Friday, October 28, 2011

Composer Kevin Puts Will Debut His First Opera in Minnesota

Composer Kevin Puts
(Photo: Gregory Downer/Opera News)
"When Dale Johnson, artistic director of Minnesota Opera, saw Joyeux Noël, Christian Carion's 2005 film inspired by this true story, he immediately sensed in it the makings of a powerful opera. 'I was so moved by it. The singing of 'Silent Night,' the image of Sprink carrying the Christmas tree, the three lieutenants' struggle with the orders from their commanders [to resume fighting], their struggle with themselves as human beings.... Here are these young guys stuck in this horrible situation. How are they going to deal with it?' Joyeux Noël focuses on the lieutenants, the priest and the German singer and his love interest, all of whose lives are irrevocably changed by the unofficial truce. 'It felt like a very classical opera plot. They're all trying to live their lives, and there's this huge story going on around them that they can't control, and that they're being buffeted by.' The film has many potent visual images, and Johnson felt music could be used to create equivalent effects. So he knew he wanted a composer who was 'a really strong orchestral writer.' Johnson wanted a fresh voice and contacted music publisher Bill Holab to ask, ''Who's interesting? Who's got a real point of view?' And Bill sent me Kevin Puts, plus several other extraordinary young people. I was listening to Kevin's Second Symphony, and I started crying — it was so beautiful. The next day I told [Minnesota Opera's then President and CEO] Kevin Smith, 'I think I have the guy for Joyeux Noël.' He listened and agreed.' However, though Puts (Puts as in
Conductor Michael Christie
(Photo: Krista Campbell)
'Johnson puts his money where his mouth is') had written a great deal of extraordinary orchestral work, including four symphonies and numerous concertos, he had never written an opera. In fact, the composer, who is thirty-nine, had written only one piece of vocal music — Einstein on Mercer Street, a work for baritone and chamber ensemble. Still, Johnson believed in him. 'I knew he had it in him. I knew he knew how to create tension and develop a piece of music — really develop it to a climax and finish it — and that's a rare commodity.' So, like that German singer on the battlefield, Johnson took a leap of faith and offered Puts the commission." [Source] Read the whole story, including a funny anecdote about troubleshooting a bagpipe during composition, at Opera News. The Minnesota Opera will perform Silent Night on November 12, 15, 17, 19 and 20, 2011. The cast includes William Burden, Joseph Beutel, Liam Bonner, Troy Cook, Ben Wager and Karin Wolverton. Michael Christie will conduct. A full biography for composer Kevin Puts is after the jump. For more information about the opera, click here.

One of the reasons the Dale Johnson may have felt the film was worthy of becoming an opera, was the fact that the soundtrack heavily featured soprano Natalie Dessay and tenor Rolando Villazón. Listen to clips from the film to hear the extraordinary use of music to touch the hearts of so many film goers. A trailer of the film follows.

Described by The New York Times as "exhilarating and compelling," the music of Kevin Puts has been commissioned and performed by leading orchestras, ensembles and soloists throughout North America, Europe and the Far East. Known for his distinctive and richly colored musical voice, Mr. Puts has received many of today’s most prestigious honors and awards for composition. An early boost to his career came in 1996 when Mr. Puts was named Composer-in-Residence of Young Concert Artists and composed several critically acclaimed works including Canyon, Ritual Protocol and the trio And Legions Will Rise for marimbist Makoto Nakura, as well as Alternating Current for pianist Jeremy Denk. During the same year he was invited by Barry Jekowsky, founder and Music Director of the California Symphony, to become the orchestra's third Young American Composer-in-Residence from 1996-1999, a period which culminated in the creation of his Symphony No. 1. Other important early commissions came from the New York Youth Symphony which premiered his Concerto for Everyone at Carnegie Hall in 1999, and the Vermont Symphony and Ensemble Kobe (Japan) which co-commissioned Marimba Concerto featuring Makoto Nakura.

Since then, Mr. Puts has created a sizable body of works for orchestra which includes four symphonies and several concertos. In April 2008, Jeffrey Kahane and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra gave the premiere of Night, a piano concerto commissioned through the LACO’s Sound Investment program. Mr. Puts has since begun performing the work himself, first appearing as soloist during the summer of 2010 with Marin Alsop conducting the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra. His Clarinet Concerto, commissioned by Kathryn Gould, was written for Bil Jackson, who premiered the work with the Colorado Symphony under Jeffrey Kahane in 2009 and played the work again in August 2010 with the Aspen Chamber Orchestra led by Josep Caballe-Domenech. As the Composer-in-Residence for the Fort Worth Symphony, Mr. Puts wrote a violin concerto for concertmaster Michael Shih, which was given its premiere in April 2007 with Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducting. Mr. Puts was selected as the 2007 American Composer-in-Residence for the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, where his Two Mountain Scenes was premiered by the New York Philharmonic. The summer of 2007 also saw the premiere of Mr. Puts’ Symphony No. 4: From Mission San Juan by the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, conducted by Marin Alsop.

