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October 16, 2019

From the Archives: MTT and Steven Mackey

Viola Visions

Viola Visions—NWS’s five-day celebration of the viola—unites musical masterminds for its grand finale on Saturday, October 19, when NWS will give the world premiere of Steven Mackey’s new version of Hector Berlioz’ beloved Harold in Italy. Performed by world-renowned artist Tabea Zimmermann and led by MTT, the performance is the latest collaboration between MTT and Steven Mackey. Click here for information on tickets and live-streaming.

MTT and Steven Mackey

Steven Mackey and MTT reimagined Harold’s concerto-symphony hybrid, depicting the lead character in a new light and elaborating on Berlioz’ colorful themes. MTT likened working with Mackey on this project to creating a new Broadway show, with Mackey being the composer and himself as the director. “Elaborating Harold in Italy turned out to be a fascinating project,” reflects Mackey. “I had to plug into the piece in a deeper way than I would just by studying the score. It was fun to talk with MTT about the viola, Harold, those wild Brigands and the dramatic scenario that connects them.”

MTT with Tabea Zimmermann
MTT and Tabea Zimmermann rehearse Harold in Italy at the New World Center, photo by Siggi Bachmann

Harold in Italy is just one of two commissions from Mackey for MTT this year. The second is Portals, Scenes and Celebrations, written in honor of MTT’s upcoming 75th birthday and his final season as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony and premiered by the Symphony last February.

These latest collaborations mark a fruitful and exciting 25+-year friendship and musical partnership that has resulted in six works. Before witnessing the world premiere of their newest collaboration, let’s look back at MTT and Mackey’s magical moments with NWS over the years.

MTT, Steven Mackey and NWS: A History

Steven Mackey at the Lincoln Theatre
Steven Mackey at the Lincoln Theatre, photo by Alice Arnold courtesy of the NWS Archives

Steven Mackey first visited NWS in 1998, returning the following year in preparation for the April 2000 world premiere of his Tuck and Roll, a concerto for electric guitar and orchestra, at the Lincoln Theatre. The premiere was part of NWS’s American Music Festival and featured Mackey as the soloist.

MTT and Steven Mackey at the Lincoln Theatre
Steven Mackey and MTT at the Lincoln Theatre, photo by Alice Arnold courtesy of the NWS Archives

Named for the type of upholstery used in American muscle cars, Tuck and Roll evokes what Mackey called a dark, yet playful spirit. “When Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony asked me to compose a piece in which I would be the guitar soloist, I was excited about the possibility of composing a piece for which I was the best qualified soloist. It’s not that I’m a blazing, state-of-the-art virtuoso, I’m not (although I was hot when I was 18). But, over the past decade I’ve developed an approach to the guitar that draws on my checkered past as a rock guitar player, my training in classical guitar and lute, and my experience performing my own, fully-notated works for the electric guitar in ‘legit’ chamber music contexts.”

MTT and Steven Mackey at the Lincoln Theatre
MTT and Steven Mackey after the premiere of Tuck and Roll

NWS later released the CD Tuck and Roll: The Music of Steven Mackey in 2001. It won the German Music Award for Best World Premiere of the Year.

Tuck and Roll CD

In 2006 Mackey wrote Turn the Key to commemorate the grand opening of the Adrienne Arsht Center.

NWS at the Arsht Center Grand Opening
NWS performs at the grand opening of the Adrienne Arsht Center

Mackey wrote for the premiere: “To put the hall through its paces Turn the Key has a variety of densities: small moments for solo harp and solo violin, big arrivals for the whole orchestra, clangorous percussion, silky passages for string orchestra, plucky staccato passages, brassy wind band music, intricate rhythmic interplay, dense counterpoint, and various combinations of the above. Of course, in so doing, I’ve also put the orchestra through its paces and having worked with the New World Symphony many times in the past I have complete confidence in them to bounce all the right vibrations off the walls.”

Steven Mackey’s other commissions for MTT include an orchestral version Lost and Found (1996) and Pedal Tones (2002), a work for pipe organ and large orchestra. Both works were premiered by the San Francisco Symphony.

Steven Mackey at Viola Visions

Join MTT and Steven Mackey at the New World Center this Saturday for the Viola Visions festival finale: New Classic Viola. Click below for tickets and live-stream information.

Saturday, October 19 at 7:30 PM
New Classic Viola

Viola Vision Sponsors

Viola Visions is sponsored in part by Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne; NWS Fund for New Ventures and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Knight Foundation and New World Symphony: Reimagining Classical Music in the Digital Age.

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Posted in: Concert, Event, From the Archives, Knight, MTT, Viola Visions


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