Tuesday, July 18, 2006

 

Commissioning "The Greater Good"

Stewart Robertson: Music Director / Conductor

I’ve known some of Stephen Hartke’s (composer) music for over twenty years, particularly his orchestra piece Pacific Rim. I thought his was a very original voice. Since my first encounter with the work, first hearing it and then conducting it myself, I have been following his music. When it came time to commission a piece for Glimmerglass, I wanted a piece that would satisfy both audiences and musicians alike. In general, I feel that much of contemporary American opera is very conservative in style, and lacks the musical substance that earns respect from musicians. Stephen is a composer whose music has both compositional integrity and a unique style. I had a few conversations with the folks at the Howard Hanson fund at Eastman. They were already awarding Stephen a commission for a new work. It wasn’t quite large enough for an operatic commission, but we decided that we could find funds to make it a suitable amount. One thing led to another and Stephen received the commission.

While Stephen was working on the piece we had a few sessions where he would come out and play what he had written so far. This was not only for myself, because I could read the score, but for my colleagues as well. It was particularly helpful for the design and technical teams. He would try and approximate what he had written for the orchestra on the piano while singing the vocal lines. They were quite entertaining days, actually, since much of the music is for soprano! We began receiving the score in pieces as it was written. The final pages arrived very much at the eleventh hour. We got the last chunk of music towards the end of May, which was only a few weeks away from the initial rehearsals. It was quite a challenge. One surprise was that the piece ended up being about twenty minutes longer than we initially expected. I’m glad, because the work needs to be that long. The shape of the piece is wonderful. However, in terms of budgeting, I had planned orchestra rehearsals for a shorter piece. Financially speaking, it is too late to add another rehearsal at this point. I now have to steal some of the orchestra time from another production to try and accommodate for the extra length of the opera. That is a bit of a trick. This is a very musically complex piece, but I feel like in the last week the cast, the orchestra, and myself are finally finding a level of comfort with it. I almost hesitate to use the word comfort because this piece is a challenge and will remain one, but I think we’ve finally clicked into the groove.

photo:
1. Stephen Hartke (composer) and Stewart Robertson (conductor) discuss the music during a break from the first Sitzprobe.


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