World premiere for Michael Tilson Thomas: Meditations on Rilke

2019 Kennedy Center Honoree Michael Tilson Thomas begins the New Year at home with his San Francisco Symphony, conducting the world premiere of his newest composition, Meditations on Rilke.

A six-part song cycle based on the lyric poems of poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926), Meditations on Rilke was written during 2019 and will feature Grammy Award-winning mezzo Sasha Cooke and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny.

MTT says of the work:

“These Six Rilke Songs, or perhaps “Meditations on Rilke Texts” are reflections of the many moods the poems suggest. The motives and harmonies of these pieces have been with me for years, decades. This approach to music as a kind of lifelong journal, or confessional companion, was what my father, and as I now have learned, my grandfather, and even my great-grandfather, experienced. My fondest wish is that all people would have this kind of relationship to music—music spontaneously popping into their minds—perhaps in recollection, perhaps in anticipation of places within their spirits…

…The musical language in these songs is quite traditional. There are melodies, harmonies, bass lines, invertible counterpoint. My greatest concern has always been “What remains with the listener when the music ends?” It is my hope that some of these musical reflections of many years may stick with you.” Read more

Since 1999, audiences at Davies Symphony Hall have got to know a variety of MTT’s compositions, including his Three Songs to Poems by Walt Whitman (premiered in 1999 with baritone Thomas Hampson), his Poems of Emily Dickinson (performed in 2002 with soprano Renée Fleming), his Urban Legend (a concerto for contrabassoon and orchestra, introduced with the San Francisco Symphony’s contrabassoonist, Steven Braunstein, as soloist), his percussion-rich Island Music (which the San Francisco Symphony presented in 2005), and Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind, which received its West Coast premiere with soprano Measha Brueggergosman and the SFS in June 2017. From the Diary of Anne Frank, his dramatic work for narrator and orchestra, was performed in fall 2018 with Isabel Leonard as narrator. In June 2020, SFS Media will release an album of MTT’s compositions, recorded live in performances by the San Francisco Symphony.

Performances take place at Davies Symphony Hall on 9, 10, 11 and 12 January 2020, and also feature Berlioz Overture to Benvenuto Cellini, Mahler Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and Ravel La Valse. Meditations on Rilke will be recorded for future release on the SFS Media label.

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