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  • “CRACKED TO PIECES, where is Orlando?” sings the title character in Jonathan Dawe’s Cracked Orlando, presented by Juilliard’s Center for Innovation in the Arts at the Rosemary and Meredith Willson … Read More...

    Joanne Sydney Lessner, Opera News - 3/4/17

    Joanne Sydney Lessner, Opera News - 3/4/17

    “CRACKED TO PIECES, where is Orlando?” sings the title character in Jonathan Dawe’s Cracked Orlando, presented by Juilliard’s Center for Innovation in the Arts at the Rosemary and Meredith Willson Theater (seen March 24). The answer was everywhere, both visually and aurally. John Erickson’s projections played across jagged screens that suggested Orlando’s altered state (the result of enchantment by the sorceress Alcina) and offered hope of his restoration via Pangaea-like fusion were they to connect. The screens also played home to the rocky coastal landscape of Alcina’s island, as well as to a corps of dancers, filmed months earlier, who impersonated shipwreck victims swimming to freedom as well as cavorting statuary at Angelica and Medoro’s wedding. At one point, they stood in for Orlando himself, rushing from one screen to the next as he tried to escape Angelica’s cave. In a show of true theatrical sorcery, Alcina was an avatar vanishing and reappearing on the screens, animated by mezzo Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek’s physical movements, which were picked up by motion sensors as she sang in a room across the hall. In addition to controlling the projections, video artist Phoebe Dunn manipulated a hologram representing the torch Alcina used to bewitch Orlando, making it wax, wane and change colors with graceful hand movements. 

    Dawe’s score is like Handel in a blender, framing melismatic vocal lines against a dissonant, fragmented instrumental soundscape. Singing in both Italian and English, the fearless singers managed to make Dawe’s thorny score sound like their natural mode of expression, despite the paucity of pitch reference. The singers were miked in order to create echo effects and to match Kwiatek’s piped in vocal presence. This made all their voices sound edgy in the small space, but countertenor Brennan Hall, an alternately sorrowful and unhinged Orlando, found moments of sweetness, especially in his affecting final aria. (Hall is a veteran of another adventurous Orlando: R.B. Schlather’s WhiteBox Art Center exhibition of the Handel opera, in which he played Medoro as a strutting pimp.) Soprano Sharon Harms made a regal Angelica, and it was her facial expressions that set the emotional stakes. She executed the score’s most florid passages with shiny confidence and empowering chest tones. Brian Jeffers offered a heroic, flexible tenor as Medoro. With so much musical and visual cacophony, director Kerry Warren wisely kept the staging simple. Conductor Ryan McAdams brought out the lyrical moments in Dawe’s fractal score while maintaining a precise rhythmic engine.

  • The cellist Jay Campbell is part of a generation of young musicians with a fresh center of gravity in its repertory. At this point in Mr. Campbell’s career — he is a master’s student at the Juilliard … Read More...

    Zachary Woolfe NY TImes, - 11/11/14

    Zachary Woolfe NY TImes, - 11/11/14

    The cellist Jay Campbell is part of a generation of young musicians with a fresh center of gravity in its repertory. At this point in Mr. Campbell’s career — he is a master’s student at the Juilliard School — he should, by all traditional rights, be focusing on Beethoven, Brahms and the like, with perhaps a polite nod here and there to modern and contemporary music.

    There are still rising artists along these lines, some without even the polite nods. But thankfully, they’re growing rarer. None of the works Mr. Campbell played in a concert at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall in March or another at the Italian Academy at Columbia University on Wednesday were written before 1900. Debussy and Stravinsky were ancient history at Weill.

    Even a 1981 monodrama for voice, piano and cello by Salvatore Sciarrino, played at Columbia, was old music. A majority of Mr. Campbell’s choices were from our century.

