In a recent interview, Susan Platts describes the thrill of commissioning an entirely new work.
Why did you choose to commission Marjan Mozetich to compose for you? Do you know him personally?
When the opportunity arose for a project through the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, I wanted something that would have a long-lasting effect. With much guidance and encouragement from my husband [violist-pianist Douglas Perry], it was decided that I would commission a work for mezzo-soprano and orchestra. We have known Marjan for many years and have enjoyed hearing his music along the way. His music has always moved me. It touches me in a very warm and human manner. In so many ways he was the perfect choice for this commission.
Can you describe the work?
The work is for mezzo-soprano and orchestra and is approximately 20 minutes in length. It is conceived in three separate movements, each movement using a different poem. The poems, written some 2,700 years ago, are taken from the Chinese Book of Songs. The poems show us in a most concise way that we as humans, whether living in ancient times or now in the present, face challenges and struggles that are constant and timeless. To these powerful and provocative texts, Marjan has written music that is unquestionably beautiful, moving and poignant.
What does Jessye Norman think of the work?
It was an extremely special moment for myself and Marjan to share this new music with her for the first time! Jessye enjoyed hearing the excerpts and had wonderful ideas to contribute to my understanding of the piece. She also was very happy for me to have such an opportunity to bring a new work into the world.
How long do you prepare for such an event?
I received the first pages of music for Under the Watchful Sky in October, 2009. Since then, I have received revised pages from Marjan and, this past June, I was finally in possession of the final score. A most exciting moment! Since that time, the work has been my constant companion. As a bit of a ritual, I spend time with it every day. And I can feel the work gradually becoming a part of my consciousness. Of course, I will not truly know how it feels until I have that first rehearsal with the orchestra in November.
Have you previously performed with the Orchestre symphonique de Québec?
Yes. I first appeared with the Orchestre symphonique de Quebec in 2002 and, since that time, I have performed many works including Mahler’s Symphony No 2 and Symphony No 8, and Elgar’s Sea Pictures. My most recent appearance was in January 2010, when I performed the role of Orfeo in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice.
This concert must mark a milestone in your career.
Absolutely. It is the first time I have ever commissioned a composer to write a composition for me. It is a wonderful feeling! It is empowering to know that this music now exists because of my choices and desires. In November, Under the Watchful Sky will be heard for the first time. Nobody has heard it yet. It didn’t exist before now! And it will have a life of its own when all is said and done. Hopefully it will be performed many times by myself, and others. It feels like a gift – a gift that will keep on giving.
What future plans do you have to perform this work?
My focus now is on the premiere in November, but there are several people I work with who are preparing a strategy to present this work to other arts organizations. In fact, I have received several inquiries from conductors and orchestras. I feel that there is a bright future for Under the Watchful Sky.
And what other plans do you have for 2011?
Gustav Mahler is the composer who is dearest to my heart. 2010 marks the 150th anniversary of his birth and 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of his death. I had the opportunity to visit his grave this past summer in Vienna. I will be performing his music numerous times throughout 2010 and 2011. I also plan to record a CD of English and Scottish repertoire.