Program Notes | Mozart & Steven Mackey

Mozart & Steven Mackey
By Laurie Shulman ©2023

This information is provided solely as a service to and for the benefit of New Jersey Symphony subscribers and patrons. Any other use without express written permission is strictly forbidden.


Xian Zhang conductor
Meigui Zhang soprano
Jennifer Johnson Cano mezzo-soprano
Alicia Olatuja mezzo-soprano
Sean Panikkar tenor
Nathan Berg bass-baritone 
Steven Mackey electric guitar
Princeton University Glee Club | Gabriel Crouch, director
New Jersey Symphony

Mozart Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, K. 183/173dB
I. Allegro con brio
II. Andante
III. Menuett o
IV. Allegro

Steven Mackey RIOT (World Premiere, New Jersey Symphony Commission)
1. Sometimes I feel
2. How many are we?
3. The ancestors
4. Can you hold my death in your mind?
5. This is not the riot.


Mozart Overture to Don Giovanni, K. 527

Bruckner Te Deum
I. Te Deum laudamus
II. Te ergo quaesumus
III. Aeterna fac cum sanctis tuis
IV. Salvum fac populum tuum
V. In te Domine, speravi

One Minute Notes

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, K. 183/173dB

With good reason, Mozart’s 25th Symphony is considered to be his first fully mature symphony. Despite the fact that he was not yet 18 when he composed it, he was already an accomplished master. His compositions in G minor, though few in number, fascinate musicians, scholars, and listeners. Most late 18th-century works were in major mode, with a rare slow movement in a minor key for contrast. While the so-called "Little” G minor (as opposed to its better-known sibling the "Great" G minor symphony, No. 40, K. 550), is a decidedly dramatic and arresting composition, it is still a child of the mid-18th century, fusing galant style with arresting drama. The 25th symphony is a large scale work, full of intensity and emotional weight. Listen for nervous syncopations in the first movement. A meltingly lovely Andante provides temporary respite. The Menuetto restores the dark mood, balanced by a gentle wind serenade in the Trio. A thrilling ‘Mannheim rocket’ figure drives the finale.

Steven Mackey: RIOT (World Premiere, New Jersey Symphony Commission)

For this major New Jersey Symphony centennial commission, Princeton composer Steven Mackey chose to collaborate with US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith. She wrote RIOT for the occasion. His new work for female vocalist, electric guitar, chorus and orchestra places race and resilience in the foreground. Mackey says, “[Tracy’s] first line –

Sometimes I feel

the Black in my heart

like a map

made of tar. You need 

only part your lips

to mar what isn’t yours. 

– emanates from a black woman in first person, but there is also the subtle presence of ancestors in the reference to the old spiritual ‘Sometimes I feel… [like a motherless child]’and the uppercase ‘B’ in Black, which suggests the race as well as the color. From the outset Tracy deftly sets up the interplay between personal and communal, the soloist and the chorus. From this dark and personal utterance, the series of six separate but related texts trace a trajectory that culminates in positive affirmation and a celebration of hope, perseverance, commitment and community. The music aspires to honor that trajectory.”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Overture to Don Giovanni

Mozart’s 1787 masterpiece Don Giovanni is subtitled Il dissoluto punito [The libertine punished]. Its operatic genre is dramma giocoso, an oxymoron descriptor that aptly summarizes its duality: comedy sometimes verging on the slapstick merged with a darker story about a serial seducer who is dragged to eternal damnation at the conclusion. Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni ingeniously captures both aspects. Ominous opening chords in D minor presage the dark finale. He follows this grim introduction with a sparkling allegro that sets the stage for the manic gaiety and determined pleasure-seeking that dominate much of the opera's action. Independent of the opera, the overture has secured a popular niche in symphonic literature.

