Miller Theatre commissioned writer Lara Pellegrinelli to create the program notes for the Composer Portraits in the 2022-23 season as well as a series of Q&As with Executive Director Melissa Smey. Here is the third installment, centering around our next Portrait featuring the music of Suzanne Farrin.
Q. Tell us about the spring Composer Portrait concerts.
A. We have three composers: Suzanne Farrin (b. 1976), Øyvind Torvund (b. 1976), and Nicole Mitchell (b. 1967). It's an eclectic group. There aren’t many connecting threads between them. And I think there's something beautiful about that—for audiences to have an opportunity to hear programs that are so different from each other, and with a range of diverse works on each program.
All three composers had premieres that were meant to happen during the pandemic and couldn't. So the Miller Portrait concerts will feature brand new works, which is exciting, and I am very glad to be able to host them.
Q. Were these premieres the driving impulse behind the programming this season?
A. Actually, all three of the spring Portraits grew from collaborations that I've had with ensembles. For Suzanne Farrin and Nicole Mitchell, they’ve been working with International Contemporary Ensemble. For Øyvund Torvund, the recommendation came through Russell Greenberg of Yarn/Wire.
With Suzanne, International Contemporary Ensemble had performed her dolce la Morte (2016), an opera cycle for countertenor and chamber ensemble that had been developed in icelab, on the Metropolitan Museum Presents series a few years ago. The piece uses the love letters from Michelangelo to one of his male protégés as its texts. When the ensemble pitched the portrait concert, I thought, Yes, let’s do this!
Q. Did you know Suzanne well?
A. I had not met her, but she had given a talk at Casa Italiana on her earlier work corpo di terra; it’s a collection of songs without words that are based on Petrarch’s sonnets. As the chair of the Music Department at Hunter College and a professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, Suzanne is local to New York City. Her DMA is from Yale.
Her Portrait program will include five selections from dolce la Morte, interwoven with other works including Time is a Cage for violin and polvere et ombra
for harp. The instrumentation will be a mix of chamber ensemble alternating with soloists, so that we hear all of these pieces in a new way.
And, of course, we’re also featuring the world premiere of Their Hearts are Columns for soprano, harp, ondes Martenot, and double bass. The piece sets poetry by the Sufi mystical poets Rumi and Hafiz. Sometimes we have an opportunity to commission, an important component of this series for me. In this case, we are fostering the premiere, since the work was commissioned by the Library of Congress and one movement had been done there in 2020.