CSO World Premiere Review – Clyne with Berlioz and Beethoven

Anna Clyne, after moving to Chicago to assume her duties as one of the Chicago Symphony's composer-in-residence, discovered the Old Town School of Folk Music


In the pre-concert dialogue with Mason Bates, her fellow co-curator of the CSO’s MusicNOW series, Anna Clyne shared that the most challenging part in composing her new work “The Seamstress” was the beginning. 



That was difficult to discern upon hearing this world premiere performance with Jennifer Koh as the violin soloist.  The simple unadorned melody was a stirring invitation to lean forward and listen closely. 



Less a conversation between violin and orchestra as many violin concertos are, this was more a showcase of the violin where the orchestra accompaniment seemed more like a ditto or “attagirl” affirmation of what the violinist presented. There were not only the sounds of the open string Irish fiddle evoking celtic melodies but also most notably a pizzicato refrain that successfully stirred the image of a seamstress picking out her stitches to re-do her work.  It was so Irish at times, and also movie score like, that one might have thought it was the new score for a sequel of John Sayles’ “The Secret of Roan Inish”.



From “The Seamstress” melodic line, Clyne then takes you on a far reaching exploration of the violin’s range.   Also, perhaps harkening back to her roots in electronic music, there is a recorded segment of an Irish voice reciting a Yeats poem by the same title both in whisper and full voice.  It is actually the sound of this person’s heavy breathing that is the part of the score that becomes the sonic focal point at times.



Clyne, who is now working on a 100 cellos piece for the Hollywood Bowl, also said in her pre-concert talk that by now she is “violined out”.  “The Seamstress” is the culmination of a fascination with the instrument that roughly started when she found one on the cheap in a resale store in Oxford not long after her mother’s passing. 



It’s difficult to know whether we’d rather ask Clyne to cling to the violin or move on to give us similar showcases of other instruments' sound palettes.



Bates amused many of us by suggesting to youthful and vibrant Clyne, who was born 1980, that perhaps she was “all washed up” given that she shared a program with two works that came from then younger composers—“Les francs-juges Overture, Op.3” from Berlioz when he was 23, and Beethoven’s masterpiece “Eroica” a.k.a. “Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55” which was scored by the composer when he was only 33. 



Conductor Ludovic Morlot gave “Eroica” a new twist from the many recordings of this piece one can hear, seeming to bring out phrases in each of the four movements that other conductors have kept more in the background.   Overall it seemed to have the effect of sewing the four movements more tightly together into one piece.  His baton brought out new textures, as if challenging us to hear “Eroica” with new ears.


Clyne and Bates’ stewardship of the MusicNOW has made it a favorite CSO concert series for many.  There is one last chance to experience their programming at MusicNOW next Monday, June 1.


For tickets and information on MusicNOW and other CSO performances visit the Chicago Symphony Orchestra website or call the box office at 312 294 3000.




Photos:  Todd Rosenberg, unless otherwise indicated

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