Pacific Symphony Celebrates Daniel Schnyder & Duke Ellington this May

Pacific Symphony Celebrates Daniel Schnyder & Duke Ellington this May

In an ongoing quest to make new musical discoveries through its acclaimed American Composers Festival (ACF), Pacific Symphony, led by Music Director Carl St.Clair, this year celebrates the music of two seemingly disparate figures-representing past and present: the iconic Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (1899-1974) and living saxophonist-composer Daniel Schnyder, neither of whom fit neatly into a single musical category. ACF, an annual celebration of American composers, seems somehow incomplete without the inclusion of Ellington, whose works have inspired countless composers and musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries-including Schnyder. This year, the Symphony doesn't just refer to Ellington, but presents the ensemble that carries his name and has been playing together in one form or another for more than eight decades; the other half of the equation is this year's ACF composer-in-residence Schnyder-both of whom defy definition.

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"And I worked with Daniel on tour in Germany. It was my first meeting with him and I felt an immediate closeness to him and his musical spirit," he continues. "His presence is inspiring and will complement the Duke Ellington Orchestra's wonderful world of jazz. Both Duke Ellington and Daniel Schnyder are what I would term as 'eclectic borrowers.' They each take musical ideas, themes and various multicultural musical idioms, and through their individual genius, create their own unique musical identity."

"Today's musical landscape, which some have called 'post-classical,' is wide, varied and level," says the Symphony's ACF advisor, Joseph Horowitz. "It does not rank one form of musical experience over another. In the concert hall, a lot of the most significant activity now occurs when different types of music interact. Our American Composers Festival has celebrated hybrids of this kind through such master composers as Lou Harrison (who absorbed Javanese gamelan), Zhou Long (who combines Western and Chinese musical practices) and John Adams (on whom the swing era exerted a lasting influence)."

Both Ellington and Schnyder are prime examples of post-classical. Ellington, was commonly described as "beyond category" and Swiss-American Schnyder-primarily a composer of jazz/classical crossover works, with related music styles that include Africa, Cuba and the Middle East-is a hybrid of his own making. (b


Pacific Symphony/ACF: Duke Ellington
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music without the preconceived notions often afflicting American classical musicians. While Schnyder's formal training in flute and composition in Zurich were rigorously "classical," he was equally influenced by jazz.

"I live around the corner from where Duke used to live in Harlem," says Schnyder, pointing out the more obvious connection first. "I 'Take the A Train' to get home from mid-Manhattan. Ellington's greatness is of course multi-dimensional. He worked with great individual players and formed his sound from their individual voices-rather than getting performers to give up a part of their individuality in order to form the sound of a great orchestra."

"Between-the-cracks" composers like Ellington and Schnyder-or say, George Gershwin and Kurt Weill, both of whom composed for the concert hall and the opera house, Broadway and Hollywood-used to be viewed skeptically in American classical music circles. Even Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" was initially not taken seriously. Similarly, Ellington was denied the Pulitzer Prize because his music lacked a "classical" pedigree, but it's important to note that he was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer in 1999.

"Daniel Schnyder is a composer who, though steeped in classical traditions, has created musical language that crosses many musical boundaries and genres," says St.Clair. "This is also evident in the repertoire selected for the first half [all composed or arranged by Schnyder], which encompasses reflections of the great Duke Ellington, tributes to the immortal Jimi Hendrix and to the instrument, the bass trombone. And all of this really only covers a portion of the breadth of Schnyder's musical language-all of which he feels at home within... Like Duke Ellington, Daniel is a virtuoso performer-and as performers both composers gained distinct insight into writing for ensembles."

"Ellington resisted the stigmatization of his music as jazz, or more correctly, as merely jazz," wrote composer-conductor-scholar Gunther Schuller, who in 1957 invented the term "Third Stream" to promote a new terrain joining classical music and jazz. "Similarly, he resisted...the constant pressures to commercialize his art, to level off tosome pre-ordained mold of easy marketability, to identify himself with the expected

"The understanding of 'classical music' is impossibly snobbish today," says Horowitz. "It penalizes non-Western music. And it penalizes the signature creative achievement of American music of the mid-20th century: jazz."