‘Winter Morning Walks’ Nominated for Grammy Awards

Congratulations to Maria Schneider and Dawn Upshaw, who both received Grammy Award nominations for their recording of Winter Morning Walks with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Schneider is nominated for Best Contemporary Classical Composition and Upshaw for Best Classical Vocal Solo. The recording also received nominations for Best Engineered Album (classical).

Winter Morning Walks, which takes as its text poems by Ted Kooser, received its premiere at the 65th Ojai Music Festival in 2011, where Upshaw served as music director. The piece was a co-commission of the Festival, Cal Performances, and the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

Listen to the track “Perfectly Still This Solstice Morning” from Winter Morning Walks and ArtistShare album released earlier this year.

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We have our fingers crossed for both Maria and Dawn and wish them the best of luck with the final announcement! If you missed the 2011 performance, be sure to get your own copy using the link below.

“Ojai gave me the unique opportunity to bring my two worlds of jazz and classical together in my own personal way. I love that the Ojai audiences have come to expect absolutely anything. Their open mindedness is special and gives artists a rare feeling of freedom in whatever direction they personally wish to go.” – Maria Schneider

Click here to purchase Winter Morning Walks from ArtistShare >>


Hear Dawn Upshaw Sing Donnacha Dennehy

Long known as a promoter of new composers and modern music, the recent Dawn Upshaw collabroations with Donnacha Dennehy are so right as to seem almost inevitable. Earlier this year, Ms. Upshawn joined Mr. Dennehy and the Crash Ensemble in Dublin for a performance of his new works. The album they produced together “Gra Agus Bas” comes out on May 3. For an advance review and music samples, check out the NPR story here.

Frank Kimbrough on Maria Schneider

I’ve been working with Maria since March of 1993 when she began a weekly gig with her orchestra at Visiones, a small, now defunct club in Greenwich Village. The gig was originally planned to last for two months of Mondays, and ended up stretching to five years. This was a period of musical bonding that gave Maria’s music room to grow and expand, with a band that understood her objectives as a composer. There have been some personnel changes over the years, but many of us have been part of this experience for nearly twenty years now. The stability of the band makes it a family, and Maria’s unfailing musical vision, coupled with her warmth, humor, and generosity make it possible. In the past few years she’s branching out with projects such as this one with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Dawn Upshaw, and her vision is extended in a way that brings beautiful new dimensions to her music. I’m so happy to be a part of it, and look forward to our California concerts in June!

– Frank Kimbrough

Rehearsals for Winds of Destiny

Festival Producer and all-around wonderwoman Susan Anderson is in NYC where Dawn Upshaw and Peter Sellars are rehearsing the Winds of Destiny for the Friday Night Concert. Her dispatch:

“Wow – is this going well! I will make a later post about how moving and powerful a work this is, and how completely fascinating it is to watch Peter Sellars’ mind work. I’m used to watching musicians work together to learn a work and find it’s meaning, but Peter’s kind of vision and the power of his descriptions are really remarkable. Tom and I are blown away, as, really, are all the performers.

But I don’t have photos of anything that serious. I’m trying to leave them alone when they’re actually playing or discussing the work. So my photos taken over the last couple of days are to introduce the cast of characters and see them in more relaxed moments. Here are a few:

First, I set up some coffee, tea and snacks in the conference room across from our rehearsal studio. It works well for our breaks and lunches. Being over on 12th Avenue, just across from the Hudson River puts us a few blocks from the closest restaurants, so we’re doing take out every day. Yesterday Thai. Today sandwiches. As a personal triumph, I am happy to report that I found OJAI PIXIES and ZHENA’S TEA in the local grocery store. A big hit – and a reminder that we are nearly in Ojai (at least in spirit) despite looking out on a typical New York skyline of rooptop water towers and warehouses.”

Bard Students in NYC

What a great opportunity it is to be a graduate student in voice at Bard College. Learning from Dawn Upshaw, getting to collaborate with her on concerts of new music, this is clearly not your ordinary music program. Last week, Dawn Upshaw and a group of her students performed fascinating new works at the Morgan Library. See the review here. For your own chance to see Dawn Upshaw’s influence on the next generation of music makers, join us at the Festival for the Thursday Night Concert, where students from Bard will present a concert of new music mixed with masters from the past. Tickets are on sale now!

