A glance back – and ahead — as MusicaNova begins our 20th season


By Warren Cohen

Music Director

By Warren Cohen


MusicaNova launches its 20th season with a concert reflecting several ideas. We wanted to:

·      Look back on that first concert of Nov. 8, 2003.

·      Showcase music that reflects the identity of the orchestra.

·      Highlight ways in which the orchestra has changed and grown in over two decades.

The first concert featured Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer’s Night and a symphonic movement from Mahler. Neither of these works are obscure, but the focus of that first concert was music suppressed by the Nazi regime. Chillingly, Hitler and his henchmen banned the music of Mendelssohn and Mahler as “racially inappropriate” for Germans to listen to.

The goals of MusicaNova have always been to play new, neglected and suppressed music, but we also have done a fair amount of standard repertoire. Whenever we do well-known pieces, the attempt is always to recontextualize the music. We not only wish to make unfamiliar music familiar, we want to showcase familiar music in a different context. It is one thing to hear the Mendelssohn Overture; it is another to hear it in the context of a “forbidden” work.


The new is represented by the music of Jessica Carter, a 32-year-old composer who joins our roster of Composition Fellows. This concert includes a brief work of hers that invokes the spirit of Georges Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte in quite a different way than Stephen Sondheim did. Carter’s piece sees it through the eyes of “the little girl without a shadow.” This work is a prelude to a longer work she is writing for our Schumann concert in December.


The neglected is represented by the music of Judith Bailey’s Trencrom. Bailey is from Cornwall, and the word “trencrom” in the Cornish language means “a crooked place on a hill.” When Bailey returned to Cornwall in 2001 she moved into a house that looks over Trencrom Hill and the landscape invoked in this music. Cornish is a “revived language” that disappeared as a native language in the late 18th century, and was deliberately revived, as a second language, by a limited number of speakers in the 20th century.


Also neglected has been the music of Richard Arnell, with MusicaNova at the forefront of an ongoing revival of his music. MusicaNova released the first recordings of Arnell’s Fourth and Fifth symphonies in 2005. Along with a series recorded by Martin Yates and the Scottish National Orchestra, we have been central to a renewed interest in a composer who no less a conductor than Sir Thomas Beecham called “the best orchestrator since Berlioz”. MusicaNova has played a number of his works in concert, including the Third, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, and we will continue this tradition with our first performance of his beautiful Fourth Symphony.