Anton Bruckner: Te Deum

Anton Bruckner was a devout Catholic who imbued nearly all his compositions with a profound reverence. Though he is best known for his massive symphonies, he also wrote a significant amount of sacred choral music, including Masses, Psalm settings, motets and one Te Deum, completed in 1884. Bruckner was justifiably proud of this Te Deum, which he called “the pride of my life.” It is roughly contemporary with his Seventh Symphony and demonstrates a firm command of both choral and orchestral writing. (He uses a theme from the Seventh Symphony’s Adagio in the Te Deum’s finale.) Resolute choral segments are balanced by exquisite solo passages. The Te Deum’s five sections proceed seamlessly, with frequent allusions to music heard earlier in the work. This technique unifies the Te Deum, which also features a splendid double fugue on the text “In te Domine, speravi.”

Extended Notes and Artist Bios

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, K. 183/173dB

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 
Born: January 27, 1756, in Salzburg, Austria
Died: December 5, 1791, in Vienna, Austria
Composed: 1773; the autograph is dated October 5, 1773
World Premiere: undocumented, but likely autumn 1773 in Salzburg
New Jersey Symphony Premiere: Summer 1998 under Zdenek Macal
Duration: 24 minutes
Instrumentation: two oboes, two bassoons, four horns and strings

Mozart's compositions in the key of G minor, though few in number, have always elicited great interest from musicians and scholars alike. Most late 18th-century works were in major modes, with an occasional slow movement cast in the relative or parallel minor for contrast. But while the so-called "little G-minor," (as opposed to its better known sibling the "Great" Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550), is a decidedly dramatic and arresting composition, it is more a child of the midthan the late-18th century. To be sure, it is a fully mature work, rife with dramatic import and emotional weight, and indisputably demonstrating Mozart's already consummate compositional skill. But it dates from October 1773, long before young Mozart had broken from the Archbishop of Salzburg, and long before the tragedy and financial hardship of his later years had dimmed his brilliant prospects. Thus it may be reading in more than is there to interpret this symphony as a `harbinger' or `forerunner' of Mozart's late G minor compostions.

A glance at the works of Joseph Haydn, Mozart's most distinguished older contemporary and a consummate and prolific symphonist, for example, shows a half dozen or more symphonies in minor mode dating from the 1770s. Haydn was, of course, not alone. To a generation reared in the late Baroque era and making its way through the newer style galant, minor mode was an effective method of evoking drama, tragedy, introspection, nature's fury, or all manner of contrasting emotional states regularly encountered in opera. While this symphony was Mozart's first major orchestral foray in minor mode, he was certainly no newcomer to opera having composed six operas by 1773, including three for Milan.

A pulsing syncopation opens the first movement, followed immediately by a sharply ascending theme outlining the tonic key of G minor. This is a fine example of the so-called "Mannheim rocket," a rising figure popular with 18th-century composers at the excellent Mannheim court orchestra. In his landmark study, Mozart's Symphonies: Context, Performance Practice, Reception, Cornell musicologist Neal Zaslaw has written of the 25th Symphony:

Both the opening Allegro con brio and the closing Allegro . . . display, in addition to their often-mentioned stormy character, large-scale sonata form with both halves repeated plus a coda. The special sound of the symphony's outer movements is partly a result of four horns in place of the usual two, which imparts a certain solidity to the work's texture. Putting the two pairs of horns in different keys (G and B-flat) gave Mozart a wider palette of pitches to exploit in writing his horn parts, enabling him to allow those primarily diatonic instruments to participate in some of the work's chromaticism. 

All four movements are beautifully proportioned, showing a fine command of form — every movement but the Menuettois in sonata form – and the elegant galant style. Particularly lovely are the sighing slow movement and the miniature wind serenade in the Menuetto’s central Trio section. With the exception of the Andante, Mozart offers little relief from the serious key. Even in the last movement, where it was common to switch to major mode for the ending, if not for the entire movement, he stays in minor mode. Another Mannheim rocket serves as the principal theme to propel this exciting finale.

