New York, New York (August 21, 2020) — On August 28, 2020, Naxos will release a recording featuring one of Tobias Picker’s most performed symphonic works, The Encantadas, with narration by the composer, paired with Mr. Picker’s newest symphonic work, Opera Without Words, in its world-premiere recording—both performed by the Nashville Symphony conducted by Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero.
Hailed by The Wall Street Journal as “our finest composer for the lyric stage,” Tobias Picker has garnered critical acclaim for his operas and rich catalog of works in every genre that have been commissioned and performed by the world’s leading musicians, orchestras, and opera houses. Since his mid-forties, opera has imbued much of his work, and both works on this album are rooted in the genre.
The Encantadas, was composed in 1983 to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the Albany Academy, which Herman Melville attended as a boy. Since its premiere it has been translated and performed in five languages. The Encantadas draws on Melville’s 1854 novella of the same name depicting the Galápagos Islands. In this six-movement work, Mr. Picker employed the now rare “melodrama” genre, in which text is narrated dramatically alongside the score (in this case, by Mr. Picker, who recited the entire work from memory). In a conversation between Mr. Picker and Giancarlo Guerrero, the composer recounts narrating the piece when he wrote it 37 years ago: “I performed The Encantadas as narrator many times as a very young man, but I always looked forward to performing it as an old man some day and knew that it would be more natural, because it’s actually the story of an old man looking back on his journey.”
Nashville Symphony Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero’s connection to The Encantadas dates back to 2003, when the Minnesota Orchestra—where Mr. Guerrero was serving as Associate Conductor at the time—programmed the piece. “The Encantadas is a piece that touches on climate change,” explains Mr. Guerrero. “The 19th-century explorers recognized the fragility of our ecosystem, and Melville’s words presciently capture the enchanting beauty of the Galápagos in a work that could not be more timely.”
“Ever since I was first introduced to Mr. Picker through The Encantadas,” Mr. Guerrero went on to say, “I knew I wanted to commission something from him one day.” That commission would emerge as Opera Without Words, in which Mr. Picker developed a radically new form: a purely instrumental work that conveys a secret opera. In the piece, co-commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra and the Nashville Symphony, and performed and recorded by the latter in 2017, Mr. Picker called upon the ideas of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words, Lorin Maazel’s Wagner adaptation The ‘Ring’ Without Words, and former teacher Milton Babbitt’s Phonemena, in which the soprano has no words, just phonemes. Mr. Picker says he approached his first purely orchestral work in 22 years as he would an opera. He hired librettist Irene Dische to write a story based on mutual friends and “set her words not to voices, but to musical instruments, unfettered by considerations of vocal range and technique.”
“There is a gap between the symphony orchestra culture and the opera culture,” Mr. Picker explains. “I’ve inhabited these two worlds for a long time and have seen how they tend to be unaware of each other. So, by returning to one of those worlds I’d been away from for so long, I wanted to bridge that gap for myself and, hopefully, for others.”
This album follows the release of the 2020 GRAMMY® Award-winning Best Opera Recording of Tobias Picker’s opera Fantastic Mr. Fox conducted by Gil Rose on BMOP/sound. It is also the last of three recordings featuring contemporary American music performed by the GRAMMY® Award-winning Nashville Symphony led by conductor Giancarlo Guerrero to be released on Naxos this summer, following collections dedicated to Aaron Jay Kernis in June and the late Christopher Rouse in July. The release of the three albums coincides with the 20th anniversary of the recording partnership between the Nashville Symphony and Naxos.
“I cherish my friendships with each composer whose music we have recorded,” says Mr. Guerrero. “I am honored to champion all of them. The greatest reward for us is that they have become a part of the Nashville Symphony family through the efforts of our community to catalog the music of our time.”
