Slatkin, PSO champion Mason Bates’ Violin Concerto

Mason Bates

By Mark Kanny

Lucky are the composers with champions. The world has never been so fair that just writing a good piece is enough to ensure success.

Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers certainly isn‘t alone in understanding the importance of encouraging composers.

“I have always loved working with living composers,” she says. “There‘s such a wealth of information they have you can respect the tradition of composing and saying something new. Music is such a complex language, it really resonates to all different kinds of mind.”

Meyers, principal guest conductor Leonard Slatkin and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will give the world premiere of Mason Bates‘ Violin Concerto on Friday and Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown. The program also includes Joseph Haydn‘s Symphony No. 68 and Camille Saint-Saens‘ Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”)

Bates, 32, is the Pittsburgh Symphony‘s composer of the year for 2012-13, a position he holds concurrently with serving as a resident composer of the Chicago Symphony.

“When John Adams was composer of the year in ‘08-‘09, he told me about Mason and suggested we take a serious look at him both as a composer whose music we should know and play and as a potential composer of the year,” says Bob Moir, the symphony‘s vice president for artistic planning.

Moir then spoke with principal guest conductor Leonard Slatkin, because he had already conducted Bates‘ “Liquid Interface,” and Slatkin called Bates a “terrific young composer.”

In February 2010, while the composer was in Pittsburgh for Slatin-led performances of “Liquid Interface,” Moir began conversations with Bates about becoming composer of the year. The Pittsburgh residency will include a performance of Bates‘ club show “Mercury Soul” in February at Static in the Strip District.

The genesis of Bates‘ Violin Concerto predates the agreement to name him composer of the year in Pittsburgh.

“I‘ve known Mason for several years,” Meyers says. “I‘ve done some concerts where he was the DJ, so I‘ve seen him in action that way. I asked him to write cadenzas in Beethoven‘s Concerto for a performance in Holland, and I always wanted a concerto from him. I thought he would write something dynamic and exciting. A couple of years ago, I really got on his tail, harassing him until he agreed.”

Meyers has commissioned many composers and found they each work in their own way.

“Joseph Schwantner gave me the ending before the beginning. I though it was so interesting. Yet he was very open to suggestions and technical input, as was Mason. We‘d do a lot of discussion via Skype because he was in the (San Francisco) bay area and I was in Texas,” she says.

Bates has performed electronica parts with the symphony in both “Mothership,” which was performed Thanksgiving weekend with Manfred Honeck conducting, and “Liquid Interface.” He decided a different approach to sonorities was needed for his concerto.

“Composers paint with sound, and my sonic palette has been growing rapidly in large-scale symphonies fusing orchestral and electronic sounds,” Bates comments in his program notes. “But the pops, clicks and thuds of techno present challenges in a violin concerto: the subtle textures of this 18-inch instrument would be quickly painted over by the powerful colors of such a big palette. So, in order to fully showcase the violin, I stepped back into the acoustic universe — but with my ears still humming with exotic sounds.”

The score complete, other steps were needed to bring it before an audience.

“The trick with getting any concerto played is to have the support of a great music director who will actually premiere it and be thoroughly involved in the process,” Meyers says. “Leonard Slatkin really leapt at the opportunity. Then, the Pittsburgh Symphony was really interested in being involved, as well.”