New music at the 2023 BBC Proms includes Grace-Evangeline Mason’s ABLAZE THE MOON, Lera Auerbach’s Sogno di Stabat Mater and Gabriela Ortiz’s Clara. All three works look back for inspiration, exploring the poetry of Sara Teasdale, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, and the relationship between Clara and Robert Schumann respectively.
This summer’s BBC Proms season features a wealth of repertoire by women composers, including Grace-Evangeline Mason, Lera Auerbach and Gabriela Ortiz from the Boosey & Hawkes and Sikorski catalogues. All three of their pieces look back to earlier models of creativity, as summed up by Gabriela Ortiz, granting us “access to a non-linear conception of time that is more circular, where the past (them) and the present (me) can meet, converse, and get to know one another”.
Grace-Evangeline Mason (b.1994)
ABLAZE THE MOON (2023)
World premiere: 18 July, 7.30 pm
Grace-Evangeline Mason’s new concert-opener, ABLAZE THE MOON, was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and is premiered at the Royal Albert Hall on 18 July by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Mark Wigglesworth. The new five-minute work draws inspiration from American lyric poet Sara Teasdale (1883-1933), with Mason’s melodies mirroring the lunar arcs heard in lines from the poem Tonight: ‘The moon is a curving flower of gold, the sky is still and blue; The moon was made for the sky to hold, and I for you.’
Mason describes how “the image of the moon as a flower of gold hanging in a dark sky is alluded to by atmospheric passages that begin in the circling woodwinds. These are contrasted with deep punctuations suggesting the vast darkness that surrounds it. The woodwinds are sparked to fall and spiral, momentarily accentuating the dark backdrop of the sky. The music drives forward through the expanse, with the horns and brass building the texture, until the piece opens out into an ethereal, and celestial space as ‘the sky is luminous; eternity was made for them, to-night for us’.”
Sara Teasdale’s poetry also features in Mason’s recent sea-themed choral work A Memory of the Ocean, commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society and AVROTROS in the Netherlands, and due for premiere on 24 June by the Bristol Choral Society. Mark Wigglesworth returns to Mason’s music in September when he leads the Australian premiere of Mason’s The Imagined Forest with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. The score has received more than a dozen international performances since its premiere at the Proms in 2021, recently including its US premiere with the Baltimore Symphony conducted by Jonathon Heyward.
> Further information on Grace-Evangeline Mason
Lera Auerbach (b.1973)
Sogno di Stabat Mater (2005/2008)
6 September, 7.30 pm
Lera Auerbach returns to the BBC Proms on 6 September for a performance of her Sogno di Stabat Mater, with the Britten Sinfonia conducted by Thomas Gould. This follows a Proms performance off her Symphony No.3 in 2016 and recent UK performances of major orchestral works in London, Glasgow and Manchester. Sogno di Stabat Mater is the 12-mintue compact version of her 40-minute Dialogues on Stabat Mater, both scores exploring resonances from the celebrated sacred setting by Baroque composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi.
Auerbach explains how “my Dialogues on Stabat Mater is based on Pergolesi's famous work, with contemporary interludes - musical dialogues - as prayers, commentaries, and personal responses to the movements… I wanted to create a framework, a dialogue, a glimpse of our time on the same subject as Pergolesi's famous masterpiece. And to base this dialogue not so much on the differences in cultural and harmonious aesthetics between the 18th and 21st centuries, but on their similarities, which is much more challenging. The image of the grieving mother is universal, just as pain is universal, although its expressions may vary depending on cultural or religious background.”
This season has brought the premieres of the two most recent Auerbach symphonies: Symphony No.5 ‘Paradise Lost’ was inspired by Milton’s classic text, while Symphony No.6 ‘Vessels of Light’ celebrates the remarkable wartime humanitarian Chiune Sugihara. The latter work, brought to life with major commissioning support from Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Center in Jerusalem, has been heard in Kaunas, Prague, New York and Los Angeles to date, with further performances planned next season in Warsaw, Dresden and Leipzig.
> Further information on Lera Auerbach
Gabriela Ortiz (b.1964)
UK premiere: 8 September, 7.30 pm
Music by Mexican-born composer Gabriela Ortiz has also been travelling widely in recent years, performed by the Berlin Philharmonic last month and programmed by leading festivals this summer including the BBC Proms for the first time. Domingo Hindoyan conducts the UK premiere of her orchestral Clara at the Royal Albert Hall on 8 September with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
The 17-minute score was premiered last year by the New York Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel and Ortiz expresses her gratitude for the conductor’s “generosity in having invited me to compose a work based on the relationship between two great artists: Clara Wieck Schumann and Robert Schumann. Thanks to him, I was able to delve into the broad legacy of both more deftly; especially that of Clara who, in addition to being a splendid composer and one of the most important pianists of the 19th century, was the editor of her husband's complete works, as well as a teacher, mother, and wife.
Ortiz relates how “Clara wrote: ‘I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose – there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?’ This piece represents an acknowledgement of Clara, a tribute to her, and my definitive, resounding response to her question. It also signals my gratitude to all the women who, in their time, challenged the society they were raised in by manifesting their artistic oeuvre.”
> Further information on Gabriela Ortiz
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