Anthony Brandt, Musiqa's Artistic Director, took the time to answer some questions about Musiqa's season opening concert, Deep Sky Objects, which will take place at the Hobby Center on September 22.
In Deep Sky Objects, as in all Musiqa concerts, contemporary artforms mix. Our guest composer Sebastian Currier, author Sarah Manguso and choreographer Tina Bohnstedt and the dancers of Houston Ballet II are coming together with us to create a truly special evening highlighted by exceptional, world-class performances.
Musiqa received a grant to commission the musical work Deep Sky Objects* as a world premiere. Why did Musiqa select Sebastian Currier to create the commission?
Several years ago, Musiqa performed Sebastian’s Verge on one of our Downtown Series concerts. As our Artistic Board weighed whom we wanted to approach for a commission, we were all drawn to Sebastian’s electrifying writing.
Sebastian is an internationally acclaimed composer. What are some of his accomplishments in the world of music?
There isn’t a Nobel Prize in Music Composition but the closest thing is the Grawemeyer Award, an annual international award. Sebastian won the Grawemeyer in 2007, joining a very elite group of composers. His work has been championed by the violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Berlin Philharmonic. Sebastian has written for some of the world’s great ensembles; we’re thrilled he’s written a piece for us.
About Sebastian's collaboration with Sarah Manguso for the libretto; have they worked together before?
Sebastian and Sarah are longtime friends but this work represents their first collaboration. They so much enjoyed working together on this piece that they collaborated again on Sleepers and Dreamers, a work for orchestra and chorus that was recently premiered to great acclaim in Chicago.
A noted author and a poet, Sarah wrote the lyrics for Deep Sky Objects as a tale of intergalactic romance. Can you tell us a little about the story?
After 35 years of traveling through space, Voyager 1 is about to become the first human-made object to leave our solar system. The distance it has traveled is unimaginable—it will take it another 10,000 years to reach the nearest star. Sarah’s poetry movingly captures the immensity of these distances and the questions we all ask when we contemplate it. The libretto begins close to Earth—with satellite, clouds and storm—and gradually moves further and further away, eventually reaching out to the far corners of space.
What is it about the instrumentation and vocals of Deep Sky Objects that make it unique?
To suggest a dialogue between the earthly and the celestial, Sebastian had the interesting idea of juxtaposing soprano voice and piano quintet—an ensemble rooted in the classical tradition—with electronic samples inspired by 1950s science fiction soundtracks. The synchronization of live and electronic is quite intricate and the blends it creates very unique.
The second world premiere on the concert is a ballet commissioned from the Houston Ballet. Ballet master Tina Bohnstedt is choreographing the dance to two works by Sebastian Currier. What will the audience be able to expect?
The dance will be brilliant, and we have the special privilege of having the composer present at the premiere. Tina has chosen two movements from Sebastian’s Quartetset for string quartet: Divided and Scatter-brained. The Houston Ballet’s Nathan Haworth is doing the lighting.
The concert also features Secret Alchemy by Musiqa composer Pierre Jalbert and works by contemporary composer Lera Auerbach. How do these works reflect the theme of the concert?
Musiqa’s Pierre Jalbert has written a substantial body of chamber music: he received the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's prestigious Stoeger Prize for Chamber Music several years ago, among his many other awards. His Secret Alchemy likens the creative process to the methods of a medieval chemist. Lera Auerbach is a dynamic, Russian-born composer whose music has been performed by the New York Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra and numerous ensembles worldwide. Selections from her fiery and evocative violin and piano preludes open the concert.
Thank you, Tony, for this insightful commentary on Musiqa's upcoming concert.
*This commission has been made possible by the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund.