Press Room

Eastman School of Music presents “Prismatic Debussy” (Oct 1-27)

This October, the Eastman School of Music presents “The Prismatic Debussy”: a festival anchored by three weekends of creatively programmed events to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the French composer’s birth. Highlights include the Festival Gala Concert, at which the Eastman Philharmonia, Eastman School Symphony Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, and Chorale perform Debussy masterpieces for large ensemble; a chamber concert of Debussy in transcription; a chamber realization of his opera Pelléas et Mélisande for a crossover ensemble that will accompany projections of artist P. Craig Russell’s illustrations; and a symposium and master class on his vocal music, featuring the North American premieres of five recently discovered Debussy songs. These key events will be accompanied by world premieres of Debussy-inspired works by Eastman composers, and a month-long exhibition of related manuscripts and rare materials at the School’s Sibley Music Library, the largest of its kind in North America.
As a young composer in fin-de-siècle Paris, Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was considered a dangerous radical; today, 150 years after his birth, he is recognized as one of classical music’s greatest and most innovative composers – as well as one of the most popular. According to Artistic Director Marie Rolf – Professor of Music Theory and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies at Eastman, and a leading authority on Debussy – the festival was first conceived several years ago when she gathered together her colleagues to discuss the impending anniversary and the international interest it would inspire. “Everyone was immediately excited about the sesquicentennial,” she says, “and we soon came up with more ideas than we could possibly achieve. Over a period of a year or so, the outlines of The Prismatic Debussy emerged.”
As Rolf explains, they had certain goals in mind from the outset:
“First of all, we wanted to celebrate the 150th birthday of one of the great pathbreaking composers of the 20th century. Second, we wanted to present a series of events that would be unique to the Eastman School, not just another iteration of well-known canonic works, such as Clair de lune or La Mer… With Eastman’s combination of artistic and scholarly resources, we could not only showcase our different ensembles, but also combine performance with cutting-edge research. So this Debussy festival is a celebration of the Eastman and the University of Rochester community – and it will also bring guest artists and scholars to Eastman.”
The festival begins with “Extravagant Debussy”: a gala program, in Eastman Theatre’s 2,326-seat Kodak Hall, of music for large ensembles that presents some of Debussy’s most spectacular works in fresh and imaginative ways. Spanning almost a quarter of a century, this repertoire ranges from the French master’s early orchestral suite Printemps (1887), performed by the Eastman School Symphony Orchestra; to the final two acts of his grand-scale, seldom-heard theater piece, Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien (1911), with the Eastman Chorale, orchestra, and soloists. The Philharmonia also presents Nocturnes for orchestra and women’s chorus (1899), while the Eastman Wind Ensemble offers three transcriptions by conductors Mark Scatterday and Donald Hunsberger, including Debussy’s little-known Marche écossaise. Professor Marie Rolfe sets the stage for both halves of the concert with lavish video projections, fascinating anecdotes, and excerpts from the composer’s own writings (Oct 13).
By contrast, the following weekend, Eastman presents “Intimate Debussy” in Kilbourn Hall. Using the “prism concert” format, in which groups perform in uninterrupted succession from different locations around the venue, this concert offers some of the composer’s best-loved piano music and songs in a variety of chamber arrangements that display the virtuosity of nearly every department in the school – from winds and strings to percussion and jazz (Oct 20).
In the first event of the festival’s final weekend, Debussy’s only completed opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, receives a new spin in “Theatrical Debussy” at Kodak Hall. A small ensemble of classical and jazz musicians led by Eastman theory professor Matthew Brown (author of Debussy Redux – The Impact of His Music on Popular Culture), jazz professor Dariusz Terefenko, and Eastman alumnus Christopher Winders, presents Pelléas Redux – a crossover arrangement of the composer’s music, accompanied by projected panels from a comic book by artist P. Craig Russell based on the drama. A pioneer in his field, Russell is highly regarded for his adaptations of The Magic Flute, Salome, and The Ring. This premiere will feature Eastman faculty, alumni, and friends (Oct 26).
