Orpheus Chamber Orchestra: The New Brandenburgs

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AARON JAY KERNIS -  Concerto with Echoes (inspired by Brandenburg No. 6)

MELINDA WAGNER -  Little Moonhead (inspired by Brandenburg No. 4)

SIR PETER MAXWELL DAVIES -  Sea Orpheus (inspired by Brandenburg No. 5)

 CHRISTOPHER THEOFANIDIS -  Muse (inspired by Brandenburg No. 3)

 STEPHEN HARTKE -  A Brandenburg Autumn (inspired by Brandenburg No. 1)

 PAUL MORAVEC - Brandenburg Gate (inspired by Brandenburg No. 2)

From Orpheus Chamber Orchestra:

In 2006, Orpheus began the New Brandenburg Project, an effort to commission six new works inspired by Bach’s original Brandenburg Concertos. These superb pieces, so rich in invention, form a perfect set. Bach gave us an alpha and omega of instrumental composition and orchestrational mastery, not just for the high Baroque period but for all time. As Bach biographer Karl Geiringer writes, “There is an exuberance and abundance of inspiration in this music which only a genius, aware of his newly achieved full mastery, could call forth.” No wonder musicians and audiences continue to return to these tuneful, joyous works. 

Through the New Brandenburg Project, we hoped to pay tribute to this set and contribute to a living repertoire for chamber orchestra. Additionally, we wanted to unearth a variety of new perspectives on the Brandenburg Concertos and a familiar framework in which listeners could relate to new music. To reflect the artistic debate and experimentation that is the spirit of Orpheus, we commissioned six diverse composers in succession, each of whom was asked to use one of the Brandenburgs as a departure point.

Bach provided both the inspiration for and a beguiling link between our distinguished composers, despite their highly distinctive voices. Stephen Hartke reacted to the palatial residences of Bach’s dedicatee, the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt. A fourth movement of his A Brandenburg Autumn will have its world premiere tonight. Paul Moravec was moved by the world-altering events of 1989, as the Brandenburg Gate was thrown open and the Berlin Wall torn down. Both he and Melinda Wagner made use of the B-A-C-H (German notation for B-flat, A, C, B natural) theme, introduced by Bach himself in the monumental Art of Fugue. Wagner offered a whimsical take on No. 4, while Christopher Theofanidis and Aaron Jay Kernis took on the all-string Brandenburgs. In his title, Muse, Theofanidis referenced Bach’s role in this project and for musicians at large. Kernis slyly parted ways with the original orchestration of No. 6 by introducing winds in the second movement of his work. The venerable Sir Peter Maxwell Davies capped off our project just last February with his take on the early keyboard concerto format of No. 5, juxtaposed with reflections on a poem by Orcadian poet George Mackay.  

Five years in the making, we are thrilled and honored to present the New Brandenburg Project in its entirety for the first time at the inaugural Spring for MusicFestival. It marks the culmination of an unforgettable journey for Orpheus and, we hope, an exhilarating experience for listeners.

—Alan Kay, Orpheus Artistic Director/Clarinetist

A Note from Orpheus:

Dennis Godburn, 1949-2011

It is with enormous sadness and regret that Orchestra of St. Luke's announces the death of Dennis Godburn. Dennis died this week in New York City. A memorial concert is being planned for later this year. He is survived by his wife, Moy Eng, and two daughters, Amanda Eng Godburn and Julia Eng Godburn, all of Palo Alto, CA, his sister and brother-in-law, Denise and Michael Beale of Mansfield Center, CT, his aunt Lorraine Wyskiewicz, his uncle William and aunt Gertrude Godburn, numerous cousins and the Dobratz-Crandal family.

Widely regarded as one of the preeminent bassoon soloists in the world, Dennis Godburn pursued a distinguished career as performer of baroque, classical and modern bassoons, concertizing throughout the United States, Europe, Japan, South America and Australia. Dennis served as the principal bassoonist for Orchestra of St. Luke's since 1976. He played with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra since 1977 and became a member in 1995. Dennis also performed with the Metropolitan Opera, the San Francisco Symphony, Music@Menlo Festival, New England Bach Festival, Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra, Handel and Haydn Society, Waverly Consort, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and The Classical Band, among others.

He appeared as a soloist on the Great Performers Series at Lincoln Center and at the Mostly Mozart Festival, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Ravinia Festival, the Kennedy Center and “Live from Lincoln Center” national television broadcasts.

Dennis can be heard in recordings spanning medieval to contemporary repertoire on RCA Records, Sony Classics, L'Oiseau Lyre, Columbia Masterworks, Harmonia Mundi, EMI and Deutsche Grammophon. He also served on the faculties of the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the Manhattan School of Music.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to Orchestra of St. Luke's at 450 West 37th Street, Suite 502, New York, New York, 10018 with a designation for the Dennis Godburn Memorial Scholarship Fund.

Hear about The New Brandenburgs from the six composers.