Share This Page

Bates blending techno, classical on new release

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 8:33 p.m.

Pittsburgh music lovers aren't the only ones delighting in the discovery of Mason Bates' music.

This season, he's composer in residence with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and holds a comparable position with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In fact, music director Ricardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony included Bates' music in their concerts, which opened the 2012-13 season at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

In addition, the Philadelphia-born composer will extend his association with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, which began in 2000, with another residency and the first recordings of his orchestral music.

Principal guest conductor Leonard Slatkin, also a champion of Bates' music, will lead the Pittsburgh Symphony at concerts March 22 to 24 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. The program is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25 with Emanuel Ax as soloist, Bates' “The B-Sides” and Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5.

Bates is particularly excited about his first orchestral CD, which will be recorded in concert and combine “The B-Sides” with “Liquid Interface,” which Slatkin led at Heinz Hall in February 2010, and “Alternative Energy.”

“One of the down sides of being a composer with the orchestral medium is it's not easy to get recorded,” he says. “Thus far, I've had to be grateful with a lot of performances.”

Tilson Thomas broached the idea of “The B-Sides” during intermission at a San Francisco concert, and gave the world premiere at Davies Hall in 2009.

“ ‘The B-Sides' is certainly an important piece for me and has had a nice life to it,” Bates says. “I really wanted to have it put on a record for a long time. It was an interesting meeting point for electronic and acoustic worlds used in a different way, informed by (Arnold) Schoenberg and the B-sides of psychedelic rock.”

It is in five movements and focuses on texture and sonority, as Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra do.

Bates mentions in his program notes that he'd often thought of writing a suite of off-kilter symphonic pieces that would include the “grooves and theatrics of electronica.” His early experience as a DJ gives him a special fluency with techno dance music.

“So, like the forgotten bands from the flipside of an old piece of vinyl, ‘The B-Sides' offers brief landings on a variety of peculiar planets, unified by a focus on fluorescent orchestral sonorities and the morphing rhythms of electronica,” he writes.

While getting the first performance of a piece is a big hurdle for composers, many say the second performance is even tougher. Bates, however, has enjoyed multiple performances of many of his pieces. When he heard the Toronto Symphony Orchestra give the Canadian premiere of “Alternative Energy” in February, he found himself wondering if he should make some modifications based on experiencing it many times. The four-movement symphony is the piece Muti and the Chicago Symphony played at Carnegie Hall in October.

“I think you always have the inclination to tinker with stuff on the orchestration level even if it works well at the premiere,” Bates says.

“You try to get so much right the first time in the basic composition. It is too much trouble to rewrite a piece of orchestration in a million places where you think, if I did this it might work better. Yet, composers, we're perfectionists.”

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.