The Prismatic Debussy” draws to a close with its most scholarly component: “Debussy Premieres.” Organized by Eastman musicology professor Ralph P. Locke, this event involves a symposium, recital, and master class on aspects of Debussy’s early songs, held in the new, state-of-the-art Hatch Recital Hall. In the morning session, five previously unknown songs will be introduced by guest scholar Denis Herlin, Director of Research at France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and editor of Claude Debussy: Four New Songs (2012); and by Professor Marie Rolf, with additional comments from Eastman professor and chair of music theory, Jonathan Dunsby.
The symposium continues in the afternoon with Mylène Dubiau-Feuillerac, visiting lecturer from the Université de Toulouse, speaking on “Nuit d’étoiles,” Debussy’s first published work. This is followed by a performance and study session/master class with soprano Elizabeth Calleo (Paris) and current students of Eastman and of London’s Royal College of Music (participating via Internet2) presenting the songs under discussion. The five recently discovered songs – “L’Archet,” “Le Matelot qui tombe à l’eau,” “Romance,” “Les Elfes,” and “Séguidille” – will receive their North American premieres (Oct 27).
The Prismatic Debussy” festival features a variety of additional offerings alongside these weekend events, including “Inspirational Debussy,” with Eastman’s contemporary ensemble Musica Nova. The concert couples music by Pierre Boulez, one of the many composers influenced by Debussy, with world premieres of six new works by Eastman composers that were directly inspired by Debussy’s piano prelude “Des pas sur la neige” (Oct 17).
Finally, for the duration of the festival, “Debussy Treasures” presents an exhibition of original Debussy manuscripts and other rare materials, including the complete working draft of La Mer and an arrangement of “Minstrels” for violin and piano that the composer made for Arthur Hartmann (who later taught violin at Eastman), as heard in the “Intimate Debussy” concert on October 20. The exhibition will be mounted in Eastman’s Sibley Music Library, which is the largest academic music library in North America (Oct 1-27).
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The Eastman School of Music is ranked among the nation’s premier music schools, boasting Guggenheim Fellows and Grammy and ASCAP Award winners on its distinguished faculty. The school has been commended and recognized nationwide for giving its students an intensive professional education, entrepreneurial opportunities in their musical disciplines, and the experience of a broader liberal arts education within the University of Rochester. Eastman’s prominent alumni include opera singers Renée Fleming, Nicole Cabell, Anthony Dean Griffey, Joyce Castle, and the late William Warfield; jazz musicians Ron Carter, Steve Gadd, and Chuck Mangione; composer-conductor Maria Schneider; and composers Dominick Argento, Kevin Puts, Charles Strouse, Michael Torke, and Jeff Beal. The school presents more than 700 public concerts a year and hosts a variety of prestigious festivals and events, including, most recently, the 40th International Viola Congress and the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
Details of “The Prismatic Debussy” follow, and more information is available at All events are free and open to the public. To learn more about the Eastman School of Music, see the web sites listed below.
The Eastman School of Music presents
Oct 1–27, 2012
Festival highlights:
Sat, Oct 13 at 8pm
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Festival Gala Concert
Eastman Philharmonia; Eastman School Symphony Orchestra; Eastman Wind Ensemble; Eastman Chorale
With illustrated introductions by Eastman Professor of Music Theory Marie Rolf
Printemps (1887), Prix de Rome work for orchestra
Three transcriptions for wind ensemble:
   Hommage à Rameau from Images, arr. Donald Hunsberger
   Sarabande from Pour le piano, arr. Mark Scatterday
   Marche écossaise, arr. Mark Scatterday
Nocturnes (1899) for orchestra and women’s chorus (critical edition by Denis Herlin)
   Nuages; Fêtes; Sirènes
Le martyre de Saint Sébastien (1911) Acts IV and V (critical edition by Eiko Kasaba and Pierre Boulez)
Wed, Oct 17 at 8pm
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Musica Nova performs “The Debussy Project”: new works by Eastman composers, inspired by Debussy’s piano prelude “Des pas sur la neige”
Sat, Oct 20 at 7 and 9pm
Hatch Recital Hall
Eastman faculty and students
A “prism” chamber concert featuring non-stop, surround-sound performance, with arrangements of some of Debussy’s best-known piano music and songs
Fri, Oct 26 at 8pm
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Pelléas Redux – a crossover arrangement of Debussy’s opera to accompany P. Craig Russell’s comic book Pelléas et Mélisande
Sat, Oct 27 from 9:30am to 5pm
Hatch Recital Hall
Presentations and the North American premiere of five newly discovered songs
With guest scholars Denis Herlin of the Centre National de la Recherché Scientifique and Mylène Dubiau-Feuillerac of the Université de Toulouse, and Eastman Professors of Music Theory Marie Rolf and Jonathan Dunsby
Oct 1–27
Sibley Music Library at the Eastman School of Music
An exhibit of Debussy manuscripts, including a complete working draft of La mer, and “Minstrels” arranged by Debussy for violin and piano for Arthur Hartmann










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