Megaphones Up, the Philharmonic Opens With Two Young Voices

Conrad Tao
The New York Times

The New York Philharmonic’s declaration of its new-music bona fides this season is so emphatic, it’s being delivered with megaphones. 
In Ashley Fure’s “Filament,” which has its premiere on Thursday in the Philharmonic’s season-opening gala — the first under its new music director, Jaap van Zweden — singers are spread throughout David Geffen Hall, armed with bespoke megaphones that create body-shaking sounds.
 It speaks volumes that the Philharmonic has handed such a prominent platform to Ms. Fure, a 36-year-old composer making a brazen debut with the orchestra (and bringing in guest artists more often associated with the avant-garde than with Lincoln Center). It says even more that another premiere comes just a week later, with Conrad Tao’s “Everything Must Go.” 
Mr. Tao, 24, has long been admired by Mr. van Zweden, who commissioned works from him as music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Hong Kong Philharmonic. (“It’s actually how I kind of learned to write for orchestra,” Mr. Tao said in an interview of those earlier pieces, which he worked on when he was as young as 17.) Mr. van Zweden hasn’t worked with Ms. Fure before, but he has warmed to the idiosyncratic demands of her music.

Writing a segue to Bruckner

“Everything Must Go” is a curtain raiser for Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony — in fact, the symphony will follow the new piece without pause. That transition, or lack thereof, was decided before Mr. Tao got the commission. Indeed, he says he didn’t really know Bruckner’s music before the Philharmonic tapped him.
But Mr. Tao’s new work does lead naturally into the Bruckner. Listen to the end of “Everything Must Go”:
“I learned to really appreciate Bruckner,” Mr. Tao said, adding that living with the 19th-century Austrian composer’s notoriously divisive music changed the way he listens to it. Bruckner’s massive orchestras have sheer sonic force. Mr. Tao nearly matches that with his largest-scale orchestral work yet. “It could be bigger: I didn’t include any Wagner tubas,” he said with a laugh. “But the three harps push it over the edge.”
“Everything Must Go” isn’t melodically entwined with the Bruckner; it could stand on its own. Mr. Tao said that the similarities between the two are less overt references and “more of a vibe.” The clearer homage is to French overtures, with dotted-note rhythms at the start. But the sound of those opening measures begins to change, continuing to transform throughout the rest of the piece. As Mr. Tao describes it in his program note, “The sound mass leaves behind tendrils and residue as it gains and loses appendages, writhes and delights in its own possibilities.”

Mr. Tao will return to Bruckner on Sept. 28 as part of Nightcap, a new Philharmonic series of late-night concerts hosted by the violist Nadia Sirota at the Kaplan Penthouse. The only direction he received was for his program to be related to the orchestra’s, so he decided to take inspiration from the religious, ritualistic aspects of Bruckner’s music, with guests including the choreographer and tap dancer Caleb Teicher. What arose from that? With a straight face, Mr. Tao said: “a Bruckner motet for piano and tap dance.”
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