A little preview, with small cuts restored, of Mason Bates’s concerts this week with the CSO and MusicNOW (at Redmoon) that I have in today’s Chicago Sun-Times and suntimes.com.
CSO composer Mason Bates a disc jockey by night
At home in many musical worlds
BY ANDREW PATNER
He listens to Poulenc piano pieces and Pink Floyd, George Gershwin and the German electronica duo Mouse on Mars.
He studied music at Juilliard with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first composer-in-residence, John Corigliano, and literature at Columbia University with the late New York School poet of exuberance, Kenneth Koch.
A composer by day in his home studio in the Oakland, California, hills, under his given name, and a DJ at night in San Francisco under the handle Masonic, Mason Bates, 34, is now himself one of two CSO Mead composers-in-residence and co-curator of the CSO’s MusicNOW series. In March, his piece Mothership (Remix) was viewed and heard live by millions of people worldwide when Michael Tilson Thomas led it with the YouTube Symphony Orchestra from Australia’s Sydney Opera House.
This week Bates will be putting on both his university-trained and techno-experienced hats for his first collaboration with music director Riccardo Muti on CSO concerts. With MusicNOW, Bates also will bring one of his “Mercury Soul” evenings to the Redmoon Theater space in River West/West Town Friday night.
When Muti, seen by many as one of the last of the great traditionalists, took the CSO job, he wanted to use the Mead composers program to shake things up. He had never heard of Bates, or the other young artist he ultimately selected, Anna Clyne, now 30, before he started examining scores they had submitted.
“I’ll be honest,” Bates said Wednesday afternoon in a sunlit room on top of Orchestra Hall. “When I first was invited to talk with [Muti], I was not expecting that he would have fully studied and learned — without having ever heard — a piece of mine with the name Liquid Interface. He’s astounding.”
The Italian conductor, who turns 70 this summer, and is not known for following popular musical styles or electronics, and Bates clicked immediately. The Bates piece the CSO is performing this week is The B-Sides. Commissioned by Michael Tilson Thomas for the San Francisco Symphony, which premièred it in 2009, “it’s an off-kilter dance suite that air drops into five surreal landscapes” and pays tribute to Chicago and Detroit warehouse club music traditions. “Maestro Muti looked at my score, which calls for a full orchestra and electronics, and lasts 20, 25 minutes, the way he looks at any other piece, with incredible concentration and analysis.”
And he was frank with Bates. “There’s a section that I think of as the easiest to perform because so many people have incorporated so many of the types of rhythms in dance music into their minds and bodies and vocabularies. And Muti said to me when we were preparing for the first rehearsals this week, ‘I think this is the hardest section!’ But somehow he just zeroed in on the phrasing and made all of it start clicking.”
“The B-Sides” is the opener on a CSO program with a Richard Strauss tone poem and Schumann’s Cello Concerto with soloist Yo-Yo Ma. For “Mercury Soul,” Bates, er, Masonic, is joined by Clyne and CSO members, along with his regular young Bay Area collaborators, conductor Benjamin Schwartz and designer Anne Patterson, as well as additional guest DJs. “We’re creating a different environment for making and listening to music. The audience moves around the performers and we watch them form groups and meet and talk with people. In addition to my music and Anna’s, we have a piece each by John Adams and Stravinsky that work well with our idea, and electro-acoustic interludes.
“It’s all about expanding conceptions, of the orchestra, of types of music, of performance space. It’s going to be an interesting week.”