Blogging VOX

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Julian Wachner



[Ed. Note: To guide us through this year’s VOX readings of new American opera presented by New York City Opera at NYU’s Skirball Center, we asked one of this year’s participants to give us the inside scoop. We were particularly lucky in finding Julian Wachner. He is not only one of the composers having selections from his opera featured this weekend (Evangeline Revisited). He will also conduct two of the other works (With Blood, With Ink by Daniel Crozier and Zolle by Du Yun), plus he is serving as a panelist for one of the pre-concert discussions. Equally active as a composer and conductor in both the United States and Canada, Julian is music director of The Washington Chorus and associate professor of music at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Montréal, Québec, where he also serves as principal conductor of Opera McGill. A disc of his choral music was just released on Naxos American Classics.—FJO]



Well here we are: the opening day of VOX at New York City Opera and the sun is shining, the pollen count is high, and the anticipation of the weekend’s events permeates the city scene. I’ve been staying in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn where Verizon managed to not provide internet to entire blocks of houses for the last 4 weeks (!) so this first blog comes a few days later than I had originally planned!! (I thought Verizon was only a disaster in Washington D.C.) I’ll be sharing my thoughts all weekend as we discover ten new operas and enter the eclectic scene that is the merging of downtown-opera-academy-practical-impractical-dissonant-static-postminimal-post whatever-neo this and that-etc. Maybe we just leave it as an incredible eclectic scene…

The ten works being featured in this festival/laboratory are a beautiful snapshot of what’s going on today in contemporary opera and it’s been a wild ride to be a part of this voyage both as a conductor and as a composer participant.

As a conductor, I’ve been assigned the two extremes of the stylistic pendulum with the ultra cool Zolle by Du Yun and the lusciously rhapsodic With Blood, with Ink by Daniel Crozier. City Opera couldn’t have thought of a better combination of conducting assignments, and I have to literally become two different artists to properly direct these two pieces. In fact, we were thinking of a conductor-costume-change for the two pieces, as Du Yun’s works screams out for some sort of Roger Norrington all-white/barefoot/linen/Eastern-influenced get up – no baton for her, either. We’ll see how adventurous we get.

These past two weeks have been a sort of homecoming for me: living in Brooklyn again, commuting to the Upper West Side, and then hanging out in Greenwich Village, working just south of Washington Square Park (the scene of countless high school indiscretions), seeing so many of my Packer Collegiate friends, Boston University alums, Tanglewood colleagues and a couple of former choirboys from my days at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue. And how wild to have gone to the Feldenkrais Institute on West 26th Street with my mother on Wednesday and have the teacher in the class take one look at my mom and say, “I received my first lesson in Feldenkrais from you at Tanglewood.” And then turn to me and say, “And I heard my first Shostakovich symphony in your living room.” This stuff ONLY seems to happen in NYC.

And although being in my old home town always makes me feel like a teenager again, this time I’m here as a seasoned professional conducting the City Opera Orchestra and I seem to be representing the mid-career bunch of composers in this festival. How did that happen?!!! When, at the opening reception last week I saw composer Missy Mazzoli (who has taken New York by storm) and she reminded me that she had been my student at Tanglewood 12 years ago, I suddenly felt no longer to be the young composer in the pack (as I usually do hanging out with my senior colleagues at McGill University etc..) but had this strange feeling that I belonged to an actual generation of composers born between 1965 and 1975 and that our world was very different from the current Nico Muhly, Mazzoli and David Little paradigm. No cool ensemble/band/group with ultra interesting name for me yet…and no self-production…maybe I should start that up?…maybe I will…looks fun…

And speaking of former teachers, last night I had the most incredible meal cooked up by Cornelia Foss, my dear friend and mentor Lukas’ widow. Son Christopher was there as well as the usual assortment of assembled New York intelligentsia and conversation floated from Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackson Pollock, Klimt, and Otto Dix to memories of Lukas’s famed excoriation of Bartok’s original ending of the Concerto for Orchestra.

So today: meetings and final touch up rehearsals, panel discussion, conducting Zolle and With Blood with Ink

Will write more late tonight…

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