At the height of the 20th century’s Great Depression, African-American composer Florence Price transcribed the daily struggles men and women faced through the evocative power of the orchestra. A veritable sound smith, Montréal-based Keiko Devaux works with acoustic and electroacoustic sound to create original compositions. Angel Blue, one of the most in-demand sopranos in the world, lends her stunning voice to Barber’s work.
Podcast (French only)
Symphonic Tales is a series of podcasts by the Orchestre Métropolitain presented by Radio VM. These podcasts, hosted by musicologist Marilou Garon, offer an immersion into the works on the concert programs for the 2022-2023 season.
With [INAUDIBLE], Keiko Devaux continues her cycle of works exploring sound memory and auditory imagination. The composer’s interest in how sound can be transformed or altered in recollection is related to her compositional process, in which she often explores abstract melodic-harmonic and rhythmic gestures drawn from her memory.
The work is inspired by the effects made by the white noise of “off-air” radio and television signals and by the sound of scans and beeps of scanning signals. The work’s tensions arise from the contrasted reminiscences of these sound sources and from the act of pulling them up. Episodic memories of sounds reappear, get caught in a loop and deform. Overlaid on, melding into and interrupting each other or sometimes taking up the whole space, these evocations of noise may be expressed by the orchestra, by an instrumental section or by a soloist. The orchestra weaves long bolts of blurred sound worlds that are briefly broken by outbursts and dance fragments, often in opposition. Like tectonic plates of the memory, these layers evolve throughout the work, at times fighting for the foreground, before culminating in a moment of sonic cohesion. Fundamentally, the work is based not on quotation but on exploring rememorization, with the composer using old audible events to construct equivalent strucutral, harmonic and stylistic elements.
“The title [INAUDIBLE] comes from my side project of collecting film subtitles that describe sounds. The term ‘inaudible’ is common and I find it fascinating. The idea of describing the sound of something we can’t hear is an amazing concept for me. It evokes everything and nothing.” – Keiko Devaux
Lyric rhaposdy premiered on April 9, 1948, by soprano Eleanor Steber and the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Serge Koussevitzky
“I think I must have composed Knoxville within a few days… You see, it expresses a child’s feelings of loneliness, wonder and lack of identity in that marginal world between twilight and sleep.” – Samuel Barber
Born into comfortable surroundings in West Chester, Pennsylvania, in 1910, the young Samuel Barber was fascinated by the art of a maternal aunt, a contralto with the Metropolitan Opera, and her husband, a songwriter, who would long provide him with valuable advice. After privately studying piano and organ, the gifted student attended Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music from 1924 to 1932, where he enjoyed his first successes as a composer. Winning the American Rome Prize, he travelled to Europe in the mid-1930s for his first extended stay, familiarizing himself with the latest trends. Yet “his music retained a fundametally classical dimension always at the service of the most direct expression” (Alain Poirier).
In 1947, on a commission from soprano Eleanor Sterber, Barber composed his “lyric rhapsody” Knoxville: Summer of 1915, setting extracts of a prose poem by James Agee (1909-1955). Written in 1938, the text conveys the impressions of a young boy (the author, already thoughtful for a child his age) during a summer evening in Knoxville, Tennessee, shortly after the turn of the century. In a gently nostalgic atmosphere, the child recalls sights, sounds and smells, members of his family and his feeling of lonliness; Agee would lose his father the following year, which shattered his world, and he later made the poem the preamble to his 1957 novel A Death in the Family.
To judge from the quality of his setting, Barber was deeply affected by the subject and evocative power of Agee’s poem. In lush, wind-dominated sonorities, he superbly depicts the reverie of memory, combining musical images that bring it to life: the descending night, the muted atmosphere of a summer sunset, the quiet conversations, a passing streetcar with its clatter, lights, movement and the crackling spark that powers it along. Later, when the text mentions the father, the music breifly imagines his impending death, before the child’s final thoughts about who he is bring the piece to a close with a return to the initial dreamlike atmosphere.
Premiered in New York City on September 16, 1966, conducted by Thomas Schippers to inaugurate the new Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Center
Exceptionally gifted from a young age, Samuel Barber began learning piano from his mother while his aunt Louise Homer, a contralto with the Metropolitan Opera, sparked an interest in vocal music, which would ultimately form nearly two-thirds of his output. Enrolled at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied singing, composition and orchestral conducting, and the recipient of many awards, Barber forged a brilliant career in Europe and his country of birth by cultivating an “elegant neo-Romanticism” (Virgil Thomson). Despite the occasional foray into dodecaphony and polytonality. his writing remains “elegiac, lyrical and refined” (Marc Honegger), though it also doesn’t shrink from dissonance and, in contrast to his compatriots Bernstein, Copland and Florence Price, doesn’t incorporate typically American jazz and folklore elements.
