Strings perform Muse by Christopher Theofanidis during the second half of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra The New Brandenburgs at the Spring for Music festival at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, New York on May 06, 2011. i

Strings perform Muse by Christopher Theofanidis during the second half of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra The New Brandenburgs at the Spring for Music festival at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, New York on May 06, 2011. Melanie Burford for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Melanie Burford for NPR
Strings perform Muse by Christopher Theofanidis during the second half of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra The New Brandenburgs at the Spring for Music festival at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, New York on May 06, 2011.

Strings perform Muse by Christopher Theofanidis during the second half of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra The New Brandenburgs at the Spring for Music festival at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, New York on May 06, 2011.

Melanie Burford for NPR

Classics in Concert

Spring For Music: Orpheus Chamber OrchestraWQXR-APM

Finding a way to bring orchestral music — an art form squarely rooted in conventions of the 19th century — into the modern world represents an essential challenge for orchestras and their administrators. In 2006, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra spearheaded a novel project designed to help bridge past and present: It commissioned six composers to write companion pieces for Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos, works that were completed around 1720 and use a rich variety of instruments.

The multiyear New Brandenburg Project culminates in Orpheus' opening-night concert at Spring for Music, which brings together pieces by Aaron Jay Kernis, Melinda Wagner, Peter Maxwell Davies, Christopher Theofanidis, Stephen Hartke and Paul Moravec. These were all introduced individually in Orpheus programs in recent seasons, but will be played as a group for the first time here.

The one condition in this project was simple: Each composer had to use the same instrumentation as the Bach model. The first installment, Stephen Hartke's A Brandenburg Autumn, features strings plus three oboes, two horns and a sole bassoon, analogous to the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1. Its first movement, "Nocturne: Barcarolle," was inspired by his time living on the lake that borders western Berlin as well as Potsdam, the capital of Brandenburg.

"Down by the shore, there was a marina, and from my room I could hear the sounds of the halyards clanking against the masts of the ships," Hartke says. "There was this wonderful tinkling sound like wind chimes, only I thought more beautiful. And I actually tried to imitate the sound of this in the first movement of the piece, using the muted harpsichord."

New York composer Paul Moravec also took inspiration from a place and time — specifically the 1989 reopening of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, and the exhilaration that accompanied that event. His piece Brandenburg Gate evokes the sounds of Berliners tearing down the Berlin Wall.

"In the 3rd movement," he says, "I have the entire string section pitching very loudly in this chaotic, nutty way, and programmatically I associate that with the sound and the image of these chisels and hammers chipping away at the Berlin Wall."

Inspired by the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, Christopher Theofanidis' Muse is bursting with baroque references including Bach's cantata Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, which the composer heard when he was very young. And there's a lot of harpsichord: "It's such a fantastic, wonderful, metallic instrument, and I kind of think of it as the eclectic guitar of the Baroque," he says.

Philadelphian composer Melinda Wagner's Little Moonhead, scored for two solo flutes, violin and string orchestra, is written for the same ensemble as Bach's fourth Brandenburg Concerto and features a mix of inventive riffs and ethereal charm.

Peter Maxwell Davies' Sea Orpheus revisits the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, with its solo flute, violin and keyboard lines. Other influences include a Gregorian chant, "Tantum Ergo Sacramentum," which is the work's principal theme, and a poem, "Sea Orpheus," by George Mackay Brown.

"I loved this poem," Davies says. "Of course, in Orkney I live surrounded by the sea. I go out of my door and there is the sea, and you're aware of sea sounds the whole time."

Finally, Concerto With Echoes by composer Aaron Jay Kernis is inspired by the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6. It attempts to "include everything in music," Kernis says, including "soaring melody, tension, dissonance, drive, relaxation, strong harmony and form."

Program
  • AARON JAY KERNIS - Concerto with Echoes (inspired by Brandenburg No. 6)
  • MELINDA WAGNER - Little Moonhead (inspired by Brandenburg No. 4)
  • SIR PETER MAXWELL DAVIES - Sea Orpheus (inspired by Brandenburg No. 5)
  • CHRISTOPHER THEOFANIDIS - Muse (inspired by Brandenburg No. 3)
  • STEPHEN HARTKE - A Brandenburg Autumn (inspired by Brandenburg No. 1)
  • PAUL MORAVEC - Brandenburg Gate (inspired by Brandenburg No. 2)
Credits

(Spring for Music is a collaboration between American Public Media, WQXR and NPR Music.)

[+] read more[-] less

More From Classical

Conductor Mariss Jansons led the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall Wednesday in Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7, "Leningrad." AJ Wilhelm for NPR hide caption

toggle caption AJ Wilhelm for NPR

Carnegie Hall Live

The 'Leningrad' Symphony At Carnegie Hall

WQXR radio

Mariss Jansons leads the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Shostakovich's wartime epic.

The 'Leningrad' Symphony At Carnegie Hall
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/474662768/475125195" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Michael Mizrahi channels the harpsichord in new music by Troy Herion. Eno Swinnen/Courtesy of the Artist hide caption

toggle caption Eno Swinnen/Courtesy of the Artist

All Songs TV

First Watch: Michael Mizrahi, 'Harpsichords'

Pianist Michael Mizrahi channels old school harpsichord music in a new piece by Troy Herion.

Music director Iván Fischer leading an Budapest Festival Orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall in New York Thursday. A.J. Wilhelm for NPR hide caption

toggle caption A.J. Wilhelm for NPR

Carnegie Hall Live

Budapest Festival Orchestra Plays Carnegie Hall

Iván Fischer conducts a Liszt piano concerto with soloist Marc-André Hamelin.

Budapest Festival Orchestra Plays Carnegie Hall
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/466299701/467669984" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Lawrence Brownlee performs with pianist Jason Moran in the active crypt below the historic Church of the Intercession in Harlem. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Field Recordings

Singing For Life In A Crypt In Harlem

Opera singer Lawrence Brownlee joins jazz pianist Jason Moran in an old spiritual.

Tiny Desk Concert with Teddy Abrams Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Teddy Abrams

Hear a young conductor, composer and pianist play Beethoven and his own jazzy pieces.

Conductor Simon Rattle took his Berlin Philharmonic and symphonies by Beethoven to Carnegie Hall for a week-long residency. AJ Wilhelm/NPR hide caption

toggle caption AJ Wilhelm/NPR

Classics in Concert

Beethoven Symphonies At Carnegie Hall Via Berlin

WQXR radio

From a week-long residency, hear the Berlin Philharmonic in Beethoven's Sixth and Eighth.

Beethoven Symphonies At Carnegie Hall Via Berlin
Audio is no longer available

Conductor Andris Nelsons led the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus Thursday in Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky at Carnegie Hall in New York. AJ Wilhelm for NPR hide caption

toggle caption AJ Wilhelm for NPR

Classics in Concert

A Tale Of Two Sergeys: Boston Symphony Orchestra At Carnegie Hall

WQXR radio

Andris Nelsons conducts Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky and Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances.

A Tale Of Two Sergeys: Boston Symphony Orchestra At Carnegie Hall
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/451116807/451174052" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Alan Gilbert leads the New York Philharmonic, with pianist Evgeny Kissin, at Carnegie Hall's gala opening concert, Oct. 7. AJ Wilhelm /for NPR hide caption

toggle caption AJ Wilhelm /for NPR

Carnegie Hall Live

The New York Philharmonic At Carnegie Hall

WQXR radio

Pianist Evgeny Kissin brings Tchaikovsky, and a sense of history, to Carnegie's opening concert.

The New York Philharmonic At Carnegie Hall
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/442287960/446705652" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Back To Top