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NY Philharmonic Previews 'Le Grand Macabre' With Discussion and Presentation, 5/11

In anticipation of the New York Philharmonic's staged performances of György Ligeti's 1975-77 opera, 'Le Grand Macabre', and its first complete New York performances May 27-29, 2010, Music Director Alan Gilbert and Douglas Fitch - the production's director and designer - will preview the unusual aspects of this production of the fantastical, absurdist opera in an Insights Series event, Tuesday, May 11, 2010, at 6:30 p.m. Moderated by New York Philharmonic Artistic Administrator John Mangum, the 90-minute event will include discussions about the unusual qualities of the opera as well as Mr. Fitch's unique visual designs for the production. The event will take place at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, 65th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Le Grand Macabre is produced by Edouard Getaz; the production is created by Giants Are Small. Costumes are by Tony Award winner Catherine Zuber, with lighting designed by Clifton Taylor.

The Insights Series event will include sketches culled from Mr. Fitch's hundreds of miniature models for the "live animation" that will be a key feature of this production. "Live animation" is a technique of puppeteering miniature elements in front of a camera and projecting them in real time onto a large screen, synchronized with the orchestra and soloists. The Insights Series event will conclude with another Ligeti work: his Poème symphonique for 100 Metronomes. Written in 1962, the "event-score" was created for a concert to be broadcast on Dutch Television, but the ensuing controversy over the piece caused the broadcast's cancellation. It will be "played" by 10 people, who will trigger 100 metronomes set to different speeds. The piece typically ends with just one metronome ticking alone for a few beats.

Le Grand Macabre, with its surreal, carnival-like atmosphere, swirling soundscape, and ironic and darkly humorous storyline, was premiered in Stockholm in 1978, but has never been performed in its entirety in New York. The German libretto, by Michael Meschke, was inspired by La Balade du grand macabre, a 1934 farce by the Belgian avant-garde dramatist Michel de Ghelderode. The text in the New York Philharmonic's production will be performed in English, in a translation prepared by Geoffrey Skelton. Set in an "anytime" century, Le Grand Macabre follows a character named Nekrotzar - who may or may not represent Death - as he arrives in the fantastical kingdom of Breughelland, a city of skyscrapers strewn with litter and populated by vagrants, to announce the end of the world. Nekrotzar encounters a variety of whimsical and grotesque characters, including the drunkard Piet the Pot; Prince Go-Go, Breughelland's obese boy ruler; the lovers Amanda and Amando; the transvestite astronomer Astradamors and his nymphomaniac wife Mescalina; and a host of others. The events ultimately raise the question: do the characters really face impending doom, or has it all been a farce? Ligeti's music for the opera involves a diverse melding of sonorities that begins with a rhythmic toccata for car horns and maintains a breathless and exhilarating level of energy and invention over the opera's two-hour course.

György Ligeti was born in 1923 in Transylvania, Romania. He lived briefly in Hungary before later becoming an Austrian citizen, and died in Austria on June 12, 2006. He is widely considered to be one of the late-20th century's most important and accomplished composers; to the general public he may best be known for works that were featured in the soundtracks of the Stanley Kubrick films 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, and Eyes Wide Shut. Ligeti studied with Hungarian composers including Kodály, and later met key figures of the avant-garde in Cologne, including Stockhausen and Gottfried Michael Koenig. Among Ligeti's best known works are Apparitions (1958-59), Atmosphères (1961), Lontano (1967), and his only opera, Le Grand Macabre (1975-77, revised 1996). His prolific output also includes orchestral, instrumental, vocal, choral, chamber, piano, organ, harpsichord, and electronic works. The New York Philharmonic has performed Ligeti's Atmosphères; Cello Concerto; Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures; Lontano; excerpts from Le Grand Macabre (in 1986); Concert Romanesc; and most recently, the Violin Concerto, which was led by Alan Gilbert in March 2007.

