Composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich Premieres Two Major Works in Her 75th Year
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, one of America's most honored and sought-after composers, marked her 75th birthday on April 30, 2014, and her 2014-15 season is bracketed by the premieres of two major works. It begins in September at the ninth quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, with the world premiere of a work commissioned by the competition; she is also a member of the jury. And in April, flutist Trudy Kane performs the world premiere of Concerto for Flute and String Orchestra with the Frost Symphony Orchestra.
Also highlighting the fall, her 1984 work Prologue and Variations - an orchestral repertoire favorite, with close to 200 performances since its 1984 premiere - is on the program of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra's Carnegie Hall series-opening concert, and Sveriges Radio, Swedish public radio, will air an hour-long documentary about Zwilich, featuring interviews including those with the composer and with the pianist Joseph Kalichstein, and music from the recently-released recording, Passionate Diversions. That disc is one of two 2014 releases to garner praise - the other being Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's CD of new violin concertos, From A to Z, that features Zwilich's Commedia dell'Arte.
"Any work for solo violin presents technical challenges, but it was my aim in writing Fantasy for Solo Violin to challenge the musical imagination and dramatic impulses of the violinist as well," says the composer. "For me, the best artist is not just a virtuoso but a creative spirit in communion with the music. I look forward to hearing individual interpretations!"
Zwilich's Fantasy for Solo Violin will have its world premiere performances by the 16 semi-finalists of the prestigious International Violin Competition of Indianapolis (IVCI) in September. The piece was commissioned to be the compulsory work in the ninth quadrennial competition, which takes place September 5-21, 2014. The semi-final round, which consists of a 75-minute recital program, takes place September 12-15, and will be streamed live - as will the entire competition's proceedings - and be available on-demand, at www.violin.org. Former composers of the IVCI's commissioned works include Richard Danielpour, Leon Kirchner, Joonas Kokkonen, Witold Lutoslawski, George Rochberg, Ned Rorem, Bright Sheng, and Joan Tower.
"Ellen is one of my favorite composers and one I've admired all my life," IVCI Artistic Director Jaime Laredo said. "I've had the honor to have her write five pieces for me, and I am thrilled that she is writing the piece for this year's Indianapolis."
Zwilich, a violinist herself - she was a member of the American Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski - is also a member of the competition's jury, joining Jaime Laredo and Miriam Fried, Dong-Suk Kang, Boris Kuschnir, Cho-Liang Lin, Philip Setzer, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, and Kyoko Takezawa.
Zwilich is currently writing Concerto for Flute and String Orchestra for flutist Trudy Kane, former longtime member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. The world premiere will be performed by Kane and the Frost Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Sleeper, at the University of Miami on April 15, 2015. This work, a consortium commission, is Zwilich's second piece for flute and orchestra; she wrote her Concerto for Flute and Orchestra for Doriot Anthony Dwyer and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1989.
Zwilich's Prologue and Variations can claim a firm place in the modern orchestral canon, with close to 200 performances since its 1984 premiere. It will be performed by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra on its Carnegie Hall season-opening program on October 23, 2014. Orpheus will also perform the work on tour on the Stanford Live concert series on November 2.
The two recordings of Zwilich's music released so far in 2014 have received critical praise: Passionate Diversions, featuring the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio performing her Quintet for Violin, Viola, Cello, Contrabass and Piano (2010) with Michael Tree, viola, and Hal Robinson, contrabass; Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello (1987); and Septet for Piano Trio and String Quartet (2008) with the Miami String Quartet; and violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's From A to Z: New 21st Century Concertos, that features Zwilich's Commedia dell'Arte (2011) in a performance with the New Century Chamber Orchestra. Praising the "superb performance" of the artists, Audiophile Audition described Passionate Diversions as a disc of "enjoyable yet sophisticated chamber works that represent the music of one of America's finest composers." And NewMusicBox describes the disc as "a musical sprint: tremendous amounts of emotional and physical energy are expended in a very short period of time. One of the most successful things about Passionate Diversions is the full spectrum of emotions and colors that Zwilich leads the listener through."
A one hour radio documentary about Ellen Taaffe Zwilich will be broadcast on Sveriges Radio Program 2 (Swedish Public Radio Program 2) on Sunday, September 21, 2014, at 2:00 PM local time. Titled "P2 Dokumentär: Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, en banbrytande tonsättare," or "P2 Documentary: Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, a Pioneering and Groundbreaking Composer," the program will include interviews with the composer and with the pianist Joseph Kalichstein (in English), as well as music from the recording Passionate Diversions (see above). The documentary will be streamed on the website at the time of broadcast, and archived for streaming for 30 days after the September 21 broadcast.
At a time when the musical offerings of the world are more varied than ever before, few composers have emerged with the unique personality of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Her music is widely known because it is performed, recorded, broadcast, and - above all - listened to and liked by all sorts of audiences the world over. Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians [8th edition] states: "There are not many composers in the modern world who possess the lucky combination of writing music of substance and at the same time exercising an immediate appeal to mixed audiences. Zwilich offers this happy combination of purely technical excellence and a distinct power of communication."
A prolific composer in virtually all media, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's works have been performed by most of the leading American orchestras and by major ensembles abroad. Her works include five symphonies and a string of concertos commissioned and performed over the past two decades by the nation's top orchestras. Visit Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's pages on the Theodore Presser Company site.