while others didn't make a deep impression. Some were very quirky - one composer asked orchestra members to bring their "favorite rocks" from home to clank together during an aleatoric section of his piece, which was about rocks. He provided rocks for those who did not bring them -- to me a "favorite rock" was a new concept and seemed like a bit of a tangent, but what the heck. It was pretty fun. Another composer passed out guitar picks for us string players to use during certain sections of the piece.

My favorite "premiere," though, was a pretty humble one that my college quartet did in Chicago. A local composer (I wish I remembered his name) had written a piece that he hoped would be playable for high school kids, and he paid us to play the piece for him and perform it at a concert, in order to demonstrate it. At the time, my impression of "new music" was very negative. It was the 1980s, and music schools were still very steeped in experimental, atonal, noisy stuff. With a few exceptions, I thought of new music as being largely unlistenable, unrelatable, self-indulgent noise-making. The piece we premiered, however, was thoroughly likable on so many fronts: modern-sounding but expressive, well-written, cleverly put together. It was a delight, and it opened my mind a little wider to new music.

What have your experiences been with new music? Please participate in the vote and then share your thoughts in the comments. If you can say "yes" to more than one category, then please choose the one that has been most memorable for you.

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Replies

March 16, 2018 at 06:51 PM · I have mostly given up on trying to get performances from classical groups/individuals. The new music scene is deadly in any number of ways (I struggled mainly because my aesthetic was at such odds with the faux-complexity and ugliness of so much new music--and those are the people who advance or shut down your career), and when you pour your heart and soul into a piece only to hear it sight-read once...sigh, there are more satisfying ways to make and hear your own music. One group held on to a piece of mine for over a decade, finally gave it a shot, and it was well-received and became part of their concerts for three years all over the world. Then never paid me a penny, or commissioned a piece, and to add insult to injury, I later discovered that to avoid paying me anything, in many countries they called me an "arranger." I see people complain about trying to find accessible and beautiful new music that can actually reach an audience--sorry, most of us who would write that for you have been kept out of the academic scene.

March 16, 2018 at 08:23 PM · I've played in the orchestra on a couple of occasions for the premier of a couple of concertos. The first was a piano concerto written by a local composer and performed by a friend of his. The orchestra was a local community symphony orchestra I was in at the time. I don't really remember much about that concerto unfortunately, not the tunes but plenty of arpeggios and fast runs.

The second one was rather more interesting. It was a double bass concerto composed by our then conductor of Bristol Chamber Orchestra as part of his PhD in composition at Bristol University, so it was his "masterwork". We all thoroughly enjoyed it - plenty of good orchestration and interesting and tuneful stuff for everyone to play, including in the slow movement the use (a la Vaughan Williams!) of a very old and beautiful folk tune from the County of Somerset in England, and an obligatory fugal section in the last movement (it was, after all, for a PhD thesis). The public performance was recorded by the audio department of the University for the purposes of the PhD, but to my knowledge has never been released. Presumably the recording is still lurking somewhere in the University's archives, although I believe the professional double bass soloist requested a copy. The soloist was heard to say afterwards that he'd like to have the concerto in his performing repertoire; there are about 500 double bass concertos in existence.

March 16, 2018 at 08:32 PM · All of the above!

March 16, 2018 at 08:51 PM · I can't vote because my premier experiences are so diversified. I've premiered my own compositions, as well as other student-written compositions. I've had my compositions premiered by others before. It was a cool experience. It shows me how differently people interpret music. New music is really cool, in my opinion. My hope is to explore rare and unheard music, whether old or new.

March 17, 2018 at 01:50 AM · Demanding we vote for only one alternative is not appropriate for this: I have premiered in orchestra, in ensemble, and composed music that has been publicly performed - all at amateur or schooldays level! One I can remember doing is a set of variations on Happy Birthday To You by various people in celebration of Philip Radcliffe's 50th birthday - I am afraid I did not take the time to compose one; what I would have done would be to forge Beethoven's variation by stringing together the beginning of the Egmont Overture (At the time I did not remember which Beethoven work it came from), the beginning of "et vitam venturi" from the Missa Solemnis, and a bit from the pastoral scherzo.

March 17, 2018 at 06:02 AM · Having premiered USC Composition Professor, Anthony Vazzana's Violin & Piano Sonata in my Senior Violin Recital, later premiering it in Udevalla, Sweden; Oslo; Copenhagen; & London, (Wigmore Hall), to warmed response, the more I concertised the more opportunities seemed to be available. It was lovely to receive William Mathias' Sonata #1 for Violin & Piano & perform it in the Harrogate Festival, broadcast Live on BBC Radio 3, again to warmed response. For some who might be unfamiliar with William Mathias, he served as HRH Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of England's Court Composer & was lauded as a distinguished British Composer. Upon my return to America, I had the privilege of premiering Arthur Custer's "Doubles", (with a Sir Georg Solti OK), in Providence, Rhode Island, which reminded me of some contemporary works we played in the USC Symphony while I was studying with Jascha Heifetz. There have been a few short pieces composed for me by British composer's, Richard Dolmetsche (Caprice for Solo Violin); Oxford Univ. Press composer, Jeffrey Bishop's Sonata, and later, a Violin Concerto for me dedicated to the memory of my father Ralph Matesky, composed by Dr. Merrill Bradshaw, the formidable American composer in residence at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, who'd previously composed a Viola Concerto dedicated to BYU colleague, William Primrose!! In our week of preparation's, Mr. Primrose attended several pre-rehearsals close to the World Premiere, lending moral and musical support, also endorsing my various 'alteration's' to vital passages in the solo violin part. In my capacity as guest Violin soloist, I was able to provide bowing's for the string sections to parallel my solo violin fused melodic line ~ The dynamics were another top & vitally needed element - especially in the eerie Slow Movement, which my heart's ears sensed were in need of shimmering ponticello in strings to announce Bradshaw's gorgeous melody in Hebraic style. We were working together as One in days prior to the most important Musical Event in the BYU concert season, which was recorded & broadcast, Live, at BYU by PBS Television, Salt Lake City ...

