Acclaimed American composer Adam Schoenberg’s ‘Orchard in Fog’ to premiere in San Diego
When it comes to music, American composer Adam Schoenberg considers what he sees just as important as what he hears.
That’s why when famed violinist Anne Akiko Meyers commissioned him to write a concerto for violin in 2016, he found inspiration in a photograph of an apple orchard in central Massachusetts — in his hometown of New Salem, where he and his wife were married. The picture, a wedding gift from photographer Adam Laipson six years ago, “hangs in our bedroom, and I wake up to it every single day.”
“It’s gorgeous, it’s haunting, it’s beautiful,” Schoenberg, 37, says by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “It was the perfect inspiration to write a love story. It’s totally cliché, but I’m a romantic.”
The music isn’t set to the image, he says. Instead, the photograph created a narrative, and the narrative led to the composition, “Orchard in Fog,” which will make its world premiere Saturday when Meyers and the San Diego Symphony perform it during “Preludes and Premiere,” a Jacobs Masterwork Series concert that will also feature Liszt’s “Les Préludes” and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 82.
“I’m naturally drawn to art,” he says. “I like structures. Growing up, I thought I was going to be an architect. ‘Orchard in Fog’ is a very personal piece, and it is the first time in my life as a composer I set out to compose something with a very specific structure.”
The work, divided into three movements, “tells the story of an aging man visiting the orchard where he was once married many years ago. It is the dead of winter, and he is now weak and tired, and nearing the end of his life,” Schoenberg writes in the “Preludes and Premiere” program notes.
The first movement, “Frail,” represents the present day, and it’s “very slow and atmospheric and the orchestration is thin,” Schoenberg says. “The violin is exposed. It’s much more somber and more melancholic — and it’s 11 minutes of slow music.”
The second movement, on the other hand, “is five minutes of faster music,” he says of “Dancing.” “It’s a memory — the man reminiscing about his youth and young adulthood. It’s a dance movement. … It’s not a club beat, but there is a strong groove. Like electronic music, every eight measures, I’m adding a new elements, so it’s very organic — a new color, a new beat … you want to feel like the energy is constantly moving forward.”
“Farewell Song,” the third and last movement, “gradually brings us back to the present day, and to the orchard where the old man’s journey first began,” Schoenberg explains in the program notes.
“We basically go back six minutes to where we started,” he says. “Structurally, it’s 22 minutes — 360 measures. So we have come full circle.”
“This is his farewell song to his love, and to the life that he has known. It is now time for him to leave everything behind and move into the unknown. … Whereas (the first movement) was more somber in tone, this movement gives us a glimmer of hope and acceptance.”
“Orchard in Fog” — the first world premiere of new music by the San Diego Symphony since the December 2014 performance of David Bruce’s “Fragile Light” violin concerto — has come a long way from that initial conversation with Meyers in 2016. He began working on it in earnest early last year, “and then over the summer, I started to dive in more regularly,” Schoenberg says. “I conceptualized for six to eight months and took three months to write the concert.”
He’ll hear it played by an orchestra for the first time this week during rehearsals, and Schoenberg says he expects to nitpick here and there, asking himself how he can make the piece better. It’s a natural question for Schoenberg, considered by many to be one of the top living American classical composers — high praise he doesn’t take lightly.
“I’m thankful and honored that people respond to my work,” says Schoenberg, whose 2006 work “Finding Rothko” was performed by the San Diego Symphony two years ago. “I’m grateful for the performance opportunities that I’ve had. I’m lucky that, more and more, audiences are more receptive to new kinds of works, because for so long there was this disconnect.”
San Diego Symphony presents “Preludes and Premiere”
With: Sameer Patel, conductor; Anne Akiko Meyers, violin
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10; 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11
Where: Copley Symphony Hall at Jacobs Music Center, 750 B St., downtown
Phone: (619) 235-0804
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