Wuorinen, Charles: Sudden Changes

Sudden Changes, Short Fantasy for Orchestra                        

BORN: June 9, 1938. New York City, NY, where he still resides

COMPOSED: 2017. Commissioned by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony

WORLD PREMIERE: At these performances

INSTRUMENTATION: piccolo and 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets and bass clarinet, 2 bassoons and contrabassoon, 4 French horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, bass drum, crotales, marimba, suspended cymbal, vibraphone, xylophone, harp, piano, and strings

DURATION: About 15 mins

THE BACKSTORY  A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Wuorinen is one of the world’s leading composers, whose many honors include a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the Pulitzer Prize in Music. From 1985 to 1989, he served as the San Francisco Symphony’s Composer-in-Residence. In addition to programming and conducting concerts, Wuorinen composed several major works for the Orchestra: Genesis, with text in Latin from the Vulgate; The Golden Dance; and Machaut Mon Chou (based on the Messe de Notre Dame). Previous to his post, Wuorinen had composed his Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra for the SFS. 

Wuorinen has composed hundreds of works, which encompass a wide variety of forms and mediums—works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, soloists, voice, as well as compositions for the ballet and stage. His recent opera on Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain premiered at the Teatro Real in Madrid in January 2014, while other notable works include Time RegainedEighth Symphony (for the Boston Symphony Orchestra), and Metagong for two pianos and two percussion (for the New York New Music Ensemble). His music has been recorded on nearly a dozen labels including several releases on Naxos, Albany Records (Charles Wuorinen Series), as well as on John Zorn’s Tzadik label.

THE MUSIC  Wuorinen has been described as a maximalist, writing music luxuriant with events, lyrical and expressive, and strikingly dramatic. His works are characterized by powerful harmonies and elegant craftsmanship, offering at once a link to the music of the past and a vision of a rich musical future. The composer offers these comments on Sudden Changes: “It must be fifty years ago that I first met Michael Tilson Thomas, who was then at a very young age playing in an ensemble work of mine I was conducting in Los Angeles. Not long afterwards, he was with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where he commissioned my Amplified Violin Concerto. Later came his time as Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, for which he commissioned my Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky. And then, when he had founded the wonderful New World Symphony in Miami I wrote an overture for their opening concert. Now it is a joy to have provided a light-hearted overture to concerts of the San Francisco Symphony, an institution with which I had such a happy association (and so many splendid performances) as Composer-in-Residence some years ago. I am deeply grateful for my long friendship with MTT, and these performances are therefore a special treat for me. The piece itself is a single movement of roughly fourteen and a half minutes, and is composed using some fragments from an opera of mine called Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

Charles Wuorinen

No recordings are available for Sudden Changes but the San Francisco Symphony has recordings of Charles Wuorinen’s works, including On Alligators and the Piano Concerto No. 3 with Garrick Ohlsson, and Herbert Blomstedt conducting (Tzadik) and The Golden Dance also conducted by Herbert Blomstedt (Albany)

Reading: The composer’s website offers excellent background into his works at charleswuorinen.com

(March 2018)