Steven Mackey: RIOT (World Premiere, New Jersey Symphony Commission)

Steven Mackey
Born: February 14, 1956, in Frankfurt, Germany
Composed: 2022-2023
World Premiere: This weekend’s performances are the world premiere
Duration: 25 minutes
Instrumentation: three flutes (2nd doubling alto flute; 3rd doubling piccolo), three oboes (3rd doubling English horn), three clarinets (2nd doubling E-flat clarinet; 3rd doubling bass clarinet), three bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon), four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, percussion (tam tam, large tam tam, marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel, flexatone, xylophone, bass drum, chimes, tom toms, Peking opera gong, crotales, crash cymbals, suspended cymbals, triangle and bongos), timpani, harp, electric guitar, mezzo-soprano solo, mixed chorus and strings

Steven Mackey is no stranger to the New Jersey Symphony. His history with the orchestra extends back more than three decades: the orchestra performed his Square Holes, Round Pegs in its 1989-1990 season. The next collaboration took place in 2003-04 when it played his Lost and Found for orchestra. Pianist Orli Shaham was the Symphony’s soloist in the East Coast premiere of Mackey’s piano concerto, Stumble to Grace, in May 2013.

By then, the orchestra had embarked on its long collaboration with Princeton University, which established the Edward T. Cone Composition Institute for emerging composers. Mackey was appointed the Institute Director In that capacity, he oversees the rehearsal and performance process of new works by four emerging composers each year, which are often performed alongside his own works, including Urban Ocean; Turn the Key, Four Iconoclastic Episodes Eating Greens and the “Echoes” movement from Mnemosyne’s Pool. This extensive history means the orchestra has both familiarity with Mackey’s music and a strong rapport with him as a performing musician. 

It’s not your average composer who writes a concerto for electric guitar and orchestra (Tuck and Roll, 2000). Nor one who did not discover classical music until his teenage years – a time when many young virtuosi are launching careers. Steven Mackey has taken an unusual route to his current status as one of America’s foremost composers. Mackey was born to American parents stationed in Germany. He grew up in Northern California playing guitar in rock bands and acknowledges his roots in rock’n’roll and blues. During his teenage years, his interests expanded to jazz, fusion and, eventually, classical music. In college at UC-Davis, he studied guitar and lute, then took up formal study of composition at SUNY Stony Brook. He completed his education at Brandeis University, where he earned a doctorate in 1985. That year, he was appointed to the Princeton University faculty; in 1993, he became a professor. 

Other American composers have adapted elements of rock into their music – Christopher Rouse and John Adams come to mind – but Mackey’s perspective is unique. The bent pitches of electric guitar, for example, play a role in many of his works, including RIOT. “I am fascinated by the sensation of movement in composition,” he has written. “Journey metaphors are often aptly applied to my music. I’m interested . . . in transformation, for a sense that something – the material, me, the listener — is changed by the journey. As a result, my music tends to be a oneway trip.

“My experience as an electric guitarist influences all my music, even those pieces that don’t include guitar. On one level it’s subconscious — I have a physical connection from cutting my teeth on Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. I’ve tried to emulate the guitar in my orchestral works.” RIOT sets texts by former US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith. Mackey’s composer’s note in the published score follows.

I love the New Jersey Symphony! They are my home orchestra, my home team, and I was honored to be asked to compose a musical tribute to help commemorate their centennial year. My daydreams about what I might do for such an auspicious occasion were grand: my friends in the New Jersey Symphony joined on a packed stage by a vocal soloist, a chorus and myself on guitar, all singing and playing with abandon. I wasn’t hearing a song cycle, a series of independent songs, but rather a continuous flow of music that occasionally coalesced around the explicit images of a text, like a river lapping around a chain of islands.

