Early Audition: Bruno Maderna/Luciano Berio, Now, and Then
Words: Steve Smith
Images: Reinhard Winkler
A conductor and chamber musician of uncommon versatility and diverse tastes, Dennis Russell Davies likely is best known for his nonpareil authority in the music of Philip Glass. He has been closely associated with a wide variety of modern masters, including Aaron Copland, John Cage, William Bolcom, and Hans Werner Henze – and that’s without factoring in his groundbreaking work as a founder of the American Composers Orchestra.
But as a working maestro with multiple posts in Europe and regular guest appearances around the world, Davies commands a repertoire that spans from the Baroque era to the present day. That quality also held true for Bruno Maderna (1920-1973), the great Italian composer who also spent a great deal of time on the conductor’s podium. Maderna made a speciality of Italian works from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, but rather than attempting to recreate the past, Maderna reimagined such works using the full resources of the 20th-century orchestra.
It feels natural, then, to find Davies digging into Maderna’s versions of works by Gabrieli, Frescobaldi, and more on Now, and Then, his latest CD for ECM Records, for which he conducts the Orchestra della Svizzera italiana. Also featured on the ECM New Series disc is Chemins V by Maderna’s close friend, Luciano Berio (1925-2003). A showcase here for the guitarist Pablo Marquez, the piece is Berio’s orchestral transfiguration of his own Sequenza XI.
Now, and Then is scheduled for release on Nov. 17… but thanks to ECM, you can stream selections from the album exclusively on National Sawdust Log… right here, right now.
Giovanni Legrenzi (arr. Maderna) – La Basadonna
Luciano Berio – Chemins V
Giovanni Gabrieli (arr. Maderna) – Canzone a tre cori
To accompany this preview, Davies generously revealed the personal connections that inspired him to make Now, and Then:
As a young aspiring conductor in my mid-twenties I had the unbelievably good fortune to meet and work under both Luciano Berio and Bruno Maderna. At the Juilliard School in the late ’60s I was assigned to assist Luciano for productions of his Laborintus and Passagio. He thereafter took me under his considerable wings and during the next exciting years we started the Juilliard Ensemble together (I was pianist and assistant conductor), toured extensively with Cathy Berberian, and he later chose me to conduct the world premiere of Opera at Santa Fe.
Through the Juilliard Ensemble, I met and assisted Bruno, performed Pierrot Lunaire under his direction, our friendship culminating in his asking me to be his assistant for a new production of Pelleas and Melisande at the Netherlands Opera. Bruno’s tragic death in early 1973 led to my taking over this production, a significant milestone in my very young career. I loved and admired these men for their generosity personally and musically, and was especially taken with their commitment to letting their works be heard in the context of the great Italian Renaissance tradition. Their musical philosophies influenced me greatly, and I am thrilled to render homage to these great composers through this wonderful ECM recording.
Look for Now, and Then at your favorite terrestrial or virtual retailer on Nov. 17.