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American Composers Orchestra honors Phenomenal Women at Carnegie Hall
Source: Jensen Artists

American Composers Orchestra (ACO) will open its 2018-2019 season with a concert honoring Phenomenal Women presented by Carnegie Hall in Zankel Hall on Friday, November 2, 2018 at 7:30pm. The performance, conducted by ACO Music Director George Manahan, will feature the world premiere of Valerie Coleman’s Phenomenal Women performed by the Imani Winds with ACO; as well as the world premiere of Alex Temple’s Three Principles of Noir with singer Meaghan Burke, director Amber Treadway, and costumes by Storm Garner. Grammy and Grawemeyer Award-winning composer Joan Tower’s Chamber Dance from 2006, which treats the orchestra as a chamber ensemble, completes the program.

Coleman’s Phenomenal Women, a concerto for wind quintet and orchestra, is inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem and book, Phenomenal Woman. Each member of Imani Winds will be featured in a solo interlude influenced by a different phenomenal woman – Olympic boxer Claressa Shields (clarinet), athlete Serena Williams (bassoon), former First Lady Michelle Obama (French horn), NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson (oboe), and immigrant mothers (flute). The Philadelphia Orchestra recently announced that a new work by Coleman will open its 2019/2020 season. Alex Temple’s Three Principles of Noir with singer Meaghan Burke is a piece with a time-traveling science fiction narrative centered around a Chicago historian who goes back in time to the 1893 World’s Fair. This is ACO’s second commission from Alex Temple, a composer who integrates love for pop culture and the Western classical tradition. The orchestra premiered her Liebeslied in 2011 during the opening concert of its SONiC festival that year. Joan Tower’s Chamber Dance, written for Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, weaves together solos, duos, and other combinations of instrumentalists, creating, as Tower puts it, “an ensemble that has to ‘dance’ well together.”

Phenomenal Women Concert Program:
George Manahan, ACO music director and conductor
Imani Winds (Brandon Patrick George, flute; Toyin Spellman-Diaz, oboe; Mark Dover, clarinet; Jeff Scott, horn; Monica Ellis, bassoon)
Meaghan Burke, voice
Amber Treadway, director
Storm Garner, costume designer

JOAN TOWER: Chamber Dance (2006)
VALERIE COLEMAN: Phenomenal Women Concerto for Wind Quintet and Orchestra (World Premiere, co-commissioned by ACO and Carnegie Hall)
ALEX TEMPLE Three Principles of Noir (World Premiere, commissioned by ACO)

Under the leadership of Artistic Director Derek Bermel, Music Director George Manahan, and President Edward Yim, ACO continues its commitment to the creation, performance, preservation, and promotion of music by American composers, with programming that reflects the infinite ways American orchestral music illustrates geographic, stylistic, gender, and racial diversity. 

“ACO is honored and excited to continue giving voice to American composers, both emerging and established,” said ACO President Edward Yim. “In particular, that our premieres this season shine a light on issues of empowerment of women, the global refugee crisis, and powerful musical storytelling is at the heart of our mission to embrace the relevance of today’s creative artists to contemporary issues.”

ACO’s next concert at Carnegie Hall will be April 11, 2019. The orchestra will give the U.S. premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winnner Du Yun’s Where We Lost Our Shadows, a new multidisciplinary work for orchestra, film, and vocalists, co-commissioned by ACO, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, Southbank Centre, and Cal Performances and supported by ACO’s Commission Club. This is ACO’s second commission from Du Yun, who created her piece Slow Portraits during ACO’s coLABoratory research and development program in 2013. Du Yun is composing Where We Lost Our Shadows in response to film captured by Ramallah-based Palestinian visual artist Khaled Jarrar, which documents the refugee crisis in Europe. The piece will be performed by ACO with singer Helga Davis, Pakistani Qawwali singer Ali Sethi, and percussionist Shayna Dunkelman, with visuals by Jarrar. The concert also includes Gloria Coates’ Symphony No. 1, “Music on Open Strings,” from 1973, and Morton Feldman’s 1980 work Turfan Fragments, inspired by a series of fragments of knotted carpets from the third and sixth centuries which were discovered in the Silk Road region.

About the Composers & Their Music

Valerie Coleman’s piece for ACO, Phenomenal Women, is a concerto for wind quintet and chamber orchestra, to be premiered by ACO with the Imani Winds, and is inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem and book Phenomenal Woman. The multi-movement work travels through varied sound worlds including atonality, urban classical, Brazilian choro, bebop, swing and Afro-Cuban jazz. Coleman says of the new work, “Musical motifs are extracted from Angelou’s sensuous and peppery verses. Each movement carries emboldened harmonies and improvisational-stylized riffs from the soloists, evolving into virtuoso exchanges between forces. Phenomenal Women is about celebrating women's efforts to overcome adversity, no matter where you are.” 

Described as one of the “Top 35 Female Composers in Classical Music” by critic Anne Midgette of The Washington PostValerie Coleman (b. 1970) is among the world’s most played composers living today. The Boston Globe describes Coleman as a having a “talent for delineating form and emotion with shifts between ingeniously varied instrumental combinations,” and The New York Timeshas praised her “skillfully wrought, buoyant music.” With works that range from flute sonatas that recount the stories of trafficked humans during Middle Passage and orchestral and chamber works based on nomadic Roma tribes, to scherzos about moonshine in the Mississippi Delta region and motifs based from Morse Code, her body of works has been highly regarded as a deeply relevant contribution to modern music. 