    Any Beethoven on Wednesday was heard in fractured form in Jonathan Dawe’s new Cello Sonata. Played with the sensitive pianist Stephen Gosling, the work’s single movement quotes and deconstructs strands of the master’s Cello Sonata in A, with flashes of idiosyncrasy: frenetic bursts and then passages of pristine calm.

  • 2012 Pick of the YearJonathan Dawe’s irresistible prequel to Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte is entitled Così Faran Tutti. The changing of the feminine Tutte to the genderless Tutti summarizes the opera’s … Read More...

    Stan Metzger, Editor in Chief, Seen and Heard International - 12/29/12

    Stan Metzger, Editor in Chief, Seen and Heard International - 12/29/12

    2012 Pick of the Year

    Jonathan Dawe’s irresistible prequel to Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte is entitled Così Faran Tutti. The changing of the feminine Tutte to the genderless Tutti summarizes the opera’s plot change from one that singles out the guileless Fiordiligi and Dorabella for unfaithfulness to one that blames everyone. Dawe’s music is both modern and Mozartean. The singing, dancing and staging enchant on every level. The final scene is wildly funny with just about everyone dressed as someone else singing out of their range. Erudite yet earthy, Così Faran Tutti outshines many of our more famous contemporary operas.

  • Jonathan Dawe’s irresistible prequel to Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte is entitled Così Faran Tutti. The changing of the feminine Tutte to the genderless Tutti summarizes the opera’s plot change from one that … Read More...

    Stan Metzger, Seen and Heard International - 12/29/12

    Stan Metzger, Seen and Heard International - 12/29/12

    Jonathan Dawe’s irresistible prequel to Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte is entitled Così Faran Tutti. The changing of the feminine Tutte to the genderless Tutti summarizes the opera’s plot change from one that singles out the guileless Fiordiligi and Dorabella for unfaithfulness to one that blames everyone. Dawe’s music is both modern and Mozartean. The singing, dancing and staging enchant on every level. The final scene is wildly funny with just about everyone dressed as someone else singing out of their range. Erudite yet earthy, Così Faran Tutti outshines many of our more famous contemporary operas. 

  • Jonathan Dawe is one of our most talented and distinctive – yet little-known – contemporary composers. He will be looked back upon as one of the few librettists and composers of contemporary opera whose … Read More...

    Stan Metzger, Editor in Chief, Seen and Heard International - 12/15/12

    Stan Metzger, Editor in Chief, Seen and Heard International - 12/15/12

    Jonathan Dawe is one of our most talented and distinctive – yet little-known – contemporary composers. He will be looked back upon as one of the few librettists and composers of contemporary opera whose originality captivates and endears, whose music is both “modern” and deeply rooted in the past. Like Charles Ives’s scores, which at first seem gratuitously dissonant but ultimately resolve and reveal their grounding in traditional American music, so does Dawe’s music hearken back to Baroque and Classical opera. We’ve neither heard nor seen his operas – or have we?

    Dawe’s genius is in his ability to deconstruct an earlier composer’s music, to fractalize it, breaking it down and then piecing it back together. This is no mere automatic process like randomizing notes. The result is music that, if not recognizable, seems familiar. In Così Faran Tutti, the overture’s fanfares, for example, echo Mozart. The continuo accompaniments to the recitatives (off-key in this case) mark the work as Mozart as well.

  • Jonathan Dawe is one of our most talented and distinctive – yet little-known – contemporary composers. He will be looked back upon as one of the few librettists and composers of contemporary opera whose … Read More...

    Stan Metzger, Editor in Chief, Seen and Heard International - 12/15/12

    Stan Metzger, Editor in Chief, Seen and Heard International - 12/15/12

    Jonathan Dawe is one of our most talented and distinctive – yet little-known – contemporary composers. He will be looked back upon as one of the few librettists and composers of contemporary opera whose originality captivates and endears, whose music is both “modern” and deeply rooted in the past. Like Charles Ives’s scores, which at first seem gratuitously dissonant but ultimately resolve and reveal their grounding in traditional American music, so does Dawe’s music hearken back to Baroque and Classical opera. We’ve neither heard nor seen his operas – or have we? 

