Arts Listings

OEBS Premieres Bay Area Composer’s ‘World Concerto for Cello and Orchestra’

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Wednesday January 21, 2009 - 06:59:00 PM

Oakland East Bay Symphony will present the world premiere of Bay Area composer Nolan Gasser’s World Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, also performing Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 3, at 8 p.m. Friday at the Paramount Theater in Oakland.  

Music director Michael Morgan and Bryan Nies will both conduct. Featured soloists for World Concerto are Maya Beiser, cello; Jiebing Chen, erhu; Aruna Narayan Kalle, sarangi; and Bassam Saba, oud. 

Nolan Gasser commented on his composition, a commission from Symphony patron Jim Bell of Bell Investments: “In the beginning, the cello, like a Westerner coming into her own identity, departs on a journey of discovery and self-discovery—like a “Hero’s Journey”—and almost on an airplane, first to China. The other solo instruments are also classical and act as ambassadors, introducing the Westerner to their culture. The instruments solo with the orchestra, join in conversation—joyful, but with moments of tension—then concluding with cooperation, collaboration—and cadenzas for the ambassador instruments like closing salvos.”  

Gasser continued describing this musical journey: “Then off to India, where the narrative continues with the sarangi. Then the oud for the Muslim world. I envision it as sort of a conference call, or like a procession, where it all comes back—and the cello ends the second movement, asking how to proceed now? In the third movement—the movements are like Hegel’s thesis, antithesis and synthesis—the preliminary ideas have been worked out; now is the collaboration, working together, with improvised solos in their own style, a chance to jam awhile. Then all gather together, collaborating collectively, both idiomatic yet in four-part counterpoint—not an easy thing! Then the cello concludes in a fiery ending.” 

Michael Morgan remarked that “Nolan’s piece was so strong, I reordered the concert. We announced, at first, the opposite—and more traditional—order, ending with a symphony. But World Concerto is strong enough to close the concert. So it’ll be Brahms, Copland—and then Gasser.” 

Gasser, who Morgan said he first knew as a pianist “playing jazz at the Bohemian Club—then it turned out he was a composer”—is also a musicologist of medieval and Renaissance music (”where the Major 7ths came from in the birth of Jazz”). Morgan recalled that Jim Bell heard Gasser’s Black Suit Blues about Martin Luther King, which Morgan conducted. Then, on a visit to Santa Rosa Symphony, where all three heard Maya Beiser play, Bell proposed a commissioned piece. “Jim said, ‘How about a cello concerto?’” Gasser remembered, “and it became something appropriate to what Jim’s doing in the real world, this American businessman going around to different countries creating funding with like-minded entrepreneurs, with positive results. Like the way arts were patronized during the Renaissance, it’s back to reflecting the reality of daily life.” 

“Jim and Bonnie Bell have changed the way we do business,” Morgan concurred. “They go out and show other businesses the win-win aspect of supporting the arts so each reinforces the other, not just one giving money to the other.” 

Commenting on the new order of pieces in the program, Morgan said, “It’s become chronologically the old world to the new—Brahms to Gasser. It’s time to do Brahms; we always like something from the standard repertory with a new piece. And we hadn’t done Appalachian Spring—which Brian will conduct—since our first season.” 

New World Concerto right on the heels of an inauguration with speeches—and grand hopes—of change ... “At the time we programmed it, we couldn’t have known,” said Morgan. “It’s turned out extremely well. On Friday night in Oakland [the program will also be performed Saturday at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music], we will play the National Anthem, which isn’t routine.”