Mythic work; epic performance
The University Musical Society (UMS) presents a concert performance of Darius Milhaud’s Oresteia of Aeschylus (aka Oresteian Trilogy) on Thursday, April 4 at 7:30 pm in Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium (825 North University Avenue). This concert is a collaboration between UMS and the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD). The epic work has only been performed in its entirety a few times anywhere in the world since the final section was completed in 1922 (the first section was finished in 1913, the same year that Hill Auditorium opened).
Utilizing over 450 performers from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and the UMS Choral Union, Kenneth Kiesler conducts this large-scale work, performed in French with English surtitles. Based on a trilogy by Aeschylus, the work relates the bloody chain of murder and revenge within the royal family of Argos through three movements entitled L’Agamemnon, Les Choéphores, and Les Euménides. The concert will be recorded live for international release by Naxos, the first full-length recording of the Trilogy in the composition’s 90-year history. The last time UMS and SMTD collaborated on a recording was in 2004 with William Bolcom’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, which went on to win four Grammy Awards in 2006.
This concert is especially resonant in Hill Auditorium’s centennial season, as it celebrates 100 years of collaboration between UMS and the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
ABOUT THE WORK
“The Trilogy” is what Milhaud thought was his greatest work,” says conductor Kenneth Kiesler. “One of the important things about the project is the scope of it, because the number of people singing and the number of people playing, along with the fact that, as far as we know, it’s never been performed in the United States or North America.”
Based on the plays by Aeschylus — the only trilogy in Greek drama to have survived from antiquity — Oresteia is a quintessentially modern piece based on an ancient text. Milhaud was asked to write the music by his friend, the poet and diplomat Paul Claudel, who translated the drama from Greek to French. Milhaud, one of the most prolific and experimental of 20th century composers, was an early and ardent fan of jazz and quick to incorporate the emerging genre into his own work.
“It’s monumental, exciting, and interesting,” says Jerry Blackstone, who serves as chorus master for the 350 singers participating in the event. “It’s very dramatic, intense, brilliant writing.”
Bringing The Trilogy to the stage of Hill Auditorium has been 10 years in the making. The driving force behind the effort has been William Bolcom, U-M professor emeritus of composition, who, after a few years as Milhaud’s student in the late 1950s, remained a close friend of the composer’s until Milhaud’s death in 1974. When, as a student, Bolcom was introduced to the Trilogy, he knew he was encountering something remarkable: “It absolutely knocked me over,” he said. “It has a certain kind of savagery, which is straight out the Aeschylus.” Bolcom vowed to himself that he would someday arrange for a performance of the work. With the success of the performances and CD of his Songs of Innocence and of Experience, he was emboldened to have the work performed by the student musicians of U-M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
Of the 450 musicians who will be performing Oresteia of Aeschylus, roughly 280 of them are students in SMTD’s University Symphony Orchestra, Percussion Ensemble, University Choir, Chamber Choir, and the Orpheus Singers. (The 350-voice choir is completed by the UMS Choral Union, made up of both community and student members). With rehearsals that have been unfolding since November 2012, students will have clocked over 100 hours of rehearsal time to get inside of this difficult piece and build the stamina required to perform it. UMS will be chronicling student experiences as they navigate the artistic process for Oresteia of Aeschylus on a blog at umsLOBBY.org starting in early March. Students will act as guest bloggers, providing an “inside look” at what it takes to pull off an event of this magnitude.
Incorporating whips and hammers into the orchestration, long percussive sections featuring nearly 20 different instruments, and a chorus that’s required to groan, whistle, and shriek, The Oresteian Trilogy offers an exciting challenge for the performers, all of whom are on stage for the entire concert, with the orchestra playing nearly every second. “It’s hard, but not impossible,” said Bolcom. “It has a very strong musical personality. It’s full of some pretty challenging things.”
A HISTORIC CELEBRATION: HILL 100
The 2012-13 season marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most storied venues in the United States: Hill Auditorium. Designed by Albert Kahn and graced with world-renowned acoustics, Hill has been an anchor venue for UMS, the University of Michigan, and the Ann Arbor community since 1913.
UMS & U-M SCHOOL OF MUSIC, THEATRE & DANCE
In 1880, University of Michigan Latin instructor and noted organist Dr. Henry Simmons Frieze was appointed by U-M regents to oversee a School of Music, which opened in 1891. In 1879, Dr. Frieze conducted a performance of Handel’s Messiah by community members and students from the School of Music. A legacy of that 1879 concert was the founding of the University Musical Society with Dr. Frieze at its helm as president. The School of Music gained accreditation by the University in the 1920s.
In 1929, U-M regents incorporated the School of Music into the University. This merger took about a decade to complete; the University Musical Society oversaw operations of the School of Music until 1940, when the University of Michigan assumed complete oversight of the program. In 2006, after the Department of Theatre & Drama and the Department of Dance were merged with the School of Music, it officially became the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. It is now ranked as one of the country’s top four performing arts schools.
Funded in part by: Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs
Media Partner: WGTE 91.3 FM
Conductor Kenneth Kiesler is the director of University Orchestras and Professor of Conducting at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance
Chorus master Jerry Blackstone is director of choral activities, Professor and Chair of Conducting at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance and Conductor and Music Director of the UMS Choral Union
More Information: ums.org