"I knew that the other works on the program, Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 and the Suite from 'Der Rosenkavalier,' are right in the center of what Eschenbach does, so I thought this would be a good opening piece, a brief statement," Shepherd said. "Months before writing any notes, I chose the title. Going through the process of deconstruction, I thought about the concept of 'blaze' and other meanings of 'blue.'
"I associate blue with harmony, a cool sound with open fifths, so I fluctuate between two tempi, one brisk, one relaxed. The first section features clarinets, low strings, bassoons, oboes and other woodwinds before the brass enters in the second section with a blue sound that's almost like a fragmented heroic fanfare. This second section is what I call a 'Cool Blue.' The third is a 'Buoyant Blue' that makes you think of the fires of hell.
|Christoph Eschenbach conducts the National Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven's Symphony No. 7|
|Where: Kennedy Center Concert Hall|
|When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday|
|Info: $20 to $85; 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324; kennedy-center.org|
"The peak of the piece is the forth section, 'Sky Blue.' It hints at the return of the fanfare before comments by the winds and strings. The fifth section is 'Final Blue' with a fast and loud ending that evokes 'Der Rosenkavalier,' the next piece on the program. I took the advice of Steven Stucky, my teacher at Cornell, where I'm working on a Ph.D., who says that I should always think of a concert as a meal in courses and decide what will complement the rest of the meal. If it has a great entree and dessert, then it needs a fitting appetizer."
Shepherd represents the fourth generation of a family of Nevada ranchers. Instead of following in their footsteps, he was captivated by music and began flute and bassoon lessons early in grade school. By high school, he was so proficient on the bassoon that he was invited frequently to play with the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra. Following graduation, he went directly to Indiana University and entered one of the most prestigious music departments in this country to study the bassoon and composition. Subsequently, he received a master's degree from the Juilliard School.
He has attracted attention with performances of his imaginative works in this country and abroad. Along with numerous prestigious awards and prizes, his commissions include "These Particular Circumstances" for the New York Philharmonic as part of the orchestra's new music series in 2010. For the past two years, he has been composer-in-residence with the Reno Philharmonic, composing works reminiscent of his home state. Next season, he becomes a composer fellow with the Cleveland Orchestra and currently is writing a big piece for them.
"I love the spectacle of orchestras," he said, speaking from London, where he has been working with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. "Each has it's own personality, and I love getting to know the talents of the various instrumentalists before writing for them. It's like an invitation into their homes.
"Like every piece I write, 'Blue Blazes' is a story whose parts may begin floating separately but must hang together and end up soaring. I hope the Kennedy Center audience comes in from a day of work ready to sit down and be entertained by a dazzling piece."