Orpheus, Met Soloists to Premiere ‘Earth Echoes' 10/12

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra returns to Jorgensen this season to perform the first of four in its 40th anniversary commissioned works, Earth Echoes by Pulitzer Prize nominee Augusta Read Thomas, in a Connecticut premiere that will include Metropolitan Opera stars Sasha Cooke and Nathan Gunn. The concert, fresh from its Carnegie Hall debut the night before, will be performed Friday, Oct. 12, at 7:30 p.m., preceded by a concert talk by UConn music historian Glenn Stanley at 6:45 p.m. 

The program will also include Rossini’s overture to The Italian in Algiers, the comic story of a bored sultan who decides he must find an Italian girl to spice up his life, and Beethoven’s iconic Symphony No. 5.

Earth Echoes is a major song cycle written to commemorate the death of Gustav Mahler and set to the words of world-renowned poets. As a contemporary composer, Thomas says she has her feet facing forward, but “you can hear the perfumes of my metaphorical grandparents.” Donald Rosenberg of Gramophone wrote about her work, “Thomas’s brainy brand of modernism reveals a lively, probing mind allied to a beating heart.” Last season at Jorgensen, Orpheus premiered Cynthia Wong’s “Memoriam,” one of four winners of Project 440.

Besides their solos in Earth Echoes, Cooke and Gunn will collaborate in several productions this season. Gunn, one of today’s most sought-after baritones, and Cooke, a Grammy-winning mezzo, will sing in the world premiere of Mark Adamo’sThe Gospel of Mary Magdalene, with Cooke in the title role, and in Dominick Argento’s The Aspern Papers at Dallas Opera. Cooke won the 2007 Young Concert Artists International Competition and has performed recitals in halls at Carnegie, Alice Tully Hall and the Mondavi Center, often alongside her husband, baritone Kelly Markgraf. A former member of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, she was acclaimed for her portrayal of Kitty Oppenheimer in the Met’s premiere of Doctor Atomic, broadcast live to cinemas around the world.

Gunn has sung leading roles in the world’s greatest opera houses and given life to new roles, such as Clyde Griffiths in Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy, Father Delura in Love and Other Demons and Alec Harvey in Andre Previn’s Brief Encounter. Gunn appeared in the PBS-broadcast Camelot with the New York PhilharmonicShowboat at Carnegie Hall and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and in the 80th birthday gala for Stephen Sondheim. Gunn’s recording of Billy Budd with Daniel Harding and the London Symphony Orchestra won the 2010 Grammy Award, and he was the first winner of the Beverly Sills Artist Award. At the Met this season, he will sing Le Comte d’Ory.

Orpheus, a group that proves democracy can yield prime artistic results, has toured the world from Brunei to Vienna and performs an annual series at Carnegie Hall. In November, Orpheus will tour Russia, Germany, Austria and Switzerland with jazz pianist Brad Mehldau to premiere his Variations for Piano and Orchestra on a Melancholy Theme. American audiences will hear that commissioned work next season. The other two new works to be showcased this year are by jazz legend Wayne Shorter and Orpheus composer-in-residence Gabriel Kahane, who has written a large-scale piece based on the 1930s Works Project Administration. 

Orpheus has commissioned 35 original pieces and recorded more than 70 albums, including the Grammy Award-winningShadow Dances: Stravinsky Miniatures. Its Carnegie performances have been broadcast nationwide to 1.6 million listeners a week.

Orpheus has taken its model of collective leadership to public schools, Ivy League universities and organizations such as Morgan Stanley and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital. With support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Orpheus Institute will be in residence during the 2012-13 season at Interlochen Arts Academy, University of Maryland, Dartmouth College, Muhlenberg College, University of Connecticut, and Metro State University. UConn faculty member Louis Hanzlik plays trumpet for Orpheus.

The chamber orchestra’s namesake, Orpheus, was a musician prophet in Greek mythology known for charming even stones with his music. His death came at the hands of those unable to hear it.

The MetLife Foundation is the official tour sponsor for Orpheus.

Jorgensen was recently named Best College/University Performing Arts Center in the Hartford Advocate Best of Hartford Readers’ Poll for 2012 and “Best Cabaret” in 2011 and 2012 by Connecticut Magazine.

Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts is located at 2132 Hillside Road on the UConn campus in Storrs. Tickets are $46, $43 and $39, with some discounts. For tickets and information, call the Box Office 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon–Fri at 860.486.4226, or order online at: jorgensen.uconn.edu. Free, convenient parking is available across the street in the North Garage.

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