Among his few stage works, Barber left us two operas. The first, Vanessa, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1956. Barber then received a commission for a second, this one for the 1966 inauguration of the Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. It would be Antony and Cleopatra, with a libretto by Franco Zeffirelli based on selected passages drawn from the Shakespeare play of the same name. Despite the presence of Leontyne Price in the role of Cleopatra, the premiere was poorly received and, due to the cast of hundreds, which included live animals, deemed vulgar and extravagant. However, the New York Times did note that “Mr. Barber’s score, as we discovered from subsequent exposure to revised excerpts, was to a great extent an innocent victim of the over-all fiasco.” Barber was devastated and put the opera back on the drawing board, working with his partner, Gian Carlo Menotti, to premiere a revised version in 1975.
On Cesar’s death, Mark Antony inherits Egypt and its queen, Cleopatra. The two fall madly in love. But Antony’s rival, Octavius Cesar, forces Antony to marry his sister Octavia to strengthen ties. He then declares war on Egypt, for he too is taken with Cleopatra. Defeated, Mark Antony takes his life and, in a grand final scene, the queen joins him in death from the bite of an asp. In an atmosphere alternating between agony and resignation, Cleopatra, in royal garb, voices her thoughts as her servants present her with the basket that contains the fatal snake. Sumptuously orchestrated, the intense and dramatic music brilliantly expresses all the feelings that cross the queen’s heart and mind before she draws her final breath.
Premiered at the Detroit Institute of Arts on November 6, 1940, by the Detroit Civic Orchestra conducted by Valter Poole
The origin of Florence Price’s current fame can be traced back to 2009, when a large number of her manuscript scores were found in an abandoned country house near Chicago that once belonged to her. Despite a prolific career, she had fallen into near total obscurity. Born Florence Beatrice Smith in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1887, she began learning the piano from her mother and later enrolled at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where she studied piano, organ and musical education and took private composition courses from George Chadwick, who would long be a mentor. Returning to the Deep South of her birth, she taught for a while in Little Rock and at Clark Atlanta University, an Afro-American institution, despite having her application for membership in the Arkansas Music Teachers Association rejected, among other annoyances. In 1912, she married lawyer Thomas J. Price, whose name she would keep after their divorce in 1931.
The family soon moved to Chicago where, in a more supportive social and artistic climate, her First Symphony was premiered in 1933 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the first symphony by a black woman to be performed by a major American orchestra. Price was very active, especially in the National Association of Negro Musicians, and received the occasional honour but struggled to have her compositions performed due at least as much to her sex as to the colour of her skin. Her work is abundant and in every genre. Though it derives from the post-romantic European tradition – Dvořák’s influence is strongly felt – it also draws on spirituals (Leontyne Price and Marian Anderson, among others, would sing her arrangements) and displays a very personal sensibility.
Commissioned in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Music Project, part of the New Deal, Price’s Symphony No. 3 in C minor makes less use of Afro-American folk themes than the First Symphony but does so more skillfully. After an almost Wagnerian-sounding brass prelude, the first movement briefly presents an impetuous theme that alternates with more lyrical passages involving all the desks. The Andante ma non troppo combines a very romantic treatment with recollections of spirituals. The following Juba is a dance brought from Africa by former slaves, with a syncopated rhythm, leaps, tapping and clapping (slaves were not allowed to use drums) that Price handles in a somewhat smiling manner, with rare and colourful percussive effects. The symphony concludes with a lively, joyful Scherzo.
The Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Orchestre Métropolitain since 2000, Yannick Nézet-Séguin signed a “lifelong” commitment with the Orchestre in September 2019. In September 2018, he became the third Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera (MET), New York in addition to his ongoing duties as Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he has served since 2012. In 2016-2017, he became a lifetime Honorary Member of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
After a ten-year tenure with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, he was appointed Honorary Conductor in 2019, a position he holds to this day.
