Arts Listings

Berkeley Symphony Presents Stucky, Stravinsky, Sibelius

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Thursday December 03, 2009 - 09:06:00 AM

Joana Carneiro will conduct the Berkeley Symphony in Steven Stucky’s Radical Light and Elegy from August 4, 1964, Jean Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony, and Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird Suite (1919 version), tonight (Thursday) at 8 p.m. at Zellerbach Auditorium.  

Carneiro and Stucky will discuss the program beforehand onstage at 7:10 p.m.. 

“Steven Stucky is a mentor, a source of inspiration for me,” said Joana Carneiro. “He served such an important role with the L. A. Philharmonic when I was assistant conductor there. I ask his opinions about new music, which I learn so much about from him. And he knows so much about programming. I’ve conducted his music a few times. And I know he composed Radical White with the thought of Sibelius in mind.” 

Carneiro continued: “I really like Steven’s music in that the way he writes it, his message, is always clear. It’s profoundly emotional. It moves me always, makes me want to move and to dance; it’s written in such a beautiful way. And the architecture of it ... as musicians, we always know what to do with his music, how to perform it. It’s the reason why he’s the mentor to so many young composers, from a craft point of view.” 

“She thinks unusually hard and creatively about programming,” Stucky said of Carneiro. “This particular program is very comfortable for me. Two 20th-century composers I think of as home territory— Stravinsky and Sibelius. Along with Ravel and Bartok, I call them my household gods.” 

Stucky spoke of his inspiration from Sibelius’ Seventh. “When Radical Light was commissioned by the L. A. Philharmonic for a Sibelius retrospective, it was sandwiched between the Fourth and the Seventh, two great masterworks. How would Radical Light comport itself, sitting between them? It seems like an unbroken span, going through a journey without ever turning corners ... somehow, it just keeps going, one long experience of what’s inside it—like a succession of quite varied landscapes, but the land—and a while since I heard it with Sibelius! I’m excited and nervous.” 

Stucky commented on the Elegy From August 4, 1964, “It’s from a big piece, with voices and orchestra, about a little-remembered, quite emblematic and amazing conjunction. On that date, in a little room in the Oval Office, two forces in history passed each other, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war. On that day, the FBI reported to LBJ that three bodies of civil rights workers were found in Mississippi, and LBJ called their families. It was also the date of the so-called second Gulf of Tonkin attack. A forerunner of all that went wrong later—and what went right, in terms of civil rights. August 4 is 70 minutes and very tragic. I stopped it at this point to insert an elegy for all we went through. It’s a kind of stand-alone piece, but it’s never been tried outside the oratorio. It’s another side of my personality, with no connection with Stravinsky or Sibelius. It’s always interesting, though, to see what connections people make. I’m a very strong advocate of people hearing what they want—or for them hearing what they hear! I believe in utter democracy in terms of music.” 

Carneiro has said about the Elegy, “It comes at a moment of reflection in an oratorio, when you feel the pain of the people, how much suffering they went through.” 

Stucky spoke again about Carneiro and her sense of programming. “I talked to Gaby and John [Gabriela Lena Frank and John Adams, whose pieces Carneiro conducted, with Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, in her inaugural concert in October] about that program. I wish I had heard it. The Bartok isn’t abstract; it’s full of actual stuff, steeped in particular places and times. 

“I lived here for six months in 2003, when I held the Ernest Bloch Professorship. With all that orchestras are going through right now, Joana’s the kind of person you need to rally the troops. She’s a real leader, a person full of incredible warmth and energy.” 

On Sunday evening at 7 p.m., Joana Carneiro will conduct members of the Berkeley Symphony in “Under Construction,” which will feature orchestral readings of Bruce Christian Bennett’s Of Memory I; Don Myers’ 1969: In Short, There Is Simply Naught; Patricio da Silva’s Woodstock; and Andy Tan’s A Soldier’s Diary, new works commissioned by the Symphony’s development program, followed by a question-and-answer session with the composers, at St. John’s Presbyterian Church on College Avenue. 


Joana Carneiro conducts the Berkeley Symphony, with works by Steven Stucky, Stravinsky and Sibelius, at 8 p.m. tonight (Thursday, Dec. 3) at Zellerbach Hall. $10–$60. 

On Sunday, Dec. 6 at 7 p. m. Carneiro conducts “Under Construction,” new works, with a question-and-answer session with the composers, St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Ave. $10–$20.