Louis Langrée on the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's passion for new music
When I accepted the responsibility of Music Director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 2012, I knew that I was joining an organization steeped in a vibrant history of experimentation. This was one of the most attractive aspects of the position, knowing that I would have the opportunity with – and encouragement from – this orchestra to explore a dynamic array of programming.
Since its founding in 1895, the CSO has always been commissioning and premiering new works. Many of those works have become mainstays of the repertoire, like Copland’s iconic Fanfare for the Common Man or Lincoln Portrait, two pieces premiered in Cincinnati.
From the beginning, the CSO’s dedication to new music made it immediately attractive for many composers who came to Cincinnati and performed here with the orchestra: Elgar, Strauss, Saint-Saëns, Varèse, Respighi, Scriabin, Rachmaninov, Gershwin, Stravinsky, Bartók, Copland, Bernstein, Gunther Schuller, Penderecki and John Adams…Promoting contemporary music was always part of the vision and the mission of this orchestra.
In commissioning, performing and recording these three new concertos for orchestra, we are anchored in the CSO's glorious history. I am proud to continue and develop this extraordinary tradition of innovation, and I want to take any opportunity to promote the Coplands and the Stravinskys of today. Since I started my tenure here, I have conducted 30 works by living composers, including 12 world premieres commissioned by the CSO.
We commissioned these concertos for orchestra not only because these full-scale pieces can demonstrate the virtuosity of the CSO and its players, but also because they allow for a rich variety of orchestral colours. There is room for solos as well as dialogue between individuals and groups. The specific style and sound of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra emerges from this rich genre.
For this project, we intentionally asked composers representing a variety of musical styles and backgrounds. As we started brainstorming possible composers, three stood out for the unique way we thought they would explore this genre.
Of the three, Thierry Escaich was the only one with whom I have collaborated before. Thierry comes from this tradition of French organist-composers like César Franck, Gabriel Fauré or Olivier Messiaen. Psalmos, using three liturgical chorales, is reflective of that. We are grateful that he agreed to make time to compose this piece for us.
When I first listened to Sebastian Currier’s music, I was immediately fascinated by the density, power, and simply visceral response it evokes. It is wonderful for us to include a major American composer on this project, and Flex is very representative of his unique sense of structure, orchestral colours, and expressive intensity.
Finally, Zhou Tian epitomizes a new generation of composers who don’t want to be confined to 'Eastern' versus 'Western' genres of music. Zhou studied with Jennifer Higdon (who has a long relationship with the CSO), and the orchestra has already developed a musical relationship with him in having previously commissioned a work from him. And it is very clear that he composed his Concerto for Orchestra with these players in mind.
It is essential in life and in art to communicate. We, as an orchestra, strive to listen and respond in every moment. The CSO's mission statement is to seek and share inspiration. This is exactly what we are doing with this important recording project.
'Concertos for Orchestra', the new album featuring the works commissioned by the CSO from Thierry Escaich, Sebastian Currier and Zhou Tian is out now. For more information, please visit: cincinnatisymphony.org