He has worked regularly with many leading European ensembles and enjoyed many close collaborations with the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Wiener Philharmoniker, Sinfonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunk and Chamber Orchestra of Europe as well as the London Philharmonic Orchestra, of which he was Principal Guest Conductor from 2008 to 2014. His opera interpretations have been acclaimed in many of the world’s most famous houses, including the Metropolitan Opera (New York), La Scala (Milan), and the Royal Opera House (London), in the Salzburg Festival, as well as in such renowned concert halls as the Musikverein (Vienna), the Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), Festspielhaus (Baden-Baden) and Carnegie Hall (New York).
Yannick Nézet-Séguin records exclusively for Deutsche Grammophon label while continuing his role in the collaborative partnership between ATMA Classique and the OM. His honours include being named Artist of the Year by the prestigious magazine Musical America and receiving the Virginia Parker Award, a Royal Philharmonic Society Award (London), Canada’s National Arts Centre Award (Ottawa), the Prix Denise-Pelletier, awarded by the Quebec government, the Medal of Honor of the National Assembly of Quebec, the Oskar Morawetz Award and Orchestras Canada’s Betty Webster Award, the Rubies Award by Opera Canada; in 2022, he receives the Grammy Award of the Best Orchestral Performance for Florence Price’s Symphony No.3 with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Soprano Angel Blue’s importance in opera today cannot be overstated.
On September 23, 2019, she opened the Metropolitan Opera’s 2019-20 season as Bess in a new production of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess for which she earned a Grammy Award in the Best Opera Recording category.She reprised this role at the Met in Autumn 2021, which immediately followed her triumphant role debut as Destiny/Loneliness/Greta in the Met’s historic 21/22 season opener of Fire Shut Up In My Bones, the first production at the Metropolitan Opera by a Black composer. Additionally, she was the 2020 recipient of the Met’s prestigious Beverly Sills Award – the first African American artist to receive this honor – and she was the 2022 Richard Tucker Foundation Awardee. She has been praised for performances in nearly every major opera house in the world, including Teatro alla Scala, Covent Garden, the Vienna State Opera, Semperoper Dresden, San Francisco Opera, Seattle Opera, Theater an der Wien, Oper Frankfurt, and San Diego Opera.
The 2022-23 season is a display of Angel’s immense versatility and virtuosity on operatic and concert stages internationally. Blue opens Houston Grand Opera’s season with her house debut as Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata, in a production co-starring tenor Bryan Hymel, conducted by Matthew Aucoin; she sings Violetta later in the spring of 2023 at The Metropolitan Opera. The California native returns to longtime collaborator LA Opera performing the titular role in Puccini’s Tosca, and she reprises this role at Santa Fe Opera in early summer 2023. Blue travels to Detroit for a special one-night-only performance of Aida in Concert at the Detroit Opera,which will be Blue’s debut in the title role. Blue appears with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lyniv, singing Samuel Barber’s beloved Knoxville: Summer of 1915 along with selections from Fire Shut Up in My Bones. In spring 2023, Angel appears as Aida at the Royal Opera House.
Angel Blue was born and raised in California and completed her musical studies at UCLA. She was a member of the Young Artists Program at the Los Angeles Opera, after which she moved to Europe to begin her international career.
Nancy Ricard, Second Principal
Dominic Guilbault, Second Associate Principal
Lucie Ménard, Second Assistant Principal
Elvira Misbakhova, Principal
Pierre Tourville, Associate Principal
Julie Dupras, Assistant Principal
Christopher Best, Principal
Julien Siino, Associate Principal
Agnès Langlois, Assistant Principal
René Gosselin, Principal
Marc Denis, Associate Principal
Gilbert Fleury, Assistant Principal
Marie-Andrée Benny, Principal
Caroline Séguin, Principal Piccolo
Mélissa Tremblay, Principal
Mélanie Harel, Principal English Horn
Martin Carpentier, Principal
François Martel, Principal Bass Clarinet
Michel Bettez, Principal
Carmelle Préfontaine, Principal Contrabassoon
Louis-Philippe Marsolais, Principal
Antoine Mailloux, Principal
Patrice Richer, Principal
Trevor Dix, Principal Bass Trombone
Alain Cazes, Principal
Julien Bélanger, Principal
Alexandre Lavoie, Principal
Robin Best , Principal
PIANO AND CELESTA
Jennifer Bourdages, Principal
* Lizann Gervais plays on a Francesco Emiliani 1728 violin with a C.A. Thomassin bow, generously loaned by Canimex Inc.
Thank you to all our donors who make it possible for our musicians to perform on stage.
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