Sinfonietta concert capitalizes on Louisiana talent
Pittsburgh’s various new music ensembles continue to substantiate the city’s standing as one of the country’s leading homes for original concert works. On the flip side, Louisiana’s musical output is often associated with jazz. It was here, after all, that our country’s most original musical form was established. Yet, if you listen closely enough, you might just hear the sounds of new concert music of the "classical" style weaving around those blue notes.
In fact, new concert music is alive and well here in Louisiana, and Dinos Constantinides, Boyd Professor of Music Composition at Louisiana State University, is among its greatest advocates.
“There is a great deal of talent in Louisiana. In my experience, here at LSU as professor of composition, I have accounted for many talented composers from Louisiana and abroad that have given life in the area regarding new music,” says the professor. Constantinides’ nonprofit ensemble, the Louisiana Sinfonietta, has been premiering new musical works since the early 1980s. The group maintains a high standard of excellence. Many members of the Sinfonietta have performed as soloists with the Sinfonietta and elsewhere. Distinguished guest artists appear with the ensemble frequently. Over the years more than 100 soloists, both locally and nationally known, have appeared with the ensemble.
This Thursday, March 24, the Sinfonietta will continue its support of new music with a concert of world premieres by some of Louisiana’s most promising new composers. I humbly write that last sentence, as I am fortunate enough to be included among these talented musical scribes.
It was Constantinides’ idea to commission a group of local composers to write new concert works for his string orchestra. Each of the composers resides in either Baton Rouge or New Orleans, yet each comes from a very different demographic. Two of the composers were born and raised in New Orleans, and it is compelling to consider the Crescent City’s influence on them.
“New Orleans is all about the senses; people are less concerned with what you think than with what you feel," explains native New Orleanian David Cortello. "I always carry that vibe with me. No matter what intellect and technique I employ in a composition, whenever I play a chord, write a phrase, or sometimes choose just a single note, I ask myself ‘how does it feel?’
Between his regular gigs at Snug Harbor, jazz trumpeter Edward Anderson makes time to compose concert music for his doctoral degree at LSU. Speaking about his youth in New Orleans, Anderson reflects on the diverse influences that his hometown has offered.
“As most children take things for granted as ‘normal,’ I didn’t realize until much later the amazing wealth of musical culture I was made privy to growing up," Anderson says. "Looking back, I can clearly see that the neighborhoods of New Orleans in many ways stubbornly remained as one of the last true holdouts of 19th-century Romantic life and culture. First there was the unique general culture that blurred the line between urban and rustic influences, keeping me open to all types of music as valid and worthy of exploration. Then there were the strong music educational traditions that encouraged musical study with a number of highly dedicated musician/educators steeped in the aesthetic of Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy and Puccini as well as jazz, black church, and rhythm and blues. Going to see classical concerts, theater, opera, and ballet on Canal Street was a common thing to do as a child and young teenager and was truly inspirational towards my ambition as a composer and musician.”
Both Cortello and Anderson have contributed works for the Louisiana Sinfonietta’s concert. Other composers hail from West Virginia, Kentucky, Florida, and from as far away as Greece. I would like to mention composers J Corey Knoll, Paris Paraschoudis, Al Benner, and Nick Hwang, whose works are also on the program. Their works will be premiered under the baton of Alex Wise, a graduate student of conducting and a composer at Louisiana State University. Wise has been working closely with Constantinides to ensure that the concert is among the finest in recent memory.
A brief conversation with the conductor reveals his enthusiasm for the project. "As a conductor I feel extremely privileged that I get the opportunity not only to learn the music of all these wonderful composers, but also include one of my own compositions alongside theirs," Wise says. "While working on this project I spoke with many of these artists about their writing processes. I could feel their influences and the things that drove them, while they in turn influenced the work I was doing. These are influences that include personal experiences, jazz, dance, ghost tales, and a love for the places you've been. It's unique because even though many of these composers come from all over the world, all of them currently call Louisiana home. It's wonderful to see how their music has worked into Louisiana culture, but at the same time, how Louisiana culture has worked into them."
After speaking with Wise, I came to realize how accurate his perception is. Louisiana culture does find its way into my music and continues to influence my creative decisions. It was Louisiana’s rich and diverse traditions that guided my decision to move to the south and study music at Louisiana State University. Another important detail influencing my move south of the Mason-Dixon Line was Louisiana’s natural beauty. It is nearly impossible to ignore the gentle rhythms of the drifting Spanish moss or the rustle of a live oak’s canopy of leaves. Louisiana’s composers and musicians are not the only instruments that infuse melody into its southern breeze. The organic beauty of the state breathes music into those who will stop to take a moment to listen.
This is what all of the LSU composers have in common. Not only do we share a love for creating new and interesting combinations of sounds, but each of us understands that we are living in a truly unique place. Through its fascinating culture and the orchestration of its natural charm, the state of Louisiana continues to compose its own great concert music.
Matt Evancho is a PhD student in Composition at the LSU School of Music.
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]