Classical Music

Nadia Sirota Comes To Town

Noted conductor-performer has hand-picked a range of contemporary works to perform at Present Music concert.

By - May 2nd, 2024 11:49 am
Nadia Sirota. Credit: Zoe Prinds.

Nadia Sirota. Credit: Zoe Prinds.

Present Music will conclude its 2023-24 season on Thursday, May 9 with Honest Music, a concert guest curated by Nadia Sirota, a multi-talented violist, conductor, producer, educator and broadcaster recognized as a champion of contemporary music.

Present Music’s mission is to “engage artists and audience members in imaginative and provocative experiences with new music through ensemble performance and education.”

Guest artist Sirota embodies that mission on the national stage. Sirota’s podcast, Meet the Composer, featured on WQXR public radio (2014-2017), was recognized with a Peabody Award. Since 2018 she has been the New York Philharmonic’s creative partner, a position created for her. She is also an artist in residence at UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance and a Creative Associate at Juilliard.

A violist, Sirota performs with a contemporary sextet, yMusic; is a member of Bedroom Community, a collective of musically diverse artists who work and collaborate at Reykjavik’s Greenhouse Studios in New York; and is co-founder of Eclipse Projects on the West Coast that has produced concerts and recordings for other artists.

For the Present Music concert Sirota will talk about the music and composers she has programmed. She will conduct ensemble works and play viola for several selections.

Sirota shared her advocacy in a recent interview:

“It’s hard to grab new young fans of a thing that isn’t taking advantage of its living edge. Classical contemporary music is just simply a wonderful way to engage with classical music. So I just simply share things that move me; explain what I find attractive.”

She has selected two compositions by Nico Muhly, a long-time friend, including one work Sirota has recorded with Muhly on piano. In Drones and Viola a piano ‘drone’ creates a sonic landscape that enhances the dynamic contours of the viola. The viola alternates between taking a lead role and merging into the textures created by the drone. The music for the viola ranges from reflective to brooding, showcasing the instrument’s capability for both lyrical and intense expressions.

A second Muhly work, Honest Music, features two violin soloists: Ilana Setapen (Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Associate Concertmaster) and John Bian (MSO Second Violin Assistant Principal). Drawing on minimalist traditions, the piece employs repetitive structures that evolve subtly over time. This creates an immersive and meditative listening experience, characteristic of Muhly’s often reflective compositions.

Setapen and Bian open the evening with Steve Reich‘s Duet, a very different work for violin soloists and ensemble. In an earlier generation, Reich influenced the minimalist works of others on the program. Sirota recalls hearing Duet as a college student for the first time, “It’s almost like a piece of candy. Like, it’s not a concerto. It’s just one expression of joy and love and outpouring of emotion.” The two violins often play interlocking patterns that phase in and out of sync with each other, creating complex rhythmic interactions.

Sirota has also chosen two works by Gabriella Smith, a west-coast artist often motivated by environmental concerns. Tessellations focuses on patterns and how they interlock like the geometric shapes in an Escher artwork. In this piece scored for flute, clarinet, trumpet, violin, viola, and cello, the instruments feature intricate rhythms that might mimic the interlocking patterns of a tessellation, suggesting a structured yet dynamic interplay of musical lines.

The other work by Smith, Imaginary Pancake is more for fun. The piano work was inspired by seeing a friend play a Beethoven work with arms extended to cover the full width of the keyboard. The composition explores the juxtaposition of sounds from the low and high ends of the keyboard.

Another mixed ensemble, including Sirota, performs Marcos Balter‘s Ligare. Sirota observes, “He is somebody who, to me, is a real master of timbre. He can take a bunch of instruments, but I think I know how they sound, and by pulling specific sonorities and specific pitches and specific ways of playing out of these instruments, he’ll recombine them into a sound that I just haven’t, ever expected.”

The concert closes with Gran Turismo a high-energy work by Andrew Norman for eight violins. The soundscape is characterized by fast, driving rhythms that emulate the speed and intensity of a car race. The composition is structured in a way that suggests a collision course of musical ideas, with intersecting lines and layers that build tension and complexity.

While Present Music often introduces world premieres of commissioned works, Sirota’s selections are all relatively established in the contemporary repertoire. What they share in common is that they explore unique sonorities that emerge from the effects of instruments playing together – even the left and right hand of a piano solo.

The concert is on Thursday, May 9 at 8 p.m. at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Dr., Milwaukee. Tickets for the event can be purchased online. Livestream tickets are also available.

Note: The YouTube links for each work are generally an accurate preview, but the Muhly works will be performed live without electronic accompaniment.

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