    Dawe’s genius is in his ability to deconstruct an earlier composer’s music, to fractalize it, breaking it down and then piecing it back together. This is no mere automatic process like randomizing notes. The result is music that, if not recognizable, seems familiar. In Così Faran Tutti, the overture’s fanfares, for example, echo Mozart. The continuo accompaniments to the recitatives (off-key in this case) mark the work as Mozart as well. 

  • Read More...

    Paul Pelkonen, Super-Conductor - 10/12/12

    Paul Pelkonen, Super-Conductor - 10/12/12

    Dawe's two-act, Italian libretto is set to a fizzing, innovative score. He uses the Mozart original as a jumping-off point and a constant reference without descending into parody. 

  • And though you might have expected Jonathan Dawe’s Horn Trio (1993) to betray its structural DNA — a 12-tone row borrowed from a Stockhausen work — Mr. Dawe shaped the music with such vitality and drama … Read More...

    Allan Kozinn, The New York TImes - 8/9/11

    Allan Kozinn, The New York TImes - 8/9/11

    And though you might have expected Jonathan Dawe’s Horn Trio (1993) to betray its structural DNA — a 12-tone row borrowed from a Stockhausen work — Mr. Dawe shaped the music with such vitality and drama that it registered as almost neo-Romantic.

  • A pair of unusually strong pieces explored less gentrified territory. On Sunday, Jonathan Dawe's Horn Trio - superbly performed by hornist Nicholas Hartman, violinist Micah Ringham, and pianist Alexander … Read More...

    Matthew Guerrieri, Boston Globe - 8/9/11

    Matthew Guerrieri, Boston Globe - 8/9/11

    A pair of unusually strong pieces explored less gentrified territory. On Sunday, Jonathan Dawe's Horn Trio - superbly performed by hornist Nicholas Hartman, violinist Micah Ringham, and pianist Alexander Bernstein - combined refracting lines into a clear and urgent dramatic architecture.

  • A Powerful premiereAllegory and imagery fill BSO work The piece takes its title and substance frim the opera “Les Arts Florissants” (1685-6) by Marc-Antoine Charpentier…Music depicting some of … Read More...

    Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe - 1/14/06

    Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe - 1/14/06

    A Powerful premiere

    Allegory and imagery fill BSO work

    The piece takes its title and substance frim the opera “Les Arts Florissants” (1685-6) by Marc-Antoine Charpentier…Music depicting some of Charpentier’s allegorical characters (Music, Poetry, Painting, and Architecture) is the basis, along with a scenario paralleling Charpentier’s: The arts are under attack from Discord.

    Dawe’s intricate contemporary overlay depicts three more centuries of attack; some things never change.  The composer’s technique is complex and his own…Levine writes, “…it’s a piece that will be fun for the audience.”

    It is fun to follow the story in music and to hear Dawe’s modern take on ancient procedures like the Passacaglia…

  • ...not to diminish the world premiere of Jonathan Dawe’s the “Flowering Arts” (a BSO commission dedicated to Levine)…at 40, the Boston-born (but not raised) Dawe is practically a kid in classical … Read More...

    T. J. Medrek, The Boston Herald - 1/14/06

    T. J. Medrek, The Boston Herald - 1/14/06

    ...not to diminish the world premiere of Jonathan Dawe’s the “Flowering Arts” (a BSO commission dedicated to Levine)…at 40, the Boston-born (but not raised) Dawe is practically a kid in classical terms, so Levine’s interest should be taken very seriously.

     Although the colorfully off-kilter sound-world of “Flowering Arts” rooted in the music of the French Baroque as deconstructed via fractal geometry (!), may not anticipate the symphonic music of the future, it certainly is a very fine present.

