On Being Read in Cincinnati

I don’t know whether any of you reading out there live in Cincinnati – raise your hand if you do – but by an odd chain of circumstances, I sort of “inherited” the job as program annotator for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra when my friend the previous annotator Jonathan Kramer died a few months ago. This coming weekend marks my premiere in the program guide. For Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3 they’re reusing notes from a previous season, but I wrote this week’s notes for Sibelius’s Kullervo, a mammoth five-movement symphony from 1892 that was his first work based on the Kalevala, and his turn toward an indigenously Finnish musical idiom. Sibelius got nervous about the work and squelched it after a few performances – it wasn’t played in its entirety again until after his death – but I find it one of his most arresting works, more powerful than most of his other early tone poems, and in a league with his late symphonies. However that may be, the concerts are this Friday and Saturday, and you can not only get information at the Cincinnati Symphony’s web page, but even read the program notes in a PDF if you’re so inclined. (I do like the idea of people reading the program notes before the concert rather than during it.) Paavo Järvi, who conducts the orchestra, programs a hefty proportion of new music – among the composers for this season are Erkki-Sven Tüür, Arvo Pärt, Aulis Sallinen, John Adams, Kevin Puts, Jennifer Higdon, Tobias Picker, Edino Krieger, John Corigliano, and Henri Dutilleux. You’ll notice a heavy Scandinavian presence there, and I am indeed learning a lot about Scandinavian music. Admittedly, no Bob Ashley or Glenn Branca yet, but who knows?

It was the Cincinnati Orchestra’s 1930 performance of The Rite of Spring that compelled a 18-year-old Arkansan named Conlon Nancarrow, studying at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory, to decide to become a composer. An auspicious link, I thought.