john Corigliano, the circus and bob dylan

This Saturday ‘Art and About’ and The Sydney Conservatorium of Music present the Australian premiere of a heart racing 3-dimensional theatrical piece by John Corigliano. ‘Circus Maximus’ takes its name from Rome’s colossal out-door theatre where hundreds of thousands of its citizens came to be entertained by the spectacle of its games.  Corigliano draws a connection between  the ethos at the time of the Romans and that which prevails now:  “Circus Maximus is a parable of our time. Just as in ancient Rome, the Circus Maximus entertained people while civilization around them started to fall, so, in our time, do our iPods, computers, TV, films and PlayStations distract us from the serious changes in the world around us. The technology that brought us all this entertainment also brought us a suitcase bomb that can level a city. ….. Circus Maximus both celebrates and warns of the future”.  

Performing this monumental work written solely for wind, brass and percussion, will be the students of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Wind Symphony and the Australian Army Band, all conducted by Steve Williams. The work is in 8 movements, played  without a break by various configurations of instruments positioned around  the newly refurbished Town Hall Auditorium. Eleven trumpeters on stage, percussion, a saxophone quartet  on high, a marching band, and a third  movement mysteriously called ‘Channel Surfing’ are all elements of this innovative masterpiece.

John Corigliano was born in 1938. A New Yorker, he is considered one of the most important of contemporary symphonists. His Symphony No 1 won a Grawemeyer Award for composition and his Symphony No 2, the Pulitzer Prize in music. Corigliano has also won three Grammys and an Oscar (for his score to The Red Violin). Circus Maximus, subtitled Symphony No 3 was composed in 2004 for the University of Texas at Austin Wind Ensemble. It received its New York premiere in 2005 at Carnegie Hall.

The G Schirmer website quotes comments by Corigliano which adds perspective: ” Circus Maximus” is my first work specifically written for concert band. Attending a band concert…. I find exhilarating. For starters, the repertoire of band music is largely contemporary. As a result the audiences expect and look forward to new works. Listening in an environment largely ignored by the press, they learn to trust their own ears and respond directly to what they hear. Most important of all, concert bands devote large amounts of rehearsal time over a period of weeks – not days – to learning thoroughly the most challenging of scores. With its combination of new notations and spatial challenges  demanding an intricate coordination of a large work, Circus Maximus could only have been attempted under such special circumstances”.

In the first half of the concert, soprano Alison Morgan will take to the stage with an ensemble conducted by Daryl Pratt to perform Corigliano’s Mr Tambourine Man: Seven poems of Bob Dylan. for orchestra and amplified soprano. Corigliano set Dylan’s texts to music, completely naive of Dylan’s music. Morgan says “Corigliano’s upbringing was so purely classical (his father was concert master of the New York Philharmonic), that he had never heard the music of Dylan. The music treads a fine line between the classical and music theatre. Vocally, it requires the singer to move from the quietest whisper, through more plaintive moments, to a full blown fortissimo’.

Also in the first part of the concert, Conservatorium Master’s graduate Grace Lee will climb the steps to the organ gallery to perform Graham Koehne’s Gothic Toccata  and the Conservatorium Open Academy’s Rising Star, 13 year old York Yu will play Liszt’s piano transcription of Paganini’s La Campanella.

 Tickets: $25–$30, Friends of The Con $20, Students/children $10 Bookings: 8256 2222 or 1300 797 118

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