Change will come about because of programming like this. And the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra has to take great pride in taking a leadership position.
A shake-up in programming is dearly needed in the classical music world. Women and people of color are severely underrepresented in the concert hall, and the NBSO and music director Yaniv Dinur are taking steps to address that.
The NBSO’s 2018–19 season opens this Friday with a performance featuring Vivian Fung’s harp concerto, and on each of this season’s programs Dinur has included a major work by a woman composer. Following Fung’s opening night piece, the January concert will have two works by Lili Boulanger; the February program includes Swedish composer Andrea Tarrodi’s cello concerto; and the season finale includes Zosha Di Castri’s symphonic work “Lineage.”
It’s a bold initiative, and one that other orchestras should follow. “This is a long overdue step,” Dinur says. “I listened to a lot of music, and there were a lot of hard decisions. There are so many good pieces.”
First up is Los Angeles–based Fung’s concerto, which was written for virtuoso harpist Bridget Kibbey, and will be performed by her. The program also includes Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.
“One of the purposes of the piece is to showcase the different potentials of the harp,” Fung says. “So much harp music only relates to glissandi, and to French music. The harp has great range, and lyricism, and I find the low bass part to be really fascinating.”
When asked how the concerto is set up—whether the harpist blends with the orchestra, as in some concertos, or whether it’s more of a give-and-take—Fung says, “the harp ebbs and flows with the group. It’s more of a chamber piece, with everything in support of the harp. But then there are breakout moments for the orchestra, and some nice virtuosic displays by the harpist.”
Tarrodi’s cello concerto—performed in February with soloist Christine J. Lee—is subtitled “Highlands.” “I was inspired by the landscape of the Scottish highlands—the green mountains, the heights and steep cliffs by the coast,” the composer says.
“On some level ‘Highlands’ is also connected to force and struggle—mainly nature’s force and struggle, but also one’s own.
“The soloist is a sort of ‘guide’ to the piece,” Tarrodi says. “And the orchestra follows.”
Tarrodi noted that similar issues of underrepresentation for women composers exist in her native Sweden. “We have the same problems,” she admits, “although it has become much better. There is a group called KVAST (www.eng.kvast.org), of Swedish female composers. KVAST put together a database with works by female composers, both in history and now, and traveled around Sweden to different orchestras, giving them tips about repertoire. I think that is a great way to address the problem.”
In May’s season finale concert, “Lineage” by the Canadian-born, and now New York–based Zosha Di Castri will be the highlight. A professor of composition at Columbia—spending this year in Paris—Di Castri says “Lineage” “explores the idea of what is passed down. I loved listening to my grandparents tell stories about ‘the old-country,’ or of life in the village. These tales were so real through their repetition, and yet so foreign and removed from my own experience. The resulting music is an abstract reflection, on change and consistency.”
Di Castri also points to new resources that are available to help address the imbalance in repertory.
“The Composer Diversity Database (composerdiversity.com) and the Many Many Woman Index (manymanywomen.com) are great resources for discovering new voices,” she says. “Including more contemporary music will also help in this regard, as well as having more women in artistic leadership positions (this includes conductors).”
She also thinks that concertgoers can play a part. “Audience members can also take more responsibility by putting pressure on their local concert halls,” she says, “especially when they see programs featuring only men. We want our culture to reflect the diversity of our society, and for our children, to show them that representation matters.”
The NBSO’s 2018–19 season begins on Friday, Oct. 12, in the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, with music director Yaniv Dinur conducting a program that includes Vivian Fung’s Harp Concerto and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. For information and tickets visit www.nbsymphony.org or call the Z box office at 508-994-2900.
2018–19 NBSO Season at-a-Glance
Friday, Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m.
Opening night program begins a season-long exploration of women composers. Harpist Bridget Kibbey plays Vivian Fung’s concerto, and music director Yaniv Dinur leads the orchestra in Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. An ambitious start to the concert season.
Saturday, Dec. 15, 3:30 and 7:00 p.m.
Dinur leads the orchestra in two performances of holiday favorites.
Friday, Jan. 11, 7:30 p.m.
Among the greatest performers of this generation, the magnificent pianist Yefim Bronfman joins the NBSO in Beethoven’s second piano concerto. Two works from Lili Boulanger, and Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin suite, are also on the program.
Sat., Feb. 16, 7:30 p.m.
Andrea Tarrodi’s cello concerto “Highlands,” featuring soloist Christine J. Lee, highlights a program that begins with Richard Strauss’s suite from “Der Rosenkavalier,” and concludes with Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony.
Sat., March 9, 7:30
The third annual movie night returns to the Zeiterion stage, spotlighting music from classic Hollywood films like “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.” Last year Dinur stripped off his maestro clothes to reveal a Superman suit underneath. This year—who knows?
Sat., May 25, 7:30 p.m.
Zosha Di Castri’s “Lineage” kicks off the season finale, which features another great pianist—Joyce Yang—playing Samuel Barber’s concerto, and the orchestra closing the program with Rachmaninov’s “Symphonic Dances.”