  • I am always talking with composers, especially those who teach, as to where they’ve had exceptionally bright, talented students. As much as I prefer playing multiple works by great “elder statesmen” of … Read More...

    James Levine, Boston Symphony Orchestra Program Book - 1/12/06

    James Levine, Boston Symphony Orchestra Program Book - 1/12/06

    I am always talking with composers, especially those who teach, as to where they’ve had exceptionally bright, talented students. As much as I prefer playing multiple works by great “elder statesmen” of our time in order to develop a relationship between their music and the audience, I don’t want to neglect our younger composers whose music is already interesting and also growing. Thus the presence on this program of Jonathan Dawe, a composer just over forty who writes music that is noteworthy for its originality. His new piece, The Flowering Arts, which we commissioned for the BSO’s 125th anniversary, is inspired by some older music-in this case some very old music indeed. Of course this isn’t in itself a new procedure, but his contemporary take on that older music is extraordinary. I’ve heard several other works of his, including a chamber opera that’s been recently premiered. The combination of elements in his music is unique, and doesn’t belong to any standard “school.”  Even with the juxtaposition of old elements in The Flowering Arts, the language is entirely Jon’s own. And it’s a piece that will be fun for the audience.

  • A symphony of flowers and fractalsBSO premiere highlights composer's fusion of early music and geometry BOSTON GLOBE SUNDAY Feature Article At a recent studio session for Jonathan Dawe's woodwind quintet … Read More...

    Lawrence A. Johnson, The Boston Globe - 1/8/06

    Lawrence A. Johnson, The Boston Globe - 1/8/06

    A symphony of flowers and fractals

    BSO premiere highlights composer's fusion of early music and geometry

    BOSTON GLOBE SUNDAY Feature Article

    At a recent studio session for Jonathan Dawe's woodwind quintet ''Fractal Farm," the recording engineer at one point turned in exasperation to the composer and demanded, ''Why do you write such difficult music?" Dawe's edgy style is the antithesis of the solicitous neo-Romanticism that tends to predominate among many composers of his generation. Cast in a tough, astringent, and extremely complex post-serial idiom, Dawe's music makes daunting demands on musicians, and often on audiences as well. The 40-year-old composer's ''The Flowering Arts" will have its world premiere at this week's Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts, conducted by James Levine, to whom the piece is dedicated. Dawe's work is the third and final BSO commission to be heard in this 125th anniversary season, following Elliott Carter's ''Three Illusions for Orchestra" and Peter Lieberson's ''Neruda Songs."

    The commission may have come Dawe's way only after the original composer, Leon Kirchner, failed to finish his work in time, but it's clear that Dawe has always had fervent champions. Among them is pianist Robert Taub. Taub became the serendipitous conduit for the commission when Levine noticed a score of Dawe's Piano Concerto on Taub's piano between rehearsals.

    ''Jonathan has a way of creating new sounds out of old principles," said Taub, for whom Dawe wrote the concerto. ''And the new sounds are comfortable and yet engaging and adventurous all at the same time." 

    ''His writing is challenging, but the challenges are very worthwhile and always fresh every time I come back to it. He has a unique and compelling musical voice, and I feel it deserves to be heard."

    A collision of influences

    In the arduous struggle to find that voice, Dawe made a breakthrough when he discovered a congruity between early music and what's known as the Darmstadt school of hard-core serialism. ''There's a transparency of style," said Dawe. ''Emphasis on polyphony, clarity, and the idea that musical textures can be generated by structures which are not bubbling on the surface but that are deeper generators of music."  The most striking element of Dawe's individual style is the brake-squealing collision of two starkly contrasted influences. The composer draws upon structural elements of early and Baroque music and then proceeds to rigorously work out his ideas using the principles of fractal geometry.