I asked the poet and (at the time) my Princeton University colleague, Tracy K. Smith, to help define the work by providing a text. Tracy also writes opera libretti, so she knows how to make words sing. I had a good feeling about the idea of collaborating with her, based not only on her work, but also on the positive energy she radiated as we got acquainted over the years. I was happy to finally have a project worthy of her partnership and the New Jersey Symphony was delighted to commission her for a text.

We met and discussed the parameters of the commission, leading with the celebratory occasion, but it was the summer 2020 and George Floyd had been murdered only a few months prior. That fact could not be ignored.

Soon after our meeting, Tracy sent me RIOT, which foregrounds race and resilience. The first line –

Sometimes I feel

     the Black in my heart

          like a map

made of tar. You need 

     only part your lips

          to mar what isn’t yours.

– emanates from a black woman in first person, but there is also the subtle presence ofancestors in the reference to the old spiritual “Sometimes I feel… (like a motherless child)” and the uppercase ‘B’ in Black which suggests the race as well as the color. From the outset Tracy deftly sets up the interplay between personal and communal, the soloist and the chorus.

From this dark and personal utterance, the series of 6 separate but related texts trace a trajectory that culminates in positive affirmation and a celebration of hope, perseverance, commitment, and community:

We live—
gold hot bright
the line of us
never tiring
We live—
We live—

The music aspires to honor that trajectory.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Overture to Don Giovanni

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 
Born: January 27, 1756, in Salzburg, Austria
Died: December 5, 1791, in Vienna, Austria
Composed: 1787
World Premiere: October 29, 1787, at the National Theatre, Prague
New Jersey Symphony Premiere: Summer 1985 as part of Opera Festival of New Jersey conducted by Michael Pratt. 
Duration: 7 minutes
Instrumentation: two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings

Anyone who has attended a performance of Don Giovanni knows the shivering impact of the overture's opening D-minor chords, with their ominous foreboding of the drama to follow. Rarely one to dwell at length on the dark side, Mozart soon switches gears. The overture shifts to D major and an allegro tempo. We move from music of menace and revenge to music reflecting the manic gaiety and determined pleasure seeking that dominate much of the opera's action.

The concert version of the overture is like an 18th-century symphonic first movement: a slow introduction in minor mode, followed by a fully developed sonata—allegro in the parallel major. We would expect no less of a Mozart. The genius of the overture lies in the success with which it captures the spirit of the opera without quoting from all its famous numbers. Only the Commendatore's vengeance music, the D-minor chords alluded to above, return during the stage action proper. The overture's entire D-major portion is made up of new themes, perfectly expressing the Don's devil-may-care bravado.

Anton Bruckner: Te Deum

Anton Bruckner 
Born: September 4, 1824, in Ansfelden, Austria
Died: October 11, 1896, in Vienna, Austria
Composed: 1881-1884
World Premiere: First performance May 2, 1885, in Vienna with two pianos. The first performance with full orchestra took place January 10, 1886, in Vienna’s Grosser Musikvereinsaal. Hans Richter conducted.
New Jersey Symphony Premiere: May 16, 2014, at the Newark Cathedral of the Basilica. John Miller conducted.
Duration: 24 minutes
Instrumentation: two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons

The most important thing to know about Anton Bruckner is that he was a devout Catholic. His love of God informed his music at the most fundamental level. Beyond that, his works are rarely programmatic. He admired — even worshiped — Richard Wagner, but neither Bruckner’s gifts nor his interests led him in the direction of Wagner’s music-dramas. Instead, he focused on symphonies and sacred choral music. His secular songs, piano music and chamber works are few in number and little known. By contrast, Bruckner’s symphonies are major musical events that often occupy an entire orchestral program. Similarly his Masses and large choral works are large undertakings and more direct expressions of his profound faith.

The Te Deum, widely considered his finest sacred choral work, dates from 1881 to 1884, which makes it contemporary with his Seventh Symphony. He was already an experienced composer with a firm command of large performing forces. From the Te Deum’s opening gesture – an ostinato string figure that Bruckner used elsewhere in his symphonies – he makes clear the central role of the orchestra in the musical fabric; it is echoed in the unison choral declamation that follows. 

