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Alsop in April: Met debut with “El Niño”; new Naxos CD

(March 2024) — A towering presence on the new-music scene, MacArthur award-winning conductor Marin Alsop is not only a long-time collaborator of John Adams, but also one of the foremost exponents and champions of his music. This spring brings two opportunities to hear her interpret the composer’s work. Marking her long-awaited house debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, she leads the company premiere of Adams’s opera-oratorio El Niño in a fully staged new production starring Julia Bullock and Davóne Tines (April 23–May 17). As an upbeat to this landmark event, Alsop’s new collection of the composer’s orchestral works is due for release on April 5. Recorded with the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, of which she is now in her fifth season as Chief Conductor, the album combines her readings of Adams’s City Noir and Fearful Symmetries with her premiere recording of Lola Montez Does the Spider Dance, a work dedicated to the conductor herself. The release represents her third Naxos title devoted to Adams’s music, following recordings of Shaker Loops, The Wound-Dresser, and Short Ride in a Fast Machine, named an “Editor’s Choice” by Gramophone, and of his opera Nixon in China, which confirmed Alsop’s standing as “a proven master of Adams’ style both early and late” (San Francisco Chronicle).

John Adams (b. 1947) occupies a unique position in the American music world. Recognized with the Pulitzer Prize, Grawemeyer Award, and five Grammys, his works have played a decisive part in turning the tide of musical aesthetics towards a more expansive, expressive language. A dear friend of Alsop’s for many decades, Adams believes that no one else understands the American contemporary music scene as well as she does. This high regard is mutual; as a profound admirer of the composer’s music, Alsop once told Gramophone:

“I do admire him for being the kind of artist who has a viewpoint. … Every piece that John writes has a pay-off, and by that I mean there’s an emotional arrival point. And he’s so skillful in combining all these elements so you have this minimalist propulsive drive but then you also have the architectural structure to go with it and I think that’s what enhances the appeal for both audiences and critics alike.”

Met debut with Adams’s El Niño (April 23–May 17)
Adams’s opera-oratorio El Niño (2000) offers a dramatic retelling of the Nativity story. Through texts assembled in collaboration with librettist Peter Sellars, it foregrounds the voice of the Virgin Mary, and the wonders and tribulations of motherhood itself. The resulting libretto is written in a mix of English, Spanish, and Latin, juxtaposing passages from the New Testament Apocrypha and other historical selections with poetry by such prominent 20th-century Latin-American literary figures as Rosario Castellanos and Gabriela Mistral. Intricate, sonorous, and evocative, Adams’s score is minimalist but flexible, and expansive when called for by the drama.

Under Alsop’s leadership, El Niño receives its company premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in a new production by Lileana Blain-Cruz, the Tony-nominated resident director of New York’s Lincoln Center (April 23, 27; May 1, 4, 8, 11, & 17). Addressing such topical concerns as immigration, authoritarian regimes, feminism, and the environment, Blain-Cruz’s staging stars Grammy-winner Julia Bullock and bass-baritone Davóne Tines, “the must-hear singers of opera today” (Los Angeles Times), both of whom – like the director and Alsop herself – will be making Met debuts. At all but two performances, Bullock and Tines will be joined by mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, reprising the roles in which they previously prompted the New York Times to conclude: “With these three singers, El Niño was in safe hands.” On May 1 & 4, the trio of principals will instead be completed by Argentine mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack.

Looking ahead to the production, Alsop reflects: “Art is constantly evolving, and the Met’s commitment to bringing alive works of our time is wonderful. I’m excited to be part of something new and different at the Met.”

New Naxos release (April 5)
Recognized with BBC Music magazine’s “Album of the Year,” and Emmy nominations in addition to Grammy, Classical BRIT, and Gramophone awards, Alsop’s discography already comprises more than 200 titles. On April 5, she expands this catalog with the physical and digital release of her newest addition to Naxos’s “American Classics” series. The new recording features two of Adams’s more substantial orchestral works. As he notes, Fearful Symmetries (1988) “has a distinctly urban feel,” being “a seriously aerobic piece, a Pantagruel boogie with a thrusting, grinding beat,” and City Noir (2009) is “a symphony inspired by the peculiar ambience and mood of Los Angeles ‘noir’ films.” After a live performance of Fearful Symmetries, the New York Times reported:

“This unrelenting, harmonically gritty 30-minute piece pays homage to breezy big-band jazz while pulsating with fear-inducing, hypnotic power. Ms. Alsop’s conducting was almost a choreographic interpretation of the music. She was alert to every metric shift and rhythmic riff throughout this exhilarating performance.”

Alsop completes the album with her premiere recording of Lola Montez Does the Spider Dance (2016). Subsequently incorporated into Adams’s opera The Girls of the Golden West, the piece was originally commissioned by the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra as a farewell gift to the conductor after her unprecedented 25-year tenure at California’s Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, where she had succeeded Adams as Music Director. Lola Montez was well-received at Cabrillo: “Short, fiercely driven, and yet puckishly wry, it features marvelously jazzy trombone and clarinet solos. The work virtually teases the audience with its racy acceleration and deceleration,” wrote the San Francisco Classical Voice. Alsop, who conducted the work’s world premiere performance and went on to lead its “zinging European premiere” (The Guardian) at England’s Aldeburgh Festival, notes: “Like everything John composes, it is filled with humor, heart, and brilliance.”

