February 21, 2024
Spano Leads the Curtis Orchestra with JIJI

Renowned conductor Robert Spano (’85) leads the Curtis Symphony Orchestra in an afternoon of electrifying virtuosity, featuring two world premiere works by award-winning composers James Ra (’04) and Curtis composition faculty member Steven Mackey, performed alongside Tchaikovsky’s beloved Sixth Symphony 

PHILADELPHIA, PA—February 21, 2024—The Curtis Symphony Orchestra returns to Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center for the final concert of its bold and ambitious 2023–24 series on Saturday, March 9, at 3 p.m. with “Ra, Mackey, and Tchaikovsky.” Internationally renowned conductor Robert Spano (’85), newly appointed music director designate of Washington National Opera and current music director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and the Aspen Music Festival, leads Curtis’s talented young musicians in a remarkable program featuring two exhilarating world premieres and a late-Romantic era classic.

The afternoon opens with Te Deum, an exciting, newly commissioned work by James Ra (’04). Praised by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “a composer to watch,” Mr. Ra’s compositions have been described as “coursing with adrenaline-pumping energy” (Star Ledger). Written during the COVID-19 pandemic and based on the Latin hymn, Te Deum has been described by the composer as an “introspective, deeply personal prayer and hymn of praise, thanksgiving, and awe in solitude.” Using one of his mother’s favorite hymns, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” as the vessel through which all of the music emerges, this powerful orchestral work is “an ode to the innocence, simplicity, and sincerity of a time lost.”

The program continues with the world premiere of GRAMMY Award-winning Curtis composition faculty member Steven Mackey’s Aluminum Flowers, a concerto for solo electric guitar and orchestra. This eagerly anticipated new work features the jaw-dropping virtuosity of polymath guitarist and acclaimed Curtis alumna JIJI (’15), praised by the Washington Post as “one of the 21 composers/performers who sound like tomorrow.” Aluminum Flowers traces the history of the guitar from the 600-year-old Spanish vihuela to contemporary pop, rock, blues, and jazz electric styles.

Speaking on the guitar concerto, Mackey shared: “The classical guitar is the most ridiculously soft instrument. The best place to listen to the classical guitar is playing it, so we need to amplify that detail. With the third movement of Aluminum Flowers, the starting point was my appreciation of the sound of Carlos Santana and his singing tone. There’s this one tune, in particular, Samba Pa’ Ti. In Aluminum Flowers, the [Santana-esque tune] is amplified and distorted lyrically. The first movement is classical guitar. The second movement has this delay pedal that the guitarist has to keep up with. The fourth movement uses a crazy [prepared] guitar that I invented!”

In his program notes, Mackey writes that Aluminum Flowers is a piece that celebrates the idea of “polymath guitarists.” He elaborates, “I think of the term polymath as someone who has mastered several disciplines. Guitarists, more than other instrumentalists, tend to do that. The nylon string classical guitar is conceived of as a polyphonic instrument. This is really a different instrument than the electric guitar, which has no resonating body and is more like the organ. Without pulling the stops to engage the pipes, there’s no sound. Similarly, the electric guitar, without effects pedals and an amplifier, really has nothing to offer.”

The afternoon concludes with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s impassioned, intensely personal Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 (“Pathétique”). Composed in the final year of his life—in the ever-rippling wake of a traumatic marriage years earlier, as he continued to grapple with depression, artistic self-doubt, and societal pressures regarding his sexual orientation—this turbulent work captures the Russian Romantic composer’s psychological turmoil and disillusionment with life right before his physical health began to suddenly decline. Subtitled “PatetitĨeskaja,” or “passionate” in English, at the suggestion of his brother Modest and dedicated to his nephew Bob Davydov, the symphony premiered in St. Peterburg on October 28, 1893, only nine days before Tchaikovsky’s mysterious death at age 53. In numerous letter correspondences, he deemed it “the best thing I ever composed or shall compose,” an emotional symphony enrobed in shadows—brooding, euphoric, tense, and frighteningly explosive—yet conceived and delivered to the world without the knowledge that his death would follow mere days after he conducted its first performance. The invisible force of Fate that had relentlessly pursued his Fourth and Fifth symphonies is met head-on here in his Sixth, with an unexpectedly solemn finale that defies nineteenth-century conventions and forgoes orchestral pyrotechnics as the steady heartbeat in the low double basses slows, and the audience is left with nothing but silence.

Single tickets for “Ra, Mackey, and Tchaikovsky” start at $19 and are available for purchase at Curtis.edu. The flexible Choose Your Own subscription option offers 25% off ticket prices when purchasing tickets to two or more performances. To order a subscription, visit Curtis.edu/Subscribe, call (215) 893-7902, or email tickets@curtis.edu. To learn more about the remaining performances in Curtis’s 2023–24 season, including the Curtis Opera Theatre, Ensemble 20/21 concerts, Curtis Recital Series, and more, visit Curtis.edu/Calendar.

Curtis Symphony Orchestra
The Jack Wolgin Orchestral Concerts

Ra, Mackey, and Tchaikovsky
Saturday, March 9 at 3:00 p.m.
Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center; Broad and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia

Robert Spano (’85), conductor
Curtis Symphony Orchestra

JAMES RA (’04) Te Deum (world premiere)
STEVEN MACKEY Aluminum Flowers, for solo electric guitar and orchestra (world premiere)
PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 (“Pathétique”)

Orchestral concerts are supported by the Jack Wolgin Curtis Orchestral Concerts Endowment Fund.

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