From that dramatic start emerges a delicious conversation among the four soloists, as delicate as the choral entrance was resolute. The exchanges between chorus and soloists retain similar contrast throughout the Te Deum, showcasing Bruckner’s gift for surprising modulations, shifting moods and inspiring climaxes. Although it consists of five principal sections, they unfold seamlessly. Bruckner’s frequent allusions to music heard earlier knits the whole together. The work culminates in a fugue that fuses the music for “Non confundar in aeternum” with “In te, Domine speravi.” Bruckner’s finale also incorporates the theme from the Adagio of the recently completed Seventh Symphony.

When Bruckner completed the Te Deum in 1884, the Viennese Hofkapellmeister Joseph Hellmesberger thought it was too long. Bruckner declined to shorten the work, at which point Hellmesberger refused to perform it. Bruckner had to wait until January 1886 to hear the work with full orchestra. a splendid success — not always the case at Bruckner’s premieres. In April 1892, Gustav Mahler conducted a performance of the Te Deum in Hamburg. Said the composer, “The performers and the entire audience were deeply moved by the powerful structure and truly sublime concept. When it was over, I experienced what to me is the greatest triumph a work can have: the audience sat there in silence, motionless, and only after the conductor and the performers had left their places did a storm of applause burst out.”


A Te Deum is a song of praise to God, traditionally attributed to St. Ambrose. From medieval times, it was sung as part of the Roman Catholic rite at the conclusion of Matins (the early morning service) on Sundays and feast days. The Latin incipit, Te Deum laudamus, means ‘We praise thee, o God.’ The balance of the text has certain lines in common with the Sanctus of the Mass, but other portions can vary, borrowing from several Psalms. In modern times, the Te Deum has become a more secular musical vehicle, often sung as a hymn of thanksgiving, for example after a military victory or a special occasion such as a royal coronation.

Artist Bio: Xian Zhang, conductor

Grammy Awards-Winning Conductor Xian Zhang’s recording with Time for Three and The Philadelphia Orchestra, Letters for The Future (on Deutsche Grammophon), won awards in both the Best Contemporary Classical Composition (specifically Kevin Puts’ Contact), and Best Classical Instrumental Solo categories in 2023.

Xian Zhang is currently in her seventh season as Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony, who mark their 100th anniversary season in 2022–23. She is also Principal Guest Conductor of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Conductor Emeritus of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano, following her tenure as their Music Director 2009–2016. With New Jersey Symphony, Zhang has commissioned composers such as Wynton Marsalis, Jessie Montgomery, Qigang Chen, Chen Yi, Steven Mackey, Thomas Adès, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Christopher Rouse, Vivian Li, Gary Morgan, Christian McBride and Paquito D’Rivera. She is also responsible for introducing their annual Lunar New Year celebrations.

2022–23 US engagements include Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, St Louis Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood Festival, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Xian Zhang remains a popular guest of Detroit, Montreal, NAC Ottawa, and Toronto Symphony orchestras.

Beyond the US, this season Zhang conducts Singapore Symphony, Orchestre National de Lille, having recently conducted the London Symphony, Philharmonia Orchestra, Spanish National Orchestra, Komische Oper Berlin, Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, Orchestre National de Lyon and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.

Zhang previously served as Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales, the first female conductor to hold a titled role with a BBC orchestra. In 2002, she won first prize in the Maazel- Vilar Conductor’s Competition. She was appointed New York Philharmonic’s Assistant Conductor in 2002, subsequently becoming their Associate Conductor and the first holder of the Arturo Toscanini Chair.

