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American Composers Orchestra Returns to Carnegie Hall with Sanctuary

Marin Alsop, Guest Conductor & Jennifer Koh, Violin Soloist

Premieres by Composers Lisa Bielawa, Anna Clyne, Hannah Kendall, Paula Matthusen, & Dai Wei

American Composers Orchestra (ACO) continues its 2021-2022 season, under the leadership of Artistic Director Derek Bermel and President Melissa Ngan, with its first performance back at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall since 2019 – Sanctuary, on Friday, March 25, 2022 at 7:30pm. Sanctuary explores the places, company, and states of mind in which humankind seeks inviolable refuge. Guest conductor Marin Alsop leads ACO in five world and New York premieres by composers Lisa Bielawa, Anna Clyne, Hannah Kendall, Paula Matthusen, and Dai Wei. Violin soloist Jennifer Koh joins the orchestra for the New York premiere of Bielawa’s concerto Sanctuary, written for her and co-commissioned by ACO. The concert also includes the New York premieres of Clyne’s Restless Oceans and Kendall’s Tuxedo: Vasco ‘de’ Gama, and the world premieres of Matthusen’s Prophecy in Reverse and Dai Wei’s Invisible Portals.

  • Lisa Bielawa researched Sanctuary in 2018 and composed it in 2019, at a time when the word had a new, charged meaning in the cultural climate. Inspired by the role of sanctuary in the lives of American people, including people in her own life and in soloist Jennifer Koh’s life, Bielawa undertook a large-scale research project around the word. Seeking a greater understanding of its layered meaning within the American consciousness, she read hundreds of texts dating back to the nation’s founding – including broadsides, poetry, political speeches, and novels – during a fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society. The violin concerto for Koh is in three movements that articulate a journey towards sanctuary – “Speak,” “Threshold,” and “Breathe.” Bielawa says, “So many people on our stages and in our audiences are immigrants and refugees. Personal journeys and tribulations also find us urgently seeking new ground. Music provides a sanctuary; through it we create sacredness and refuge for ourselves and for each other.”

  • Anna Clyne’s Restless Oceans from 2018 was composed for Marin Alsop and the all-women Taki Concordia Orchestra for the opening of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos in 2019, at which Alsop was honored. The piece is inspired by Audre Lorde’s poem A Woman Speaks, and when performing it, the musicians also raise their voices in song and rise to their feet. Clyne says of the work, “My intention was to write a defiant piece that embraces the power of women.”

  • Hannah Kendall’s alternately buoyant and serene Tuxedo: Vasco ‘de’ Gama takes its title from Jean-Michel Basquiat’s iconic collection of diagrammatic block pieces. With a nod to the traditional African American spiritual “Wade in the Water,” the work conjures both the majesty and elegance highlighted by the artist as well as Kendall’s own reflective take on the history of globalization and multiculturalism ushered in by the Portuguese explorer.

  • Paula Matthusen’s Prophecy in Reverse considers whether the notion of sanctuary evokes a space, a feeling, or a sound – or the overlapping of these ideas. The work is a collaboration with poet Danielle Vogel, whose work Sea Margin: a prophecy in reverse, punctuates the movements via projections. Matthusen says, “The piece seeks an ebb and flow in shifting moments of musical space, noting that moments of respite and healing can come from surprising interconnections.”

  • Dai Wei’s Invisible Portals was commissioned by ACO through its EarShot Readings program in 2020. The inspiration for the piece came from the composer’s recent trips to Tibet and the Yunnan province, when she collaborated with local musicians. Dai Wei says of Invisible Portals, “The new work involves musical elements such as throat singing, traditional ethnic dance music, contemporary resonance, and the propulsive rhythms of pop music. I want to create a multicultural and multidimensional conversation that goes beyond time and space, which ultimately takes me to the sanctuary I carry inside.”

ACO Artistic Director Derek Bermel says, “Throughout the two years of the pandemic, sanctuary has taken many forms for us all, as we have grappled with challenges both quotidien and metaphysical. For those of us who love and participate in the performing arts, the period has assured us that we will never again take for granted the kind of communal experience in which we will partake during this concert.”

Learn more about the artists and hear their music:

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