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Mackey’s new guitar concerto Aluminum Flowers debuts twice this spring with guitar virtuosi JIJI in March and Gretchen Menn in April. Also in March, Mackey’s Ratcatcher for saxophone and piano is premiered at Carnegie Hall.

This March sees back-to-back world premieres by Steven Mackey: Ratcatcher with saxophonist Valentin Kovalev and pianist Amy Yang at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall (March 4) and Aluminum Flowers with guitar soloist JIJI, the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, and conductor Robert Spano at the Verizon Hall in Philadelphia (March 9).

The new electric guitar concerto Aluminum Flowers features the soloist playing both an electric guitar and a classical nylon-string guitar. The piece was written for two different guitarists of different backgrounds: classical guitar virtuoso JIJI—who gives the world premiere—and Gretchen Menn, primarily known as an electric guitarist, who performs the work with the Utah Symphony and David Robertson (April 20).

A guitarist himself, Mackey has written numerous concertos, solos, and chamber works for the instrument. “This is actually the first guitar concerto that I haven't written for myself, and that's kind of exciting and scary at the same time,” Mackey says in reference to past guitar concertos Deal and Tuck and Roll—the latter of which he premiered with the New World Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas in 2000.

The 24-minute work is divided into five movements, each featuring a different guitar effect with the help of digital processing and pedals. Mackey explains: “Instead of writing for one identifiable guitar that you can follow as the protagonist throughout the piece, this is five different instruments.”

The first movement spotlights the nylon string guitar, while the others feature different effects on the electric guitar, including a digital delay pedal to create a cascading moto perpetuo, distortion to add a singing sustain, a prepared guitar for percussive effects and a looping pedal that builds to a layered orchestral texture.

Instead of a soloist versus ensemble dynamic that is common in concertos, Mackey views the guitar soloist as the “front person for the band” that introduces effects and musical ideas, which are then extended and built upon by the larger ensemble: “The orchestra is the giant mother of all effects pedals that amplifies and supports the guitarist in its endeavors to be bigger than just six strings on a piece of wood.”

Commissioned by the Naumburg Foundation, Ratcatcher is a 17-minute long duet for saxophone soloist Valentin Kovalev, making his Carnegie Hall debut, and pianist Amy Yang. The composer’s fascination with the world of fables and fairytales inspired Ratcatcher, whose title refers to the main character in the familiar story, The Pied Piper of Hamelin.

Mackey states: “I am not attempting to retell the story in a linear fashion but rather I’ve distilled some of the characters and affects into representative “musicalizations” which connect and contrast on the basis of rhythm, harmony, melodic shape, etc. In other words, they interact as musical motives do, to tell their own abstract story rather than lining up to unfold the Pied Piper.”

Concet Info
Monday, March 4 at 7:30pm ET
Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall | New York
More info

Valentin Kovalev, saxophone
Amy Yang, piano

STEVEN MACKEY Ratcatcher (World Premiere)

Saturday, March 9 at 3pm ET
Verizon Hall | Philadelphia
More info

Curtis Symphony Orchestra
Robert Spano, conductor
JIJI, guitar

JAMES RA Te Deum (World Premiere)
STEVEN MACKEY Aluminum Flowers (World Premiere)
PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 (“Pathétique”)

Saturday, April 20 at 5:30pm MST
Abravnel Hall | Salt Lake City
More info

Utah Symphony
Another Night on Earth, guitar ensemble
David Robertson, conductor
Gretchen Menn, guitar

STEVEN MACKEY “Turn the Key”
ARR. JOE GORE & DAVID ROBERTSON Falling Through Time: Music from the 1300s
STEVEN MACKEY Aluminum Flowers
ARR. LEO BROUWER Beatlerianas (From Yesterday to Penny Lane)
DANIELE GOTTARDO Concertino for Guitar and Orchestra
JOAQUÍN RODRIGO Concierto de Aranjuez
FRANK ZAPPA G-Spot Tornado

>  Further information on Work: Aluminum Flowers

Photo: Kah Poon

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