Inspired by Beethoven, a Caroline Shaw Premiere in Seattle

07/02/2019

Beethoven, Shaw, Shostakovich: Jonathan Biss (piano), Seattle Symphony Orchestra / Ludovic Morlot (conductor), Benaroya Hall, Seattle, 2.2.2019. (ZC)

Caroline Shaw (c) Kait Moreno

Beethoven — Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37

Caroline Shaw — Watermark (world premiere)

Shostakovich — Symphony No.1 in F minor, Op.10

Not too many years ago, Caroline Shaw was a PhD. student in composition, vocalist with Roomful of Teeth, and a sometime instrumentalist. She was little known outside a small group of classical music opinion-makers. But in 2013, when Shaw became the youngest person to win the Pulitzer Prize for music, that changed. Immediately, her winning composition, Partita, became a subversive favorite, even if it wasn’t performed in its entirety until later in 2013. Six years later, Shaw has continued to impress audiences and critics alike with a growing list of compositions, as well as vocal performances. Shaw and Roomful of Teeth were last in Seattle to perform Berio’s Sinfonia. This last weekend, the composer returned to unveil her latest work, Watermark, a concerto for piano and orchestra, in this concert by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

Shaw’s premiere followed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3, and the pairing was no accident. Watermark is part of a project by Jonathan Biss (who joined the orchestra for both works), who commissioned five new piano concertos, each inspired by one of Beethoven’s own. Shaw’s opus is the fourth of the project. Biss continues to show a recent interest in Beethoven; the pianist is in the process, for example, of recording all 32 piano sonatas.

Shaw’s concerto plays with Beethoven’s form and ideas to create narratives that are new, yet also familiar, and in homage, she generously employs phrases from the composer’s Third — at times, quoting Beethoven note-for-note in multiple bars. But more often than not, her references are concealed by her own inventive manipulations.

It helped that the Beethoven, which preceded the Shaw, was given a sinewy interpretation by Biss, the orchestra, and conductor Ludovic Morlot — a reading that resembled a period performance more than a grand modern orchestra statement. But the clarity suitably foreshadowed Shaw’s effort, and as a result, the audience could draw clear connections between the two.

Her Beethoven-like permutations are only part of what made Watermark an enjoyable listen. Shimmering, colorful passages conveyed ambiguity — opposite Beethoven’s purposeful force. Morlot and the orchestra wrapped Biss’s lucid playing in a lush blanket of sound. Hours later, I was left feeling that Shaw had created an approachable work that a novice could enjoy immediately, but also one that would engage and satisfy more seasoned listeners.

Shostakovich’s Symphony No.1 closed the evening. Apparently Morlot added it to the program, along with the composer’s 15th Symphony later this season, as a comparison — a small musical journey for Seattle audience members. For the First Symphony, Morlot and the orchestra whipped up a kinetic, crisp performance that balanced ferocity with humor. But an opportunity was missed, it seems, to connect Shostakovich’s masterful early success with Shaw’s precocious talent. The two halves of this concert belonged together more than the audience may have realized.

Zach Carstensen

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! This Year’s International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival at Buxton and Harrogate __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Usher Hall 2019-2020 Orchestral Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2020 Ring Cycles __________________________________
  • NEW! Roman River 2019 Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Ex Cathedra’s 50th Anniversary Season in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Geneva Grand Théâtre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • NEW! Bregenz Festival 17 July – 18 August 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Musikfest Berlin 2019 from 30 August to 19 September __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 BBC Proms 19 July – 14 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2019-2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB in 2019-2020 and Updates on their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Free Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! Memories of West End Musical Delights __________________________________
  • NEW! CELLIST JOHANNES MOSER IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! CHORUS MASTER STEPHEN DOUGHTY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • REVIEWED! Ron Howard’s Pavarotti in Cinemas 13 July (Preview) and Nationwide (15 July) __________________________________
  • NEW! MULTI-FACETED MUSICIAN JOY LISNEY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet Announces Winners of Emerging Dancer 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR THOMAS SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR ÁDÁM FISCHER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH LISETTE OROPESA AS SHE RETURNS TO LA OPERA FOR ORFEO ED EURIDICE __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH ANDREA CARÈ AS HE RETURNS TO COVENT GARDEN AS DON JOSÉ __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month