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  • “most successful: a very beautiful opera” We understand that the American opera composer Jonathan Dawe wanted to put the two tragedies in parallel. Tragic accident due to the construction of wooden … Read More...

    Sophie Jama
, Huffington Post - 6/19/18

    Sophie Jama
, Huffington Post - 6/19/18

    “most successful: a very beautiful opera”
    
    We understand that the American opera composer Jonathan Dawe wanted to put the two tragedies in parallel.

    Tragic accident due to the construction of wooden buildings in streets too narrow or criminal act of the Emperor Nero who has been represented contemplating a hill playing the harp? It is unclear what caused the great fire in Rome that occurred some 2000 years ago. Consequence of the euphoria of markets and the subprime crisis, fraudulent concealment of a huge debt or refusal of the U.S. Government  to offer help? The bankruptcy of the multinational Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008, one of the largest financial institutions, triggered the world's worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

    In both cases, it is part of the empires that collapse causing a large number of anonymous and powerless victims, almost invisible to public opinion. We understand that the American opera composer Jonathan Dawe wanted to put the two tragedies in parallel in his work entitled Nero and The Fall of Lehman Brothers. And the result is most successful: a very beautiful opera on a current music but also inspired by Handel or Monteverdi melodies, lyric singers with beautiful voices and who play as in the theater, all in very realistic office decorations and on a booklet that lacks neither humor nor irony.

    Unlike a classical opera, the musicians of the orchestra are not in a pit, inaccessible to the spectators, but are sitting in the cubicles of a large grayish office room as are all the offices. A harp, a double bass, a cello, a piano, a trombone, violins, a saxophone ... thirteen musicians plus a conductor are installed at their desks, like employees who are agitated to sell and buy the stock at the best prices.

    In this impeccable Wall Street office decor with a low, stuffy ceiling, you'll see a photocopier, a fountain of mineral water, a whimsical elevator. And deep down, the comfortable, airy office of the big boss, the Emperor Nero, who plays his power with his adviser Seneca, between his women Agrippina and Poppea, but who ends up being overtaken himself by the events that involve a chorus of three of his employees.

    The structure of the opera resembles in every respect a tragedy of antiquity. On a digital banner are posted the fluctuation of the stock market, and the French translation of this opera sung in English. The booklet is both funny and interesting. “Time will teach us what we have always known” ... In addition to the pleasure and excitement of the beauty of the music and the interpretation of the singers and musicians, we feel how much - in the events recounted - the actors of this medium of money could be greyed out by the good results, even though they knew that they were artificial.

    But the euphoria has only one time, the rating agencies get involved and the empire collapses. “It is as if Rome were selling the Vatican to the Japanese to make them a hotel, and they would hire the Pope as a porter.” Nero is accused of embezzlement and defends himself as he can. The booklet even offers excerpts from the Senate post bankruptcy.

    In an hour and a half of entertainment at the rhythm of the financial market brokers, in the basement of Notre-Dame-du-Saint-Rosaire church where opera is proposed to be able to deploy its special scenography, Nero and The Fall of Lehman Brothers gives us an understanding of the atmosphere and the spirit of this crisis that we have experienced live but without necessarily feeling it from the inside. A truly original show and extremely successful, thanks also to a staging and presentation of the best quality.

    Translated from French

  • "Post-modernism at its best"The place was surprising. For his new production, Ballet-Opera Pantomime (BOP) had chosen a vast basement church in the Villeray district. The company presented NERO and the Fall … Read More...

    Justin Bernard, MY.SCENA - 6/18/18

    Justin Bernard, MY.SCENA - 6/18/18

    "Post-modernism at its best"

    The place was surprising. For his new production, Ballet-Opera Pantomime (BOP) had chosen a vast basement church in the Villeray district. The company presented NERO and the Fall of Lehman Brothers, Jonathan Dawe's no less surprising opera. Created in 2016 and commissioned by the Italian Academy of Columbia University (New York), this work is supposedly inspired by fragments of librettos of a lost opera by Handel. It mixes characters from ancient Rome with a very contemporary story: the financial crisis of 2008 that saw the investment bank Lehman Brothers go bankrupt. Post-modernism at its best!

    The music is both modern and at the same time a tribute to Baroque music. Unfortunately, the composer confuses modernity with hardship. The vocal lines are of a monstrous difficulty, with often a succession of rapid and very wide intervals. Jonathan Dawe is no stranger to a trend already observed in other contemporary operas: to compose musically dense, lyrical passages, on often insignificant and repeated words. We do not know if the comic effect is sought here. Be that as it may, the public willingly responded with laughter. In this church basement, the listeners had gathered on inclined rows. Facing them, a gigantic stage space - in this case an office space - box-shaped, lying on its side. So we had three walls and a fourth open wall, the same one that marks the border between reality and fiction. Fascinating!

     

    From this production, we will remember the ingenuity of the staging and sets and the high quality of the musicians of the orchestra under the direction of Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse. They were sitting in the back, among the various workstations, giving the impression of playing the role - mute - of bank employees. Ingenuity also came from over-titles, free translation from English into French very Quebecois, swear words included! Audience laughter.

