We hear it all the time in the classical music world: the “Three B’s”—Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. But this season the North Corner Chamber Orchestra (NOCCO) is putting a little twist on this old adage.
Their concert this weekend features three bold “B’s” with a little more bite: Bartók, Barber, and Beethoven. And while the program is grounded in the traditional classical canon (ahem, Beethoven), the lineup bends the “B’s” into the 20th century.
NOCCO will be performing Beethoven’s classic First Symphony and Bartók’s neoclassic crowd-favorite, Divertimento for String Orchestra—but the centerpiece of the show is Barber’s 1947 masterwork Knoxville: Summer of 1915, a lush, richly textured work for soprano and orchestra.
The 15-minute lyric rhapsody takes its text from a 1938 short prose piece by author James Agee. Barber’s interpretation of the text paints an idyllic and poignant picture of Agee’s native Knoxville, Tennessee, blurring the lines between dreamy reminiscence and reality.
And to bring the nostalgic dreamland to life, NOCCO has enlisted the talents of New York-based soprano Jamie Jordan, a specialist in contemporary classical music with a strong background in jazz, classical, opera, improvisation, and more.
Second Inversion sat down with Jamie to ask her five questions about Knoxville, contemporary classical, and NOCCO’s upcoming concert.
Second Inversion: What do you think is most unique or inspiring about Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915?
Jamie Jordan: Knoxville is so tremendously moving for me because Barber chose a wonderfully touching, poignant text (by James Agee), and set it to music with utmost sensitivity and great imagination. Barber paints the text through his orchestration, and creates very vivid imagery.
SI: You specialize in contemporary classical music but also have lots of experience with jazz, opera, improvisation, and more. What do you find to be some of the unique challenges and rewards of performing contemporary classical works?
JJ: For me, repertoire written since 1905 is usually most fulfilling. Every piece is an adventure. Understanding the structure, intent and also the great fun of learning pitches and rhythms brings me joy. Collaborating with a composer and bringing their work to life is also extremely meaningful; I have premiered dozens of works so far.
SI: Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations? What composers, artists, or styles of music most influence you?
JJ: My late mentor, Judith Kellock, was a truly great inspiration, beautiful artist and consummate pedagogue. Judy was a student of Jan DeGaetani, who is also someone who I deeply admire, along with her contemporary Cathy Berberian.
There isn’t enough ink or space on the web for me to list all the artists I respect and love. The 1960s were to me one of the greatest decades in music. George Crumb, Berio, Boulez, Copland, Druckman, Feldman, Messiaen, Pousseur, Shostakovich, Stockhausen, Stravinsky, and Xennakis are just a few of the incredible composers that were creating their art. In jazz many of my favorite artists—Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Elvin Jones, Sarah Vaughan…plus Led Zeppelin, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, and many other great bands…It was an unbelievable era. I’ll stop myself.
SI: What are you most looking forward to with this NOCCO performance?
JJ: The opportunity to work with exquisite musicians on this masterwork. Most of the music I perform is chamber music for only a handful of instruments. This piece is very ‘classical’ for me, and it has resonated with me for many years. It is thrilling to sing with a fine chamber orchestra- not something I do very often at this point.
SI: What do you hope audiences will take away from your performance of Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915?
JJ: I hope the audience loves Knoxville: Summer of 1915, and that listeners are transported and touched by this stunning piece.
Performances of NOCCO’s “Three B’s with a Twist” are this Saturday, Feb. 20 at 2 p.m. at University Christian Church in the University District and Sunday, Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. at the Royal Room in Columbia City. For additional information and tickets, visit NOCCO.org.