• Everything Old is New Again: Orpheus and the New Brandenburg Project

    On May 6, the 2011 Spring for Music festival kicks off with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in a program entitled The New Brandenburgs. Here, Alan Kay, one of Orpheus's artistic directors, gives context to the concert.

    In 2006, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra began the New Brandenburg Project, an effort to commission six new works inspired by Bach's original "Brandenburg" Concertos. These superb pieces, so rich in invention, form a perfect set. Bach gave us an alpha and omega of instrumental composition and orchestrational mastery—not just for the high Baroque period, but for all time. No wonder musicians and audiences continue to return to these tuneful, joyous works.

    Through the New Brandenburg Project, Orpheus hoped to pay tribute to this set and contribute to a living repertoire for chamber orchestra. Additionally, we wanted to unearth a variety of new perspectives on the "Brandenburg" Concertos in a familiar framework in which listeners could relate to new music. To reflect the artistic debate and experimentation that is the spirit of Orpheus, we commissioned six diverse composers in succession, each of whom was asked to use one of the "Brandenburgs" as a departure point.

    Bach provided both the inspiration for and a beguiling link between these distinguished composers, despite their highly distinctive voices. Stephen Hartke reacted to the palatial residences of Bach's dedicatee, the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt. Paul Moravec was moved by the world-altering events of 1989, as the Brandenburg Gate was thrown open and the Berlin Wall torn down. Both he and Melinda Wagner made use of the B-A-C-H (German notation for B-flat, A, C, B-natural) theme, introduced by Bach himself in the monumental Art of Fugue. Wagner offered a whimsical take on No. 4, while Christopher Theofanidis and Aaron Jay Kernis took on the all-string "Brandenburgs." In his title, Muse, Theofanidis referenced Bach's role in this project and for musicians at large. Kernis slyly parted ways with the original orchestration of No. 6 by introducing winds in the second movement of his work. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies capped off the project last February with his take on the early keyboard concerto format of No. 5, juxtaposed with reflections on a poem by Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown.


    The New Brandenburgs, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

    Related:
    May 6 Spring for Music: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
    May 7 Spring for Music: Toledo Symphony
    May 10 Spring for Music: Albany Symphony
    May 11 Spring for Music: Dallas Symphony Orchestra
    May 12 Spring for Music: Oregon Symphony Orchestra
    May 13 Spring for Music: The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
    May 14 Spring for Music: Orchestre symphonique de Montréal 

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