Alan Gilbert began his tenure as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in September 2009, the first native New Yorker to hold the post. For his inaugural season he has introduced a number of new initiatives: the positions of The Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence, held by Magnus Lindberg, and Artist-in-Residence, held by Thomas Hampson; an annual three-week festival; and CONTACT!, the New York Philharmonic's new-music series. This season he led the Orchestra on a major tour of Asia in October 2009, with debuts in Hanoi and Abu Dhabi; took the musicians on a European tour in January-February 2010; and conducted world, U.S., and New York premieres. Also in the 2009-10 season, Mr. Gilbert became the first person to hold the William Schuman Chair in Musical Studies at The Juilliard School, a position that includes coaching, conducting, and hosting performance master classes. Highlights of Mr. Gilbert's 2008-09 season with the New York Philharmonic included the Bernstein anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall and a performance with the Juilliard Orchestra, presented by the Philharmonic. In May 2009 he conducted the World Premiere of Peter Lieberson's The World in Flower, a New York Philharmonic Commission, and in July 2009 he led the Philharmonic's Concerts in the Parks and Free Indoor Concerts, Presented by Didi and Oscar Schafer, and performances at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival in Colorado. In June 2008 Mr. Gilbert was named conductor laureate of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, following his final concert as its chief conductor and artistic advisor. He has been principal guest conductor of Hamburg's NDR Symphony Orchestra since 2004, and he has conducted other leading orchestras in the U.S. and abroad, including the Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco symphony orchestras; the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras; and the Berlin Philharmonic, Munich's Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Orchestre National de Lyon. In 2003 he was named the first music director of the Santa Fe Opera.

Alan Gilbert studied at Harvard University, The Curtis Institute of Music, and The Juilliard School. From 1995 to 1997 he was the assistant conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra. In November 2008 he made his acclaimed Metropolitan Opera debut conducting John Adams's Doctor Atomic. His recording of Prokofiev's Scythian Suite with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was nominated for a 2008 Grammy Award, and his recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 9 received top honors from the Chicago Tribune and Gramophone magazine.

Douglas Fitch (director/designer of Le Grand Macabre) has worked in media ranging from architecture and opera to puppetry. At Tanglewood he designed and directed Elliott Carter's only opera, What Next?, in a production conducted by James Levine. He has designed and staged productions of Puccini's Turandot for Santa Fe Opera; Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel for Los Angeles Opera; Wagner's Das Rheingold for the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra; and Weill's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny for Tanglewood, as well as several productions for the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) at the Kennedy Center. At Bard College he created a double-bill for soprano Dawn Upshaw of Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts and the world premiere of David Bruce's A Bird in Your Ear. For the NSO at Wolf Trap he staged a version of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake featuring light, shadow, a single dancer, and a child narrator. Mr. Fitch's work in concert-theater rekindled his childhood interest in puppetry that is now finding form as "live animation," a live-filmed and projected miniature theater of Moving Pictures. The first production using this technique was with the New York Philharmonic in May 2005 in Stravinsky's A Soldier's Tale, featuring violinist Pinchas Zukerman and actors F. Murray Abraham and Marian Seldes, conducted by Xian Zhang.

John Mangum became the New York Philharmonic's Artistic Administrator in September 2009. Previously, he was the vice president for artistic planning of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO), working with the SPCO's Artistic Partners and Artistic Vision Committee to create and implement artistic initiatives, including recruitment of artistic partners, guest artist engagements, season programming, touring, festivals, and media projects. He also was involved in the planning and implementation of that orchestra's 50th anniversary season, including its International Chamber Orchestra Festival, and a return to Carnegie Hall in May 2008 following a 10-year absence. Prior to The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, John Mangum worked in various positions with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association (1999-2007), most recently as artistic administrator, where he was responsible for all aspects of the orchestra's programming at the Hollywood Bowl and was involved with the programming of winter season at Walt Disney Concert Hall, including chamber music, festivals, and Green Umbrella new music concerts. He has also written program notes and articles for the Salzburg Festival, Harmonia Mundi, Hong Kong Arts Festival, and Los Angeles Opera, among others. He holds a Ph.D. in history with a field in musicology, in addition to master's and bachelor's degrees in history, all from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Single tickets for this Insights Series event are $20. They are available in advance at or by calling (212) 875-5656, 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 12:00 noon to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets may also be purchased at the Avery Fisher Hall Box Office or the Alice Tully Hall Box Office at Lincoln Center, Broadway at 65th Street. On performance evenings, the Box Office closes one-half hour after performance time; other evenings it closes at 6:00 p.m. For press tickets, call Lanore Carr in the New York Philharmonic Communications Department at (212) 875-5714, or e-mail her at For more information about Le Grand Macabre, visit

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