     

    We can notice the excellent performance of Shea Owens (Seneca), very comfortable in the treble and in this type of repertoire, and the magnetic presence of Allegra De Vita (Agrippine). For his part, Geoffroy Salvas (Nero) seemed much less comfortable in his interpretation, sometimes forcing his voice in the upper register. Molly Netter, meanwhile, had an atypical tone, similar to that of a child, a soft voice but yet of great purity.

  • "Nero and the fall of Lehman Brothers": an opera of our timeThis week, from Wednesday to Sunday, a daring production occupies the basement of the Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. The moment of an … Read More...

    Nathan Giroux, LES MECONNUS - 6/17/18

    Nathan Giroux, LES MECONNUS - 6/17/18

    "Nero and the fall of Lehman Brothers": an opera of our time

    This week, from Wednesday to Sunday, a daring production occupies the basement of the Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. The moment of an opera, the team of BOP (Ballet, Opera, Pantomime) immerses us in a twisted world halfway between Nero, the great fire of Rome, and the fall of Lehman Brothers, emblem of the crisis 2008. Plunge into the mythology of our century.

    It’s first to Jonathan Dawe that we owe this tour de force. A Boston-born composer and teacher at the Juilliard School of Music, Dawe likes to reinvent baroque music by distorting simple melodic lines through harmonic fractal prisms. The result is of a strange beauty which can interest as much the hardened ears as the most lyrical souls. Former student of Dawe and musical director of BOP, Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse directs the chamber opera in a unique setting: it is a replica of a Wall Street office that serves as an orchestra pit, with photocopiers, elevators, and neon lights that are alive.

    In addition to destroying the fourth wall, the scenic arrangement blurs the line between musicians and office workers, who exchange melodic motifs, spoken sentences and phrases sung in a corporate clutter improvised look. The story features Nero, CEO of Lehman Brothers, brilliantly blind to the warnings of his best advisor, Agrippine, who is the first to notice the disaster ahead. This is what will be worth to be unjustly dismissed instead of Seneca, his male counterpart, before the markets collapse under the mysterious gaze of Poppea, incarnation of Venus in the body of the boss’s lover.  At the bottom, a strip of light emitting diodes tells in real time the fire of the stock market in addition to ensuring a translation (free and crazy) of the booklet in French.

    The show is honored by BOP, who succeeds in challenging the audience of our century with a century-old musical form. One discerns there a History which is repeated where the oligarchs in power systematically escape the justice by pleading to have seen nothing coming, nothing could predict, nothing could do. While Nero tortured Christians in the public square as scapegoats for the fire, Lehman dismissed employees for “spreading uncertainty” about the state of the market. In both cases, the entertainment society allows the powerful to rewrite history through entertainment, an insidious form of propaganda. As summarized by Clara Poissant-Lespérance, president of BOP, “The financial crisis of 2008 is a bit of the great tragedy of our century. It's important that people get in touch with it: it has destroyed so many of our myths.”

    Translated from French

    14, 15 et 16 juin : 20h 17 juin : 16h   Salle Guillet de l’Église de Notre-Dame-du-Rosaire, 800, rue du Rosaire, Montréal

  • "a modernity that speaks to the world, and a modernity that, by the way, attracts a young audience and awakens consciences"  The wheel spins. And it turns very fast. In the last quarter of the … Read More...

    Christophe Huss, Le Devoir - 6/16/18

    Christophe Huss, Le Devoir - 6/16/18

    "a modernity that speaks to the world, and a modernity that, by the way, attracts a young audience and awakens consciences"

     

    The wheel spins. And it turns very fast. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, opera was notoriously in crisis. Question of hiatus between a fundamentally melodic art, research on the vocal expression, but also a goal for a break whose complex ‘ins and outs’ go beyond the scope of this article. Among these supporters, however, it can be argued that breaking with models, being in the vanguard, it was also somehow claimed to be misunderstood, or even incomprehensible.

    Pushing the cork further, cutting off the public became a sort of pledge of “supposed genius.” These are basically the terms of the philosopher Luc Ferry in the context of some fine digressions on Nietzsche, and I willingly admit that during some evenings of the company Chants libres, I devote myself to thinking of Luc Ferry.

    Opera close to us

    If this is my preamble, it is because the young and inventive company Ballet-Opéra-Pantomime (BOP) appears, just like the ECM + and its “graphic operas,”  as the flag bearer in Montreal of the current new modernity, a modernity that speaks to the world, and a modernity that, by the way, attracts a young audience and awakens consciences.

    And let us not be told that this modernity is the result of compromise. It is the crossroads of culture and reason. Pure logic, in fact. By choosing a subject of contemporary history, the composer takes the risk of the trivial.  But BOP has found one that is particularly clever.

    Jonathan Dawe, not to be confused with the prolific English opera composer Jonathan Dove, author of Flight, which takes place at an airport, is a professor at the Juilliard School.

