A Serendipitous World Premiere Story

As a featured work of the October 22 season opener, Caroline Shaw’s piece, “Cantico delle creature,” was brought to ALIAS Artistic Director Zeneba Bowers’ attention by Portara Choral Ensemble’s Executive Director, Lea Maitlen.

Lea Maitlen
Lea Maitlen

How did Shaw’s piece come to your attention?
Maitlen: I became aware of Caroline Shaw during my tenure at Naxos. Her chamber choir work “Partita” was featured on a recording we were going to be distributing in the fall of 2012. I loved the rhythmic complexity and inventiveness of her music. In 2013, when Shaw won the Pulitzer for “Partita”, I visited her website to see what else she had composed. I came across this piece, fell in love with it, and shared it with Zen.
Bowers: I love Lea’s voice, and her taste in music; when I heard a sample of the piece, I thought it was gorgeous. I was also intrigued by the use of viola da gamba (an early Baroque instrument) in the texture of a modern composition.

This piece is a World Premiere, correct?

Zeneba Bowers, Artistic Director
Zeneba Bowers

Bowers: Yes. The piece was originally scored for violin, mezzo soprano and piano. But I noticed on Shaw’s website that she also had a version for harpsichord, viola da gamba, violin and mezzo. So I asked her if we could use a Baroque cello instead of the viola da gamba.

I wanted to put it on the Fall program next to an actual Baroque work, so I asked Caroline Shaw if she could re-write the part for Baroque cello. She in fact revised the whole thing, and now ALIAS will premiere her new piece juxtaposed next to a work written circa 1660. Now it is a World Premiere!

What are the elements about this piece that make it special?
Maitlen: I think the text setting is one of the most special aspects of this piece. The text is a poem written by Francis of Assisi, praising God through elements of nature. The composer has alternated beautiful, operatic melodies with simple chant-like recitatives. The chant sections remind me of a psalm setting in traditional Christian worship, where the text is paramount. There is no rhythm written in the music during those sections, so it is up to me to sing the words as they would be spoken.

Would you say the October 22 concert is one not to be missed?
Maitlen: Of course! I think all ALIAS concerts are not to be missed. ALIAS has the most innovative and fascinating programming in Middle Tennessee, and each concert introduces unknown and worthy musical gems to the people of Nashville. I am glad to be a small part of it.