Artist Bio: Meigui Zhang, soprano

The powerful yet ethereal soprano of Meigui Zhang has been captivating audiences across the globe. Zhang’s 2022–23 season features an exciting role debut as Euridice in San Francisco Opera’s Orfeo ed Euridice, her Atlanta Opera debut as Zerlina in Don Giovanni and a return to the Metropolitan Opera covering Ilia in Idomeneo. She is also engaged as the soprano soloist in Mozart’s Requiem with the North Carolina Symphony, Beethoven Missa solemnis with Bard College’s The Orchestra Now and Bruckner’s Te Deum with New Jersey Symphony. This summer, she will represent China in the 2023 BBC Cardif Singer of the World Competition.

During her tenure in the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, Zhang made her Metropolitan Opera debut as the Bloody Child in Macbeth, followed by Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro. While attending the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program, Zhang performed as Anne Trulove in The Rake’s Progress, and at the Chautauqua Institute, she was seen as Pamina in Die Zauberflöte. Zhang earned her master’s degree from the Mannes School of Music, where she was a recipient of the George and Elizabeth Award and completed her bachelor’s degree at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

Artist Bio: Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano

A naturally gifted singer known for her commanding stage presence and profound artistry, Jennifer Johnson Cano has garnered critical acclaim for both new and standard repertoire.

Highlights of Ms. Cano’s resent season included performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin in a world premiere of Kevin Puts’ The Hours; Opera News praised her performance as having an “impressive tone and dead-on pitch throughout a wide range, and a fierce command of words,” calling her “a matchless interpreter of contemporary opera.” She also debuted with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and starred in the New York premiere of Marc Neikrug’s A Song By Mahler at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS). She made operatic debuts in Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites with the Houston Grand Opera, the world premiere of Gregory Spears’ Castor and Patience with the Cincinnati Opera and Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle with the Roanoke Opera.

This season she performs at the Metropolitan Opera in Falstaff and makes her company debut with the Atlanta Opera in Don Giovanni and appears with the New York Philharmonic, New Jersey Symphony and Atlanta Symphony. Jennifer returns to the CMS for Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder and to the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society in an All-Bach Program with the Gamut Bach Ensemble.

Artist Bio: Alicia Olatuja, mezzo-soprano

Praised in The New York Times as “a singer with a strong and luscious tone” Alicia Olatuja has been astounding audiences with her exquisite vocals, artistic versatility and captivating demeanor. She first came into the national spotlight in 2013, whilst performing as the featured soloist with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir at President Barack Obama’s Second Inauguration. Shortly thereafter, she assembled her own jazz based ensemble and recorded her first solo album, Timeless (2014), followed by “Intuition: Songs From The Minds of Women” (2019).

Originally from St. Louis, MO, Olatuja grew up immersed in a wide range of musical styles, including gospel, soul, jazz and classical. These influences have informed her artistic journey, and she later graduated with a Masters degree in Classical Voice/Opera from the Manhattan School of Music. After appearing in numerous operatic and musical theater productions, she started to perform more regularly in gospel and jazz concerts and worked with such esteemed artists as Chaka Khan, BeBe Winans, Christian McBride, Dr. Lonnie Smith and
Billy Childs. Some of her classical performances have included works by Steven Mackey (“Afterlife”) and Caroline Shaw (“Narrow Sea”), both with Sō Percussion and Alejandro Golijov (“Oceana”) with the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra (Marin Alsop, conductor).

Artist Bio: Sean Panikkar, tenor

Sean Panikkar continues “to position himself as one of the stars of his generation…” [Opera News]. The American tenor of Sri Lankan heritage achieved a break-out success in his 2018 Salzburger Festspiele debut as Dionysus in Henze’s The Bassarids directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski under the baton of Kent Nagano and critically acclaimed the same year in his Los Angeles Opera debut as Gandhi in the company’s new production of Philip Glass’
Satyagraha directed by Phelim McDermott led by Grant Gershon.