    In this daunting discipline of fractals, founded by Benoit B. Mandelbrot in 1975, a single quadratic equation can morph into infinitesimal details of Baroque complexity. Fractal geometry has spawned much inscrutable nomenclature: ''self-similarity," ''rotational arrays," and something called ''cellular automata," which sounds like a painful religious state induced by overuse of a pocket Nokia.

    Yet these arcane principles, applied to early and Baroque musical models, form the brick and mortar of Dawe's own rigorous language, one that has evolved from 12-tone serialism to a more practical if no less envelope-pushing style.
    In the case of ''The Flowering Arts," the French Baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier provided the structural blueprint. Inspired by Charpentier's opera ''Les Arts florissants," Dawe created a modernist orchestral response, cast in a single movement of 15 minutes.  Following a brief ''overture," the various allegorical characters, music, poetry, etc., are presented in clear-cut writing for different sections. ''Discord" is represented with winds and percussion, segueing into a trio of two bassoons and contrabassoon. ''The Furies" are painted with whirling 16th notes, while ''Peace" enters in the strings with high harmonic canons supported by vibraphone and glockenspiel. An expansive chaconne forms the conclusion, running nearly half the work's length and developing the varied themes.

    The score is surely a sight to behold, with fractal equations overlaying Charpentier's music. For Dawe, ''The Flowering Arts" forms a kind of representative portrait of where his music is right now. ''In many ways, I take strands as if they were 12-tone rows," said Dawe. ''You'll hear things often that are quite tonal, and then they'll move away from the realm of tonality into effects that are more abstract and atonal." In his program note for this week's BSO performances, Dawe adds that his new work also represents a broader wish for peace to triumph over the forces of discord, aided by a flowering of the arts.

    Progressing backward Born in Boston, Dawe grew up in Katonah, N.Y., listening like most teenagers to the popular rock groups of the '70s and '80s. The seeds for Dawe's attraction to clarity and systematic rigor in music were sparked by a hearing of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2.

    ''What really struck me was not only that it had such a wonderful, incredibly varied surface," said Dawe, ''but that there clearly was a structural element that was very active."

    Unlike most composers, who progress from Bach forward to Mozart and Beethoven, Dawe went backward to earlier figures, even playing the krumhorn in an early music ensemble at Oberlin College. It was during graduate study at Juilliard with Milton Babbitt that Dawe acquired his interest in fractal geometry and, as he says, ''the compositional tactics to merge the two styles in a logical way."

    While Babbitt's music had its influence, Dawe said it was his encouragement and mentoring that he most appreciated. ''Even more than the mechanics of working together, it was the excitement that he would show," said Dawe. ''I'll never forget there was one piece I was writing in a kind of Schoenbergian style. After I played the opening on the piano, he just smiled and said, 'Why don't you finish that piece? That would be great.' And that's all it took to give me the confidence to plunge ahead."
    For Babbitt's part, the 89-year-old elder statesman of American modernism says Dawe displayed a restless curiosity and voracious musical appetite.

    ''He was always seeking everything possible," Babbitt said. ''He studied everything, and we talked about every type of music you could imagine."

    Babbitt notes that Dawe arrived at his unique approach as the result of much hard work and several dead ends. ''He now reconceives and reconceptualizes old works in his own very contemporary terms," said Babbitt. ''It's a very singular compositional attitude."

    Married and the father of two daughters, Dawe continues to teach theory and analysis at Juilliard. He is working on ''a miniature opera" based on sketches from Vivaldi's ''Orlando Furioso," in addition to writing his Third String Quartet for the Miro Quartet.

    Algorithmic complexity and Charpentier allegory aside, Dawe hopes that Boston audiences will approach ''The Flowering Arts" with a ''totally open perspective."

    ''It's important to me that this kind of music not be seen as a pastiche or early music with wrong notes," said Dawe. ''Because, for me, musical language is much sturdier that that, and I think it comes across that way.

    ''There's a deep middle ground that ties in the music of the past with these expressions of the future. And in the 21st century, that's how I deal with music."