by Maggie Stapleton

The Seattle Youth Symphony will be the kickoff performers for the League of American Orchestras Conference in June, right here in Seattle!  With this HUGE performance opportunity was also the special request of a 20th or 21st century piece, and immediately SYSO Music Director Stephen Rogers Radcliffe thought of Aaron Jay KernisDreamsongs and cellist Joshua Roman.

Joshua Roman, cello

Cellist Joshua Roman.

To date, SYSO is only the fourth orchestra in the world to perform Dreamsongs with Joshua.  The world premiere was last April with the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra followed by performances with the Bellingham Festival of Music (West Coast Premiere) and the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, all of whom were part of the commissioning project.

The genesis of Dreamsongs is personal and heartwarming, as it was written specifically for Joshua.  Aaron and Joshua came to know each other several years ago when Joshua was principal cellist of the Seattle Symphony.  Together, for a donor event, they performed Kernis’ “Air” for cello and piano.  Joshua also recorded his “Ballad,” a piece for 8 cellos, all eight parts recorded by Joshua himself!  These projects paved the way for a bigger composer-performer collaboration, which took shape as a cello concerto.

Here’s a special sneak preview of Dreamsongs, with excerpts courtesy of the West Coast Premiere with the Bellingham Festival of Music under the direction of Michael Palmer:

Joshua says it was an “eye opening experience” working with Aaron – “he’s very good at finding what his voice wants to say and articulating that with notes.”  Living on the same block in New York City made the process all the more personal and fun –  Aaron would e-mail PDFs of the concerto or send Joshua a text when new edits were ready, and if he was in town they’d get together and play/talk through it, maybe make some small adjustments.

Is SYSO excited about the opportunity to work on this piece?  Absolutely!  However, with the excitement, the students recognize the difficulty of the piece (it’s “grown-up music,” says Radcliffe!), but also see the rewards of being part of the creative process, not just reproducing music that’s been around for generations.  Stephen says the students are responsible for being champions of the music of their own time and they’re the ones that will be setting the roles for future orchestras.

Performances of this piece will take place:

Sunday, May 11, 3pm at Benaroya Hall (SYSO concert)
Wednesday, June 4, 3:45 pm at Benaroya Hall (League of American Orchestras conference opener)

To hear the full conversation with Joshua Roman and Stephen Rogers Radcliffe, listen below!

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