Lembit Beecher Brings New Music and Memories to the SPCO

By Paul Finkelstein, Artistic Planning Manager

The SPCO is thrilled to introduce our audience to Music Alive Composer-in-Residence Lembit Beecher during chamber music performances this week, on October 19-22. Lembit has been working alongside the orchestra’s Artistic Vision Committee and administrative staff to craft intriguing programs and to push our artistic planning process in new and exciting directions. I recently spoke with Lembit about this week’s concerts and his plans for the residency, which culminates during the 2018.19 season.

Paul Finkelstein: First of all, welcome to the SPCO! In advance of this coming week of Chamber Music Series concerts, which you curated, could you tell me about the concept behind the program?

Lembit Beecher: Thank you! I’m thrilled to be here! The focus of these concerts is the idea of youth and in particular memories of childhood. The composers of these pieces all try to connect in some way across a generational divide. The SPCO will be performing two of my works, a chamber ensemble piece called Stories from My Grandmother, which was inspired by interviews I had done with my grandmother about her youth in Estonia during the Second World War, and a string quartet called Small Infinities, which was inspired by memories of my own childhood.

In addition, they will present a woodwind sextet by Leos Janacek, called Mladi or Youth, a wonderfully playful piece with a darkly sonorous sound (the instrumentation is an unusual combination of woodwind quintet and bass clarinet), a string quartet written by the 23-year-old Franz Schubert, and a really sweet violin and piano sonatina written by Antonin Dvorak late in his life for his grandchildren to play. I played this piece in high school with my violinist brother and fell in love with it. It features a gorgeous slow movement that Dvorak apparently wrote down on his shirt sleeve while visiting Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis in 1893!

PF: Can you give us a preview of what you are most looking forward to accomplishing throughout this residency?

 LB: A lot of my work is focused on a curating a series of concerts in the 2018.2019 season that I’m really excited about. There is so much vibrant, meaningful new music being made now—especially works that involve combining different styles of music or different art forms—and I want audiences to experience the joy of hearing a new composer or musical moment that grabs their attention, makes them think either “this speaks to me” or “that was wild and crazy, and I’ve never heard anything like it but I want to hear more.”

A lot of the work I have done in the past has a documentary element to it, sometimes using recorded interviews or setting found texts, and I’m working with the SPCO to see how this sort of approach might be brought to an orchestral setting. Personally, I’m excited to develop meaningful relationships and learn from the fantastic players in the orchestra. (And hopefully connect with audience members as well!) A lot of the work I have done as a composer is writing chamber music and opera, and there is so much for me to absorb and learn from a chamber orchestra the caliber of the SPCO.

PF: This residency is made possible through a generous grant program called Music Alive from New Music USA and the League of American Orchestras. Can you tell me a little bit about how this composer residency is structured differently than a “typical” residency?

LB: One of the purposes of the grant was to allow for composers to become a real part of an orchestra, both administratively and artistically. The residency is both a great opportunity for me to learn more about the inner workings of an orchestra, but also, hopefully, a chance for me to have an influence on the organization—and hopefully the effect of the residency will last beyond the term of my involvement. There will be concerts of my music and I’ll be writing a new piece for the end of the residency, but a lot of what I have been doing is behind the scenes work—researching and forming relationships with lesser known young composers from all sorts of backgrounds, curating concerts and helping the orchestra cast a wider net in terms of the composers it works with and the types of projects it presents.

PF: What is particularly appealing to you about working with the SPCO?

LB: I love the creative spirit and sense of personal investment the players in the orchestra have. It’s a joy to work with an organization like the SPCO that has an administrative structure that fosters artist-driven decision making, and I love that the orchestra makes accessibility to their concerts a priority. I’ve always been drawn to intimate and personal musical experiences rather than large grand gestures; the mix of chamber music with orchestral works that the SPCO presents allows for imaginative, unusual programming.

PF: Is there anything else you would like to let the SPCO audience know about you or your music before this week’s concerts?

LB: Please come up and talk to me if you see me at a concert and want to chat!

Come meet Lembit Beecher this week in performances at Icehouse (Oct. 19), the Capri Theater (Oct. 20) and Sundin Hall (Oct. 21-22)!