    Jonathan Dawe, thus, had the idea, exploited during the last decade, to integrate the imaginary and the baroque world to the contemporary universe. It is, in a way, his trademark. Dawe does not hesitate to draw on the ancient material that makes it clash with contemporary language, as in a symphonic work around the flourishing Charpentier Arts created by James Levine in Boston in 2005.

    He then applied this principle to opera with Cracked Orlando in 2010 and, two years later, Così faran tutti (They'll All Do It!) - a prequel to Mozart's Così fan tutte, an idea also exploited by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt and Nicolas Bacri in Così fanciulli in 2016.

    The year 2016 is precisely that of the creation of Nero and the Fall of Lehman Brothers. The stock market crash of 2008 is symbolized by the bankruptcy of investment bank Lehman Brothers. On a dramatic level, this financial crash is (symbolically) paralleled by the burning of imperial Rome in Nero's time (64 AD).

    Known faces

    The characters who evolve in this Wall Street in moral and economic perdition are therefore the Emperor Nero; Poppea, his wife of the time (we are talking about the year 64); Seneca, who in the Coronation of Poppea of ​​Monteverdi dies for trying to moderate the impulses of Nero (then still married to Octavia) to Poppea; Agrippine, mother of Nero and heroine of an opera by Handel. A chorus of bankers completes the cast.

    The text is contemporary, but sometimes mixes typically Handelian texts, for example in the soliloquy of Agrippine at the time when she is fired. Lyrics Haendéliennes on a typical air of the American opera.

    On the contrary, we sometimes hear decals of baroque music on contemporary raw lyrics. The musical entanglement is done between Handel, on one side, and a contemporary language sometimes mathematized, which goes up to integrate the fluctuations of the stock prices (without this technique is really noticeable for the listener). The instrumental ensemble includes strings, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, tuba, harp, piano and timpani

    The idea of ​​presenting this show in a church basement is a major idea of ​​BOP's inventive artisans, who continue to bring fresh blood to the Montreal music scene. Compared to the video excerpts of the New York creation of 2016, it is clear that the BOP production has benefited from a superior care as regards the scenography, very astute, reproducing in the manner of a movie set a Brokers office that integrates musicians sitting at compartmentalized offices

    A convincing result

    The show is certainly strong, especially since the spectators are a few meters from the action. The fact that the protagonists call for old referents really only appears in the second act.

    However, do not expect too close parallels. Agrippina is not the mother of Nero, but a confirmed and lucid banker, whose lucidity will eventually annoy Nero. The character of Seneca is problematic. In Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea, an obligatory dramaturgical reference, he is Nero's “guard-fool.” Here, he does not confront Nero and teams up with Agrippina before betraying her to save her skin. Has the character been usurped by Jonathan Dawe or did he want to deliberately show, turning a pure junk, that money corrupts even the healthiest minds?

    The character of Poppea poses me the most problems: it floats in the opera. We do not really know if it is Nero's wife or a kind of appointed mistress. Moreover, in the real story, Nero was madly in love, while the Wall Street Nero is devoid of feelings, even desire.

    The three bankers have an important role in the overall dynamics of the show. They embody and symbolize triumphant cynicism, the beginning of trouble, then the collapse. The trio is led by a formidable bass vocally and dramatically: Matt Boehler. He burns the boards and trains his colleagues.

    Inventive staging

    Located in the middle right of the office, Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse directs twenty instrumentalists attentive to a score that draws the best of a true culture of baroque opera, contemporary music, mythology - it's about the choice of Paris, which refutes both Juno's ethic and the beauty of Venus, ends the opera.

    The ensemble ranks (contrary to the JFK of the Opéra de Montréal) on the good side of the scourge of the balance of contemporary American creation. The score may have been slightly truncated, however, since the New York creation referred to three dancers, a scene in a club of dancers and characters from Mars (countertenor and Mercury, which we do not have seen.

    We will associate BOP's success with the overflowing imagination of the director Maxime Genois. A scene among many others. When Seneca arranges his business, while he has been (temporarily) fired, these are toys that he carefully packs. Toys with characters. All these millionaires played so casually with the lives of people ...

    On the vocal side, BOP did a faultless one minus one. Geoffroy Salvas is in a dazzling form in Nero, and the fact that Shea Owens holds the comparison says a lot about his talent. The bar is high and the mezzo Allegra De Vita is fully hoisted. So, in such a company, to meet with Poppy, Molly Netter is very strange and almost unreal.

    Fortunately, this young soprano just sings, but she has a dry white voice that does not resonate. Let's say that his most obvious use would be the echo in the air "Flößt, mein Heiland, flößt dein Namen" of Cantata IV of the Christmas Oratorio. For an even more graphic comparison, let's say that beside Miss Netter, Suzie LeBlanc (archetypal baroque voice) is Lady Macbeth!

    An incomprehensible casting error, therefore, which fortunately does not scuttle a project worthy of the greatest interest.

  • “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.

  • 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. 

  • 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 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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 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."