A Parting Gift — With Legs — For Marin Alsop At The Cabrillo Festival : Deceptive Cadence After 25 years directing the contemporary music festival in California, Marin Alsop bids farewell with Lola Montez Does the Spider Dance, a new piece composed for her by John Adams.
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A Parting Gift — With Legs — For Marin Alsop At The Cabrillo Festival

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A Parting Gift — With Legs — For Marin Alsop At The Cabrillo Festival

A Parting Gift — With Legs — For Marin Alsop At The Cabrillo Festival

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MARIN ALSOP: A little more gradual diminuendo. Can we do that part? It's three before bar 114.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This week, at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz, Calif., our friend Marin Alsop led a rehearsal.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We should just watch her, I mean, really...

ALSOP: It's probably safest.

(LAUGHTER)

ALSOP: At least it's more efficient, right?

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: This is Marin's 25th and final season as music director of the festival. The players rehearsed a new work by John Adams that is dedicated to her.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN ADAMS' "LOLA MONTEZ DOES THE SPIDER DANCE")

SIMON: The piece will have its premiere tonight. And the maestra joins us now from the studios of KZSC in Santa Cruz. Congratulations. I know how much this festival means to you.

ALSOP: Oh, thank you, Scott. Yeah, it's a really special year for me.

SIMON: Can you stretch certain artistic muscles at Cabrillo that you often don't get a chance when you lead the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra or any of the other dozens of orchestras that you will have led in the course of a year?

ALSOP: Yes. The focus is entirely on music by living composers, so it's a completely different aesthetic. Everything's brand-new. The music's intensely challenging. And that said, it's invigorating, it's inspiring, it's refreshing. And I think it puts all of us, as musicians, in touch with the creative process, you know, because Beethoven was once new music, too. So I try to imagine us at that premiere of his fifth symphony and just, you know, saying no, no, no. Ba, ba, ba bah (ph) is how it goes. Come on people...

SIMON: (Laughter).

ALSOP: ...You know? But I think it's refreshing for all of us to be a part of that creative process so intensely for these two weeks.

SIMON: You've sent us audio from some highlights you've had over the years. And - so let's first listen to a piece performed at Cabrillo in 2010, a percussion concerto by Jennifer Higdon.

(SOUNDBITE OF JENNIFER HIGDON'S "PERCUSSION CONCERTO")

SIMON: What can you tell us about this piece?

ALSOP: Well, when I hear each little excerpt, it's not just about, oh, what a terrific piece, but it's also about the backstory for me because Jennifer Higdon I got to know years ago, and she's been to the festival many, many times - taught our composer workshop. And I introduced her to a young percussionist named Colin Currie, who I brought to the festival when he was 19 years old. He made his U.S. debut at Cabrillo. And they hit it off. And this percussion concerto is a result of that introduction and their lasting friendship.

(SOUNDBITE OF JENNIFER HIGDON'S "PERCUSSION CONCERTO" AND CHRISTOPHER ROUSE'S "CONCERTO PER CORDE")

SIMON: A piece now from Christopher Rouse recorded in 2004.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTOPHER ROUSE'S "CONCERTO PER CORDE")

ALSOP: Chris Rouse has played a huge role at Cabrillo for me and in my life as a conductor. I first heard his music in, I think, about 1990, and I flipped out for it.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTOPHER ROUSE'S "CONCERTO PER CORDE")

ALSOP: As you can hear, it's very, it's very aggressive, really rhythmic music. I mean, not everything he writes is like that, but I think those are some of the hallmarks. And I'm drawn to that kind of music.

SIMON: Now, an excerpt from something that that might be a little bit different in tone, an excerpt from the "Symphony No. 4" by Kevin Puts.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEVIN PUTS' "SYMPHONY NO. 4")

SIMON: Boy, that's beautiful.

ALSOP: It is gorgeous, isn't it?

SIMON: Do you remember when and where it was performed?

ALSOP: Yes. This was performed at the Mission San Juan Bautista where we used to do our last concert of the season. And it was commissioned by a very dear couple, Howard and Carrie Hansen. And it was commissioned really for Carrie, who has since passed away. And Kevin wanted to take the mission and the idea of being in this space and use themes that would be relevant to that and have these soaring lines that echo and reverberate unlike in any other acoustic, so a very special piece.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEVIN PUTS' "SYMPHONY NO. 4")

SIMON: And let's get back to the John Adams piece that will premiere tonight. It's called "Lola Montez And The Spider Dance." And there was a Lola Montez.

ALSOP: There was. She lived - I think she was born in 1821, but she had such a fantastically colorful life. She was known as Lola the Spanish dancer, even though she was born in Ireland. And then she knew King Ludwig and who knows what they were up to. She married somebody, and then she married this London aristocrat - the son of an aristocrat. And they found out that she was already married, so she was arrested for bigamy.

And so she fled to the West in the United States and ended up, you know, spending her later years performing for the gold miners out there. And this is a recreation of her Spider Dance, her famous Spider Dance. She comes out and these spiders begin to encircle her legs, I mean, huge, disgusting, hairy creatures. And the tempo picks up. And I think the E-flat clarinet, who - John Schertle is playing E-flat clarinet. He has a formidable, incredibly challenging part to play.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN ADAMS' "LOLA MONTEZ DOES THE SPIDER DANCE")

ALSOP: And he must be Lola sort of taming these spiders that are covering her and encasing her.

SIMON: Ahhh.

ALSOP: Yeah, I know. Am I scaring you? I hope I am. And it gets faster and faster and crazy. And then it slows down again, and then faster and faster. And eventually, it kind of grinds to a halt as she stomps out, I believe, the last living spider.

SIMON: And this piece is dedicated to you, Marin.

ALSOP: Yes. I thought it was a lovely tribute (laughter).

SIMON: Ah, yes. I see the resemblance. Yes.

ALSOP: But I think it's so wonderful, John...

SIMON: Is that how you think of working with your musicians - stomping on spiders?

ALSOP: I cannot answer that on the grounds that it may incriminate me, but I can say that this idea of wrangling spiders is not far off...

SIMON: (Laughter).

ALSOP: ...The money when you're working on new pieces all the time.

SIMON: Marin Alsop, who still stands tall in the music profession - music director, of course, of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, but she's finishing up her 25th season as music director of the Cabrillo Festival in Santa Cruz. Thanks so much, maestra. Talk to you soon.

ALSOP: Thanks so much Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN ADAMS' "LOLA MONTEZ DOES THE SPIDER DANCE")

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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