The conductor is partnered on the recording by Austria’s ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, with which her previous releases include “a brilliantly triumphant and gripping interpretation of Schumann’s first two symphonies” (Online Merker, Germany). She comments:

“Working on this CD with the wonderful musicians of the Vienna RSO was an absolute joy! To experience their discovery, enjoyment, and total embrace of these works was thrilling. … With John’s music, groove is essential, and these three pieces embody that statement.”

Click here to download high-resolution photos.

Marin Alsop conducts John Adams
City Noir, Fearful Symmetries, & Lola Montez Does the Spider Dance
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
Release date: April 5, 2024
Format: CD and downloads
Label: Naxos


Marin Alsop: upcoming engagements

April 23, 27; May 1, 4, 8, 11, & 17
New York, NY
Metropolitan Opera (debut)
John ADAMS: El Niño (company premiere)

 April 25, 26, & 28
Baltimore, MD
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Carlos SIMON: Amen!
IVES: Symphony No. 2
RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 2 (with Yunchan Lim, piano)

May 23
New York, NY
Lincoln Center (Alice Tully Hall)
Juilliard School Orchestra
Hilary PURRINGTON: new work (world premiere)
BARTÓK: Concerto for Orchestra

 May 31; June 1 & 2: concerts with NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra
May 31: Hamburg, Germany (Hamburg International Music Festival)
June 1: Lübeck, Germany
June 2: Wismar, Germany
BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3
Sir James MACMILLAN: Saxophone Concerto (with Jess Gillam, saxophone)
PROKOFIEV: “Romeo and Juliet” Suites

 June 7
Paris, France
Orchestre philharmonique de Radio France
Jessie MONTGOMERY: Strum for strings
GERSHWIN: Piano Concerto in F (with Marc-André Hamelin, piano)
BARTÓK: Concerto for Orchestra

 June 14
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Jessie MONTGOMERY: Strum for strings
John ADAMS: Fearful Symmetries
BARTÓK: Concerto for Orchestra

 June 20
Katowice, Poland
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”)
(with Polish National Youth Choir; Janai Brugger, soprano; Gerhild Romberger, mezzo-soprano)

June 25
Philadelphia, PA
Verizon Hall
Philadelphia Orchestra
“Pride” concert

 June 27 & 29
College Park, MD
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
National Orchestral Institute + Festival

June 27
Gabriela ORTIZ: Antrópolis
MAHLER: Symphony No. 1

June 29
Jennifer HIGDON: blue cathedral
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9

 June 30
Washington, D.C.
Washington National Cathedral
National Orchestral Institute + Festival
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9

July 5 & 6
Vail, Colorado
Bravo! Vail Music Festival
Philadelphia Orchestra

July 5
GERSHWIN: Cuban Overture
BERNSTEIN: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
GERSHWIN: Piano Concerto in F (with Conrad Tao, piano)

July 6:
Reena ESMAIL: RE|Member
COPLAND: Appalachian Spring Suite
HOLST: The Planets

July 10–Aug 2
Highland Park, IL
Ravinia Festival
Chicago Symphony Orchestra (except July 10)

July 10
National Seminario Ravinia: Orchestras for All
National Orchestral Institute + Festival
SIBELIUS: Finlandia
MAHLER: Symphony No. 1

July 12
COPLAND: Appalachian Spring
JOHNSON (arr. David Rimelis): Charleston
BARBER: Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (with Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, soprano)
GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue (with Michelle Cann, piano)

July 13
Iryna ALEKSIYCHUK: Go Where the Wind Takes You… (U.S. premiere)
Abel SELAOCOE: Four Spirits (with Abel Selaocoe, cello and vocals)
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5

July 20
MAHLER: Symphony No. 9

July 21
CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Hayato Sumino, piano)
RAVEL: Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2

July 25
WALKER: Icarus in Orbit
BERNSTEIN: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto (with Augustin Hadelich, violin)
STRAVINSKY: Firebird Suite

July 26
“Breaking Barriers”
HOLST: The Planets (with Apollo Chorus of Chicago)
Amanda Lee FALKENBERG: The Moons Symphony (with visuals)

July 27
“Breaking Barriers”
Round Table talk
“Inside the Composers’ and Conductors’ Studios” workshop

Aug 5
New York, NY
Carnegie Hall
National Youth Orchestra USA
BARBER: Symphony No. 1
GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue (with Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano)

Aug 8–14: South American tour with National Youth Orchestra USA
Aug 8: Montevideo, Uruguay
Aug 9: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Aug 12: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Aug 14: São Paulo, Brazil
BARBER: Symphony No. 1 (Aug 8–12 only)
BRAHMS: Academic Festival Overture (side-by-side with Orquestra Acadêmica
Mozarteum Brasileira; Aug 13 only)
GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue (with Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano)


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© 21C Media Group, March 2024

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