American Composers Orchestra Celebrates 40th Anniversary

Carlos Simon


The American Composers Orchestra (ACO) celebrated its 40th Anniversary Season with four parables, and inaugurated a new partnership between ACO and Symphony Space.  As stated in their mission statement, ACO is the only orchestra in the world dedicated to the creation, performance, preservation, and promulgation of music by American composers.  With that mission in mind, ACO presented pieces by nationally acclaimed composers and musicians.  Each selection complimented each other in its orchestral creativity and innovation.

ACO’s Underwood New Music Readings commission winner, Carlos Simon, performed his “Portrait of a  Queen” with Rehanna Thelwell narrating.  This composition is told through the Black women’s perspective and traces their evolution from slavery to the present day.  The orchestral composition is punctuated with short poetic narratives provided by Contralto Rehanna Thelwell.

After this groundbreaking performance, Mr. Simon said, “I’m really excited and flabbergasted at the amazing performance of the American Composers Orchestra.  They did an awesome job, and I wanted  to say something with this piece, and trace the lineage of strong Black women through this piece.  I am just really proud of this piece, and the message in it.”  And, Simon has every right to be proud – it was truly an outstanding performance.

After numerous requests from Grammy award winning guitarist Sharon Isbin, John Corigliano wrote “Troubadours” concerto.  Mr. Corigliano explained to the audience his long hesitation in writing this piece.  This composition for guitar is playful, lyrical and radiates sweet innocence.  It was well worth the long wait as shown by audience appreciation.

Another innovative piece was the world premiere of Nina C. Young’s – ACO/Jerome Foundation Commission “Out of Whose Womb Came the Ice for baritone, orchestra, and electronics” (2017).  The story is of polar explorer Sir Ernest  Shackleton and crew of 27 attempt to cross the Antarctic by foot.  Their ship was crushed and sank.  Shackleton and the entire crew lived to tell their story.

This ocean scene of survival was visualized on a large screen situated behind the orchestra, and drawn from journal entries of the crew and images by expedition’s official photographer Frank Hurley.  At frequent moments during the performance because of the images and music, you actually felt you were on the ill-fated turbulent ship “Endurance”.  Well done!

Postcards by Bright Sheng is the product of a commission requested by Ruth and John Huss as a reminder of their trip to China a few years earlier.  The four short movements are based on folk music style from various areas of China.  To the layman’s ear, the music seems oddly familiar – perhaps from a movie or Broadway show.  This is great easy listening music; one surely the Huss couple appreciated.

At the evening’s end, concertmaster, The Roger Sessions chair Eva Gruesser’s teenage daughter joined the conversation as Eva described the 38-piece orchestra (which includes 19 string instruments) which we just had the pleasure of hearing.

To learn more about American Composers Orchestra, go to 212-977-8495.  Symphony Space is located at 95th & Broadway, NYC, /phone 212-864-5400.


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