A Premiere for the State And for the New Conductor
By Brian Wise
New York Times, March 19, 2006
It's an unusual task for any composer: Write a symphonic work that pays homage to New Jersey. But it should also celebrate a new conductor, share a program with Mendelssohn and Shostakovich, justify its expense and serve as an orchestra's single world premiere for an entire concert season.
Neeme Jarvi, music director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, wanted just such a piece and asked the composer Charles Coleman, a Manhattan native, to write it. Titled Red Oak Dawn, it will have its premiere on Thursday at the State Theater in New Brunswick, followed by performances at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark on Friday and Sunday and the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank on Saturday.
For Mr. Jarvi, commissioning a piece about New Jersey during his first season on the job sends a strong message, echoing his experiences at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, where he was music director from 1990 to 2005. There he helped build an identity for the orchestra by premiering works on local themes, like Motor City Triptych by the composer Michael Daugherty, a Michigan resident.
"I'm extremely proud to be in New Jersey," Mr. Jarvi said. "It's a great place to live and has reason to boast of its state orchestra. With such talent at my disposal, Charles felt a work celebrating the state, the orchestra and my leadership of it was necessary."
Named after the New Jersey state tree, the 15-minute piece began with an Internet search, Mr. Coleman said. A Web site of state symbols listed the red oak.
"I looked at the tree, and it has a nice inner portion that blossoms out," he said. "I have a lot of overlapping material throughout the piece that seems to represent the multiple details of the leaves of a tree."
The piece also subtly honors Count Basie, who was born in Red Bank. "We were actually thinking about using Count Basie's tune Little Darling, Mr. Coleman said. "But I had a terrible time trying to get the rights to it. I ended up creating a jazzy, walking bass middle section that bore a resemblance to the tune."
Mr. Coleman is part of a generation of American composers whose music freely draws on jazz, funk and rock. While studying composition at the Manhattan School of Music in the early 1990's, he met Mr. Jarvi's son Kristjan, who was a conducting student. Together, they founded the Absolute Ensemble, a chamber ensemble noted for its hip synthesis of rock and contemporary classical music.
In 2001, when Kristjan's older brother, Paavo Jarvi, became music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, he commissioned Mr. Coleman to write a piece for his opening concerts. Titled Streetscape, the piece is an evocative portrait of the composer's native New York City. Eventually, the elder Jarvi took notice.
"Neeme Jarvi is a man whose recordings I grew up with as a teenager," Mr. Coleman said. "Twenty years later, I'm writing for the guy. I can't believe it."
Monday, March 20, 2006
Coleman Commission to Premiere in New Jersey
Paavo's friend, composer Charles Coleman, will see the premiere of his new commission entitled Red Oak Dawn on Thursday when it is performed by Neeme Jarvi and the New Jersey Symphony. The New York Times had this to say about it: