Berkeley Symphony, led by Music Director Joana Carneiro, will play Berkeley composer Paul Dresher’s Cornucopia, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Five Images After Sappho, featuring artist-in-residence, soprano Jessica Rivera; and Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the “Eroica,” tonight (Thursday, Feb. 11) at Zellerbach Hall on the UC campus. At 7:10, Carneiro and Dresher will hold an onstage conversation about his music, free to concert ticketholders.
Jessica Rivera spoke about being “reunited, working together” with Carneiro, whom she first met several years ago when singing Berkeley composer John Adams’ opera, The Flowering Tree in Vienna, with Carneiro assisting Adams at the podium.
“She just has a quality about her that makes me feel very comfortable,” said Rivera of Carneiro, whom she called a very close friend. “She has a beautiful soul; she appreciates beautiful things.”
Working with Carneiro, Rivera found the conductor—who studied medicine—“can see the symptoms and make an instant diagnosis. She has an innate sense that brings light to the music, helping me to make it the best.”
Rivera continued, “She has a way of exacting musical ideas, maintaining the musical integrity of the piece—not just beating time, as some conductors unfortunately do, but of giving a sense of where we’re going, rhythm-wise, being precise without giving less to the music in its ideas, its intangible qualities.”
Speaking of Salonen, whom Carneiro worked with as assistant conductor when he led the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Rivera said, “I grew up in L.A., and would sit in the balcony at the Philharmonic when I was in college. I brought my binoculars! I admit I was a little overwhelmed the first time I worked with him. I’d admired him from afar! I sang Eve in The Creation at the second concert for the inauguration of Disney Hall. And down the street from Disney, I sang in the Mozart Requiem. He makes incredibly musical, thoughtful expressions, especially good for a young singer.”
Rivera compared Carneiro with Salonen, whom Carneiro has called her mentor: “I can see his influence in her conducting. She communicates very clearly, concisely. Both can communicate verb-ally, which is wonderful for singers.”
The singer also remembered Carneiro suggesting to her, when she had “memorization challenges, getting off book, problems with counting beats off the bar” with a part of Adams’ music, “It’s not tonal, so think of it like this ... ,” helping to resolve the issue for a singer who “studied classical voice; Mozart and Puccini ... I can be a rule-oriented person, but like a challenge I can wrap my mind around. Contemporary music gives us the opportunity to express on an even deeper level what music is there to do.”
She continued, with a reference to one of the Sapphic “images” in Salonen’s piece, “The Evening Star, a duet I have with English horn. What makes my part different is that I have words ... Why do composers choose to put in a chorus, like Beethoven did in the Ninth Symphony? He had a message to communicate. It’s not that music wasn’t enough, but the words express it more succinctly, giving the opportunity to express the music itself that much more.”
“Music’s obviously the universal language,” Rivera went on, “It can evoke the same emotions in Africa as it does in Canada. It has the ability to move, in ways you don’t understand. Maybe that’s why words can be used, to help you understand why.”
Rivera will sing Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville, Summer of 1916,” (with lyrics from A DEATH IN THE FAMILY by James Agee) when Carneiro conducts the Symphony on April First, a program that will include Jorg Widmann’s “Con brio” and Brahms’ Symphony no. 1.
Berkeley Symphony, conducted by Joana Carneiro, plays the music of Paul Dresher, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Beethoven, featuring artist-in-residence, soprano Jessica Rivera, tonight (Thursday, Feb. 11) at 8 p.m.,
preceded by a conversation between Carneiro and Dresher at 7:10 p.m. Zellerbach Hall,
UC campus. $20–$60. 841-2100.