About Tobias Picker
Tobias Picker, whose music has been described as “displaying a distinctively soulful style that is one of the glories of the current musical scene” by BBC Music Magazine and “a genuine creator with a fertile unforced vein of invention” by The New Yorker, has drawn performances and commissions by the world’s leading musicians, orchestras, and opera houses. Mr. Picker’s operas have been commissioned by Santa Fe Opera (Emmeline), LA Opera (Fantastic Mr. Fox), Dallas Opera (Thérèse Raquin), San Francisco Opera (Dolores Claiborne), and the Metropolitan Opera (An American Tragedy). Mr. Picker’s sixth opera, Awakenings, based on the novel by Oliver Sacks, will be premiered by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in a coming season. He has composed numerous symphonic works including three symphonies, concertos for violin, viola, cello, and oboe; four piano concertos; and a ballet, Awakenings, commissioned by the Rambert Dance Company. Mr. Picker has received numerous awards and prizes and was elected to lifetime membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2012. He served as composer-in-residence of the Houston Symphony (1985–1990) and subsequently for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and the Pacific Music Festival. Mr. Picker was born in New York City in 1954. He studied composition with Charles Wuorinen, Elliott Carter, and Milton Babbitt, and received his BM degree from Manhattan School of Music, MM degree from Juilliard, and MFA from Princeton University. He has served as Artistic Director of Tulsa Opera since 2016. His music is published exclusively by Schott Music.
About the Nashville Symphony
One of Tennessee’s largest and longest-running nonprofit performing arts organizations, the Nashville Symphony has been an integral part of the Music City sound since 1946. Led by Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero and President and CEO Alan D. Valentine, the 83-member ensemble performs more than 160 concerts annually, with a focus on contemporary American orchestral music through collaborations with composers including Jennifer Higdon, Terry Riley, Michael Daugherty, John Harbison, Jonathan Leshnoff, and the late Christopher Rouse. The orchestra is equally renowned for its commissioning and recording projects with Nashville-based artists including bassist Edgar Meyer, banjoist Beĺa Fleck, singer-songwriter Ben Folds, electric bassist Victor Wooten, and composer Kip Winger. The Nashville Symphony is one of the most active recording orchestras in the US, with more than 30 releases. Together, these recordings have earned a total of 25 GRAMMY® Award nominations and 13 GRAMMY® Awards, including two for Best Orchestral Performance. Schermerhorn Symphony Center is home to the Nashville Symphony and widely regarded as one of the finest concert halls in the US.
About Giancarlo Guerrero
Six-time GRAMMY® Award-winning conductor Giancarlo Guerrero is Music Director of the Nashville Symphony and the NFM Wrocław Philharmonic in Poland, as well as Principal Guest Conductor of the Gulbenkian Orchestra in Lisbon, Portugal. He has championed contemporary American music through numerous commissions, recordings, and performances with the Nashville Symphony, presenting eleven world premieres of works by Jonathan Leshnoff, Michael Daugherty, Terry Riley, and others. As part of this commitment, he helped guide the creation of Nashville Symphony’s Composer Lab & Workshop initiative. In North America, Mr. Guerrero has appeared with the orchestras of Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Toronto, and the National Symphony Orchestra. He has developed a strong international profile working with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Brussels Philharmonic, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. An advocate for music education, he works with the Curtis Institute of Music, Colburn School, the National Youth Orchestra (NYO2) in New York, and the Nashville Symphony’s Accelerando program, which provides intensive music education to promising young students from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
Tobias Picker: Opera Without Words and The Encantadas
Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor
Tobias Picker (b. 1954)
The Encantadas (1983) — 30:05
Text by Herman Melville (1819–1891)
Tobias Picker, narrator
1. I. Dream — 4:38
2. II. Desolation — 2:46
3. III. Delusion — 3:30
4. IV. Diversity — 10:19
5. V. Din — 3:27
6. VI. Dawn — 5:21
Opera Without Words (2015)* — 27:44
7. Scene 1: The Beloved — 5:12
8. Scene 2: The Minstrel — 5:03
9. Scene 3: The Idol — 6:42
10. Scene 4: The Gladiator — 4:02
11. Scene 5: The Farewell — 6:43
*World Premiere Recording