Highlights of the 2022-23 season include the Metropolitan Opera premiere of The Hours by Kevin Puts and Greg Pierce in a new production by Phelim McDermott and led by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, as well as a return to Komische Oper Berlin for a new production by Marco Štorman of Luigi Nono’s Intolleranza 1960 conducted by Gabriel Feltz. The tenor makes his Bayerische Staatsoper debut as Laertes in Brett Dean’s Hamlet in the company’s new production by Neil Armfield conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, and he returns both to the
Wiener Staatsoper to sing Tambourmajor in Wozzeck led by Philippe Jordan and to the English National Opera as Don José for a revival of Calixto Bieito’s production of Carmen conducted by Kerem Hasan.

Artist Bio: Nathan Berg, bass-baritone

A “tall, majestic bass” with “impeccable technique” and “a palpable presence on stage,” Canadian bass-baritone Nathan Berg has enjoyed a career spanning a vast range of repertoire on the concert and operatic stage.

In the 2022-23 season, Nathan Berg will return to the LA Philharmonic and Melbourne Symphony for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, will debut the role of Melisso in Alcina with Les Violons du Roy, join Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Orchestre de Metropolitain for Bach’s Mass in B Minor, and the New Jersey Symphony for Bruckner’s Te Deum. Mr. Berg also returns to the Metropolitan Opera to understudy the roles of Balstrode in Peter Grimes, Filippo in Verdi’s Don Carlos and the Marquis de la Force in Dialogues of the Carmelites.

In the 2021-22 season, Mr. Berg made his Metropolitan Opera stage debut as The Father in the New York premiere of Matthew Aucoin’s Eurydice conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, returned to Theater Basel for his first King Philippe in Don Carlos and debuted the role of Kurwenal in Tristan and Isolde with the Taiwan Philharmonic.

Artist Bio: Steven Mackey, electric guitar

Bright in coloring, ecstatic in inventiveness, lively and profound, Steven Mackey’s music spins the tendrils of his improvisatory riffs into large-scale works of grooving, dramatic coherence.

As a teenager growing up in Northern California obsessed with blues-rock guitar, Mackey was in search of the “right wrong notes,” those heart-wrenching moments that imbue the music with new, unexpected momentum. Today, his pieces play with that tension of being inside or outside of the harmony and flow forward shimmering with prismatic detail.

Signature early works merged his academic training with the free-spirited physicality of his mother-tongue rock guitar music: Troubadour Songs (1991) and Physical Property (1992) for string quartet and electric guitar; and Banana/Dump Truck (1995), an electrified-cello concerto. Later works explored his deepening fascination in transformation and movement of sound through time: Dreamhouse (2003), a rich work for voices and ensemble was nominated for four Grammy awards; A Beautiful Passing (2008) for violin and orchestra on the passing of his mother; and Slide (2011), a Grammy award–winning music theater piece. In 2021, the LA Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel, and trumpet soloist Thomas Hooten gave the world premiere of Shivaree, a fantasy for trumpet and orchestra. Mackey further expanded his theatrical catalog with his short chamber opera Moon Tea about the 1969 meeting between the Apollo 11 astronauts and the Royal Family, premiered by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2021, as well as with his 2022 music theater work Memoir, based on the pages of his late mother’s memoirs.

The 2022-23 season sees three world premieres: Concerto for Curved Space with the Boston Orchestra and Andris Nelsons; Red Wood, a new environmentally concerned work for The Soraya’s Treelogy Project; and RIOT with mezzo-soprano Alicia Olatuja, Mackey on electric guitar, New Jersey Symphony, Princeton University Glee Club and conductor Xian Zhang.

Today, Steven Mackey writes for chamber ensemble, orchestra, dance and opera—commissioned by the greatest orchestras around the world. He has served as professor of music at Princeton University for the past 35 years, and in fall 2022, he joined composition faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music. He has won several awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Kennedy Center Friedheim Award. He
continues to explore an ever-widening world of timbres befitting a complex, 21st-century culture, while always striving to make music that unites the head and heart, that is visceral, that gets us moving.