When premiering a new work never before heard yet written for you & one's recently departed father, editing + on the spot inspiration's do occur which require broad flexibility & earnest willingness to experiment even in a World Premiere of a Violin Concerto 'twin' matching the Viola Concerto dedicated to Viola Great, William Primrose!!

Merrill Bradshaw was thankfully delighted with our Soloist-BYU Symphony Orchestra collaboration in process of its final 'birth' just an hour prior to concert time!! Mr. Primrose, whom I had studied chamber music with while in Jascha Heifetz's original Violin Master Class at USC, & had played a string quartet with, including Piatigorsky, ('Cello) & Heifetz (1st Violin) as JH's 2nd Violinist, was truly in happy spirits, embracing the composer, Dr. Bradshaw and myself at performance end with enthusiastic and fervent prolonged applause!!

Let it be said that any composer who writes a Violin Concerto or concert piece is honouring the Dedicatee, which adds extra pressure to do more than our best in portraying a composer's compliment in composing a major new work for you!! As the Dedicatee, one is a Parent giving Birth to the brand new 'child' of its creator - in these instances, the Composer, and all his/her dreams & expectations for the work to be acclaimed & accepted by the musicians of the orchestra, Conductor, soloist and world premiere audience!! Ideally, we perform to portray the Story of a given composition and honour its 'flavour', yet in a world premiere context, we are the biological parent/s of the birth-piece and generously share in its birthing delivery into The World! This is truly intoxicating and falls heavily on one's shoulder's to offer the work with fidelity to the wishes we 'see' in the score of the Composer and than some ~

Personally, I've found giving premiere's as a violin soloist most fascinating & daunting yet great opportunities to learn a new 'sound picture' which shall reveal much about one's self upon first acquaintance ~

Imagine Joachim, the dedicatee of Brahms' Violin Concerto, presenting the world premiere of what would become part of a Trilogy of Greatest Romantic Violin Concerto's!!!! Composing his own Cadenza must have been thrilling yet daunting to not disturb the core style of Johannes Brahms ~

Experiencing touches of the above when first recording the marvellous composition of Chicago composer, Doug Lofstrom, who invited me to record his "Hawk! for Solo Violin" for WFMT 98.7 Fine Arts Radio, here in Chicago, which had only a bare bones outline of a Cadenza, I was so moved by Doug's brilliant composition - right up my alley, I improvised my own Cadenza to play for him. Nervous to say the least, I enjoyed presenting my attempt at a Cadenza within "Hawk!" & was utterly thrilled when Doug Lofstrom said he loved it and wanted my Cadenza to take its place inside his "Hawk! for Solo Violin"!! There must be 'something' in making your own Cadenza which grants one a freedom from "must's" and "should's" to play with ease amid intensive ears listening for faults - even in a public premiere performance of a work for one's instrument alla Solo!!! In the Live recording, I made free & loved it - unknowingly liberating myself to 'marry' the whole of Lofstrom's "Hawk! for Solo Violin with Cadenza by E. Matesky" ~

As a famed television commercial for Alka Selzer in the 1990's used to say, 'Try it! You'll like it!', I encourage violinist's and all string family instrumentalist's to play a new work & if only just once to find a liberating feeling of freedom from margins of already established major Master works for one's instrument which are time honoured ...

Hearty congratulations to Margaret Batjer, daughter of the late Eleanore Stanlis, of Rockford, Illinois, upon her foray into the new Jalbert Violin Concerto composed for her! I know that Margaret's Mother must be beaming from ear to ear Above ~

Respectfully submitted by,

Elisabeth Matesky / Chicago

March 17, 2018 at 07:58 AM · To ~ 50 37 119 178 ..

I'm truly saddened to read your story of being so badly taken advantage of by miserly people in the core music profession or are those who used your talent & then deliberately minimized it by titling you as an "Arranger", still playing on the planet Earth or elsewhere??

This infuriates me as I know very well what can occur in this underneath of a profession ~ Are you still composing? I wish you well and pray Good comes your way ...

Musically ~

E. Matesky

March 18, 2018 at 11:10 AM · I have never performed - a premiere or otherwise. Mind you, if my cats' reactions are anything to go by, the world should remain eternally grateful for this fact.

Neil

March 18, 2018 at 10:48 PM · I had the incredible privilege of debuting an oboe concerto as a violinist for a community orchestra written by our director, a very talented musician, trumpet player and our conductor for many years. Being an amateur, I’m sure this was a once-in-a-lifetime event!! The best part was having him conduct it so we really know how he wanted it played.

March 19, 2018 at 12:47 PM · I voted "no" but then I realized I played in an orchestra this year that premiered a short orchestral work, an arrangement of a popular Chinese song. Oops.

Have we learned nothing from #metoo? Abuses such as 50.37.119.178 experienced will continue to occur until such unethical orchestras and their managers are called out by name.

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