2015 Composer Institute Participants With Osmo Vänskä & Kevin Puts — Image via facebook.com/minnesotaorchestra

Future Classics 2015

Minnesota Orchestra Conducted by Osmo Vänskä

Friday night’s Future Classics concert by the Minnesota Orchestra marked the welcome resumption of a tradition that was suspended for two years by the orchestra’s 16-month lockout. As the culminating event of the annual weeklong Composer Institute, Future Classics gives a select group of budding young composers an opportunity to have their work performed by a professional orchestra and heard by an audience of well over a thousand curious listeners.

This year’s concert featured the seven composers who were originally on deck to participate in the 2013 edition. Given the delay, it was not surprising to learn that six of the pieces on the program had already received world premieres elsewhere. That being said, most had only been played by part-time or student orchestras, and some were revised for this performance, so these were still premieres in several respects. In general, the program of Friday’s concert seemed to progress from more conceptual and challenging works at the beginning toward more straightforward and accessible works at the end. It was, however, a fairly narrow range; none of these works were forbiddingly inscrutable, and none could be classified as easy listening.

Eugene Birman — Image via minnesotaorchestra.orgKati Agócs — Image via minnesotaorchestra.orgLoren Loiacono — Image via minnesotaorchestra.orgTexu Kim — Image via minnesotaorchestra.orgThe concert opened with Kati Agócs’s Perpetual Summer, a sort of updated concerto grosso featuring a concertino group of the principal string players and an amplified harpsichord in a dense and shifting dialogue with the rest of the orchestra. Next came Eugene Birman’s Manifesto, a brass- and percussion-heavy piece that proved to be the toughest nut to crack on the program. Texu Kim’s more playful Splash! followed, opening with sounds inspired by the bursting of water balloons and progressively evoking many other water-related images. The first half ended with Loren Loiacono’s Stalks, Hounds, another quirky and fun piece in which a fragment of Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, filtered through its use of one of Loiacono’s favorite childhood computer games, underwent several rounds of gentle processing.

Evan Meier — Image via minnesotaorchestra.orgMatthew Peterson — Image via minnesotaorchestra.orgMichael Schachter — Image via minnesotaorchestra.orgAfter the intermission came Evan Meier’s Fire Music. Meier has composed several operas, and his dramatic instincts were clearly on display in this piece, in which each part of the orchestra had an opportunity to contribute its voice to the ignition, spreading, and dying down of a figurative fire. Next came Matthew Peterson’s Hyperborea, a cinematic-sounding piece full of sweeping gestures, which seemed to attract the most vigorous applause of the evening. (Granted, it probably didn’t hurt that Peterson, a graduate of St. Olaf College, presumably had some local fans in the house.) The concert ended with Michael Schachter’s Freylekhe Tanzen, a piece that weaved two klezmer dances — a slow zhok leading into a fast freylekh — into accessible orchestral textures.

Future Classics is, of course, an out-of-the-ordinary event for the Minnesota Orchestra, which normally plays standard orchestral repertoire peppered with occasional contemporary works by established composers. And while the Composer Institute in its current form does a huge service to its participants, as well as listeners who are interested in hearing what the next generation of composers is up to, I can’t help wanting to challenge the orchestra to take things a step further. What if, after every Future Classics concert, the audience was asked to vote on its favorite two or three pieces, which would then be incorporated into regular subscription concerts the following season? Maybe audiences would be more open-minded about new works if they knew that these pieces had been chosen by regular listeners like themselves. In any case, putting these pieces in the context of more familiar works would be a big step forward in deciding whether, and where, they fit into an ever-evolving repertoire.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.