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Mezzo DiDonato sings Lieberson premiere with Gilbert in NYC

In May, on a temporary break from the year’s Handel and Haydn anniversaries, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato turns to a world premiere by Peter Lieberson – The World in Flower – with the New York Philharmonic. In three performances of the work, commissioned by the orchestra and conducted by its music director-designate, Alan Gilbert, Ms. DiDonato will be joined by baritone Russell Braun and the New York Choral Artists on May 7, 8, and 9 at Avery Fisher Hall.

These concerts are Ms. DiDonato’s first in New York since her Carnegie Hall “triathlon” in January, when, over an eight-day period, she participated in the gala honoring Marilyn Horne’s 75th birthday; gave a challenging recital of Handel arias; and sang with the MET Orchestra under James Levine – also making time to host the Metropolitan Opera’s international HD transmission of Gluck’s Orfeo on one of her free days!

Joyce DiDonato is one of the world’s most sought-after Handelians, a standout in today’s crowded field of great mezzos, but no stranger to new music. She sang three brand-new works with Houston Grand Opera early in her career – two of which were world premieres, and all of which were recorded: Michael Daugherty’s Jackie O (she played Grace Kelly), Mark Adamo’s Little Women, and Tod Machover’s Resurrection. Ms. DiDonato also sang the role of Sister Helen Prejean in the New York premiere of Jake Heggie’s popular opera Dead Man Walking. But Peter Lieberson’s cantata for mezzo-soprano, baritone, chorus, and orchestra is another matter. It was originally conceived for the composer’s late wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, but her untimely death in 2006 was the incentive for a change of course.

In a note for the New York Philharmonic, Peter Lieberson describes the work’s genesis:

“The World in Flower … is a completely different piece from the one first envisioned. … I chose the texts myself. They are wide-ranging and include ‘I Live My Life in Widening Circles’ by the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke; texts by shamans, and mystics like Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mechtild of Magdeburg, and Marguerite Porete; excerpts from Rumi, the Odes of Solomon, and Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman; Oceana by Pablo Neruda; and a final excerpt of selected prayers from the Navajo. …

“Despite the differences in language, these texts hold very similar views. At this time in particular when there is so much intolerance, they embody similarities in spiritual realizations from many traditions. I chose the texts for these reasons and more, for their profound understanding and sympathy for humanity, as well as for their passion and exuberance for this mysterious human life.”

Joyce DiDonato comments enthusiastically on her next world premiere:

“For a performer, nothing rivals knowing that the audience has no idea what will come next – that they’ll be listening with eager ears, and will be discovering something completely new. The opportunity to help bring a monumental new work to life is an enormous privilege. Peter’s piece has enormously valuable things to say, and has the capacity to touch people deeply and I welcome the chance to make that happen.”

Composer Steven Stucky has said of his colleague, “[Lieberson] writes some of the most beautiful music in the world today. … Something special happens when people encounter him and his music.” Stucky hosts a Philharmonic pre-concert “Hear and Now” discussion at Avery Fisher Hall one hour before each of the three performances, as well as the Open Rehearsal on the morning of May 7.

Peter Lieberson is the recipient of the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for the orchestral song cycle Neruda Songs which he composed for his wife, and which they recorded seven months before her death.

Joyce DiDonato sings the world premiere performances of Peter Lieberson’s cantata, The World in Flower, with Russell Braun, New York Choral Artists, and the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Alan Gilbert at Avery Fisher Hall on May 7 at 7:30pm and on May 8 and May 9 at 8pm.

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