Mr. Puts’ 2005–2006 season included the premieres of three major orchestral works: Percussion Concerto for Orange County’s Pacific Symphony and the Utah Symphony, premiered by Evelyn Glennie and performed again at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music; Sinfonia Concertante for five solo instruments and orchestra for the Minnesota Orchestra; and a cello concerto, Vision, commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival and performed by Yo-Yo Ma in honor of David Zinman’s 70th birthday.

Other orchestral commissions have included River’s Rush for the Saint Louis Symphony and Leonard Slatkin for the opening celebration of the orchestra’s 125th anniversary season in 2004. Commissioned by Kathryn Gould and Meet the Composer through the "Magnum Opus" project, Symphony No. 3, “Vespertine” was premiered by the Marin Symphony Orchestra in May 2004. The work was subsequently performed by the Santa Rosa Symphony, the New World Symphony, Memphis Symphony, the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. The Atlanta Symphony commissioned and premiered …this noble company in 2003. Falling Dream was commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra/BMI Foundation for a premiere at the 25th Anniversary Concert of the American Composers Orchestra in 2002 with conductor Dennis Russell Davies at Carnegie Hall. Symphony No. 2, for which Mr. Puts was commissioned as winner of the Barlow International Orchestra Competition, was premiered by the Cincinnati Symphony under Paavo Järvi in 2002 and later performed by the Utah Symphony under Keith Lockhart and at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz, conducted by Marin Alsop. Millennium Canons, commissioned by the Institute for American Music, was premiered by The Boston Pops and conductor Keith Lockhart in 2001 and has received multiple performances across the United States.

Recent chamber music projects have included Credo, commissioned by Chamber Music Monterey Bay for the Miro Quartet and continues to perform the work widely across the United States and abroad. In 2008, the string sextet Concertante commissioned and premiered Arcana; The Eroica Trio premiered Trio-Sinfonia, a work commissioned by Music Accord in 2007, and continues to perform the work widely; Four Airs, commissioned by the Music from Angel Fire Festival in 2004, was premiered by Tara Helen O’Connor, flute; Bil Jackson, clarinet; Ida Kavafian, violin; Andres Diaz, cello; and the composer on piano. Three Nocturnes was commissioned and premiered by the Verdehr Trio in 2004. The University of Texas Wind Ensemble commissioned Mr. Puts’ first work for winds, Chorus of Light, and premiered the piece with Jerry Junkin conducting in 2003. Summer 2002 saw the premiere of Einstein on Mercer Street, commissioned by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and premiered by bass-baritone Timothy Jones with Kevin Noe conducting.

In 2009, Mr. Puts began work with librettist Mark Campbell on Silent Night, an opera commissioned by Minnesota Opera and based on the 2005 film Joyeux Noël. The work will receive its premiere at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, St. Paul, Minnesota in November 2011. Recordings of Mr. Puts’ work include the Naxos/Longhorn Records release of Credo by the Miro Quartet, the New Dynamics Records release of Einstein on Mercer Street featuring bass-baritone Timothy Jones and the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble conducted by Kevin Noe, and both Violin Concerto and Symphony No. 3, released by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra under its own label. Inspiring Beethoven, featuring the Bowling Green Philharmonia, has been released by Albany Records. Dark Vigil, commissioned and premiered by the Ying Quartet, is featured on the Quartet’s CD Life Music on the Quartz Music label. Ritual Protocol, Canyon and And Legions Will Rise, featuring marimbist Makoto Nakura, are available on the Kleos Classics/Helicon label.

Mr. Puts’ honors include the 2003 Benjamin H. Danks Award for Excellence in Orchestral Composition of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a 2001 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, a 2001-2002 Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, and the 1999 Barlow International Prize for Orchestral Music. While an undergraduate at the Eastman School of Music, Puts was awarded a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the BMI 2001 Carlos Surinach Fund Commission, BMI’s 1998 William Schuman Prize, three student composer awards from BMI, as well as several grants from ASCAP. A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Mr. Puts received his Bachelor’s Degree from the Eastman School of Music, where his principal instructors were Samuel Adler and Joseph Schwantner. He received his Master’s Degree from Yale University, where he studied with Jacob Druckman, Martin Bresnick and David Lang. Mr. Puts earned a Doctor of Musical Arts at the Eastman School of Music, studying composition with Christopher Rouse and piano with Nelita True. From 1999 to 2005, he taught composition at The University of Texas at Austin. Since 2006, he has been a member of the Composition Faculty at the Peabody Institute.

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