Tom Morris on Hercules

I was recently in Chicago to attend Handel’s Hercules in a performance at Chicago’s Lyric Opera staged by Peter Sellars. It was amazing. Sellars has a thing about Handel, having staged many of his oratorios and operas including a legendary Theodora at Glyndebourne over ten years ago. I remember the first production I ever saw of his was Handel’s Orlando, produced by Boston’s American Repertory Theater in 1980. Here was an unknown work by a major composer produced not by an opera but by a theater company, staged by as yet an unknown director who had made his name in Boston by staging Wagner’s Ring with puppets and Antony and Cleopatra in the Harvard University swimming pool. Peter set Orlando in the present at the Cape Canaveral in Florida.  It was produced uncut (almost 4 hours long) and played in a theater at MIT. Most extraordinarily it ran for almost 40 performances in repertory and was totally sold out. It was a revelation.

Hercules likewise was long – three and half hours. It involves five singers, a chorus and orchestra. The performance was conducted by English early music specialist Harry Bickett, who has family ties to Ojai and conducted at the Festival in the 1990’s. Sellars made the production into a contemplation about the horrors of war, and the destruction war causes not only where it is fought but back home. What is the price of war in terms of the human uncertainty and suffering at home? How does war change soldiers to such an extent they are not prepared for the return home?  The Lyric Opera created public discussions of these issues around the performances with community outreach events, and by inviting veterans groups to the performances.

 The production was amazing. The cast was uniformly terrific but be on the lookout for a sensational young soprano, Lucy Crowe. She brought down the house every night. Also soprano Alice Coote.

 The production laid the groundwork in Sellars’ mind for his upcoming production of George Crumb’s The Winds of Destiny at Ojai this June. Again. Peter will use the production to address the problems of returning vets and make it a parable for our time. Raising questions and stimulating thoughtful debate are what Peter Sellars has devoted his career to, and Ojai will to the beneficiary in June of his latest creativity. 

– Tom Morris

Maria Schneider and Dawn Upshaw at Carnegie in May

Maria Schneider’s music has been hailed by critics as “evocative, majestic, magical, heart-stoppingly gorgeous, and beyond categorization.” For the past 20 years Schneider has written primarily for her own jazz orchestra, yet during those years she was pushing boundaries, augmenting the standard 17-piece band with an accordion here, or flamenco cajon there, mixing in Brazilian rhythms and birdcalls with her Midwest sensibilities. In recent years she has definitively embraced more classical forms and orchestras, blending unique sounds in her own recordings that include commissions from Peter Sellars and Vienna’s Mozart Festival, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and the American Dance Festival.

Now Carnegie Hall will host the New York premiere of “Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories” with Maria conducting Dawn Upshaw and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra on May 13, 2011.  It was three years ago that Upshaw, then artistic partner with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, first brought forth the idea to have the orchestra commission Maria to write a work for voice and orchestra.  Maria chose poetry by Brazilian poet, Carlos Drummond de Andrade Carlos, with English translations by Pulitzer prize-winning poet, Mark Strand.

The world premiere took place in October 2008 at the Ordway Theater in Saint Paul and was very well received.  William Randall Beard of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote this about Maria’s first foray into conducting and writing for voice accompanied by a full orchestra:

“Schneider, well known as a jazz arranger and bandleader, proved to be a compelling musical storyteller at home in the orchestral idiom. … She wisely chose to set the poems of Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade. They were rich in imagery and emotion, but spare enough to be enhanced by music. Whether depicting loss (in ’The Dead in Frock Coats‘) or bucolic nostalgia (in ’Souvenir of the Ancient World‘) she employed a panoply of styles, from jazz and pop to traditional art song and Brazilian flavors, to bring the words to life.”

When pressed to define her music as jazz or classical, Maria says that while the improvisational aspects of her work come from jazz, her formal development comes more from the classical world. “I’m often trying to evoke images and take the listener on a trip.  Basically, I would say this: I’m a storyteller—in life that’s true, and in music too.  I grew up playing and studying music of many different kinds simultaneously, and I can’t find a line that delineates jazz or classical parts of my expression.  To me it’s all simply music.”

How sweet is this photo?