A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Coleman began her music studies at the age of eleven and by the age of fourteen, had written three symphonies and won several local and state performance competitions. She was the founder, composer, and flutist of the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds, one of the world’s premier chamber music ensembles. She is perhaps best known for UMOJA, a composition that is widely recognized and was listed by Chamber Music America one of the “Top 101 Great American Ensemble Works.” Coleman is regularly featured as a performer and composer at many of the world’s great concert venues, series and conservatories: Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, Walt Disney Hall, DaCamera Houston, Boston Celebrity Series, Krannert Center, Wigmore Hall, Montreal Jazz Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival, Paris Jazz Festival, The Juilliard School, The Eastman School, Curtis, Peabody, Mannes, The Colburn School, and more. She has received awards and/or honors from the National Flute Association, The Herb Alpert Awards, MAP Fund, ASCAP Concert Music Awards, NARAS, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Edward and Sally Van Lier Fund, Artists International, Wombwell Kentucky Award, and Michelle E. Sahm Memorial Award, to name a few. Her works are published by Theodore Presser, International Opus, and her own company, V Coleman Music, and can be heard on Cedille Records, BMG France, Sony Classics, eOne (formerly Koch International Classics), and Naxos.

Alex Temple’s new work for ACO, Three Principles of Noir, explores a narrative that tells the story of a time-traveling Chicago historian. The piece, which features singer Meaghan Burke, with director Amber Treadway and costume design by Storm Garner,delves into the universal themes of morality, motivation, and the consequences of one’s intentions – whether or not action is taken. Temple outlines the “three principles of noir” in her note for the new work: “1. The Double Indemnity principle: It doesn't matter how well you plan it. You won't get away with it. / 2. The Detour principle: It doesn't matter whether you did it or not. You still won't get away with it. / 3. The In a Lonely Place principle: It doesn't matter whether you did it or not, because you’re a bad person anyway.”

As someone who loves both the Western classical tradition and the world of pop culture, Alex Temple (b. 1983) has always felt uncomfortable with stylistic hierarchies and the idea of a pure musical language. She prefers to look for points of connection between things that are not supposed to belong together, distorting and combining iconic sounds to create new meanings — often in service of surreal, cryptic, or fantastical stories. She is particularly interested in reclaiming socially disapproved-of (“cheesy”) sounds, playing with the boundary between funny and frightening, and investigating lost memories and secret histories. Temple’s work has been performed by a variety of soloists and ensembles, including Mellissa Hughes, Timo Andres, Mark Dancigers, American Composers Orchestra, Chicago Composers Orchestra, Spektral Quartet, Fifth House Ensemble, Cadillac Moon Ensemble, and Ensemble de Sade. She has also performed her own works for voice and electronics in venues such as Roulette, Exapno, the Tank, Monkeytown, Galapagos Art Space, Gallery Cabaret, and Constellation. As the keyboardist for the chamber-rock group The Sissy-Eared Mollycoddles, she’s performed at the South by Southwest Festival and at Chicago’s Green Mill Cocktail Lounge; and with a·pe·ri·od·ic, an ensemble dedicated to the performance of indeterminate music in the tradition of John Cage, she’s made sounds using her voice, synthesizers and various household objects.

Temple received her B.A. from Yale University in 2005, where she studied with Kathryn Alexander, John Halle and Matthew Suttor, and released two albums of electronic music on a micro-label that she ran out of her dorm room. In 2007, she completed her M.A. at University of Michigan, where she studied with Erik Santos and visiting professors Michael Colgrass, Tania León and Betsy Jolas, as well as collaborating with a troupe of dancers and playing in an indie bossa-nova band. She recently completed a DMA at Northwestern University, where she studied with Hans Thomalla and Jay Alan Yim.

Joan Tower describers her Chamber Dance, written for Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, as chamber music. She writes in her note for the work, “It is chamber music in the sense that I always thought of Orpheus as a large chamber group, interacting and ‘dancing’ with one another the way smaller chamber groups do. Like dancers, the members of this large group have to be very much in touch with what everyone else is doing and allow for changing leadership to guide the smaller and bigger ensembles.”

Joan Tower (b. 1938) is widely regarded as one of the most important American composers living today. During a career spanning more than fifty years, she has made lasting contributions to musical life in the United States as composer, performer, conductor, and educator. Her works have been commissioned by major ensembles, soloists, and orchestras, including the Emerson, Tokyo, and Muir quartets; soloists Evelyn Glennie, Carol Wincenc, David Shifrin, Paul Neubauer, and John Browning; and the orchestras of Chicago, New York, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Nashville, Albany NY, and Washington DC among others. Tower was the first composer chosen for a Ford Made in America consortium commission of sixty-five orchestras. Leonard Slatkin and the Nashville Symphony recorded Made in America in 2008 (along with Tambor and Concerto for Orchestra). The album collected three Grammy awards: Best Contemporary Classical Composition, Best Classical Album, and Best Orchestral Performance. Nashville’s latest all-Tower recording includes Stroke, which received a 2016 Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. In 1990 she became the first woman to win the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Silver Ladders, a piece she wrote for the St. Louis Symphony where she was Composer-in-Residence from 1985-88. Other residencies with orchestras include a 10-year residency with the Orchestra of St. Luke's (1997-2007) and the Pittsburgh Symphony (2010-2011). She was the Albany Symphony’s Mentor Composer partner in the 2013-14 season. Tower was cofounder and pianist for the Naumburg Award winning Da Capo Chamber Players from 1970-85. She has received honorary doctorates from Smith College, the New England Conservatory, and Illinois State University.

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