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Music Students Perform Milhaud's Epic "Oresteian Trilogy"


Even by the impeccable standards of an art form known for extravagant gestures, hyperbole, and grand spectacles, the upcoming performance of Darius Milhaud's Oresteia of Aeschylus - (also known as Oresteian Trilogy) - is a monumental undertaking and a dramatic unveiling of a seldom performed work by one of the 20th century's most experimental composers.

The epic work, presented by the University Musical Society (UMS), will be performed Thursday, April 4 at 7:30 p.m. at Hill Auditorium. "The Oresteian Trilogy is what Milhaud thought was his greatest work," said conductor Kenneth Kiesler, director of university orchestras and professor of conducting. He and Jerry Blackstone, director of choral activities and professor and chair of the conducting department, have worked for months to prepare students for what is likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform the rarely heard oratorio.

The sprawling collaborative effort includes more than 450 performers from U-M's School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and UMS Choral Union. Principle singers include Lori Phillips, soprano; Julianna Di Giacomo, soprano; and Tamara Mumford, mezzo-soprano.

Based on the plays by Aeschylus - the only trilogy in Greek drama to have survived from antiquity - The Oresteian Trilogy is a quintessentially modern piece based on an ancient text. Milhaud was asked to write the music by his friend, the poet and diplomat Paul Claudel, who translated the drama from Greek to French. Milhaud, considered one of the most prolific and experimental of 20th century composers, was an admirer of jazz and integrated the genre into his work.

Bringing The Oresteian Trilogy to Hill Auditorium has been 10 years in the making, and largely made possible by the relentless drive of William Bolcom, U-M professor emeritus of composition. Bolcom studied under Milhaud in the late 1950s and they remained close until Milhaud's death in 1974. Bolcom first heard "The Trilogy" as a student.

"It knocked me over with its kind of savagery, which is straight out the Aeschylus," he said. Bolcom vowed to someday arrange a performance of the Trilogy, the entirety of which has never been performed in North America and only rarely in Europe.

With the success of the performances and CD of his Songs of Innocence and of Experience, he was emboldened to have The Oresteian Trilogy performed by the student musicians of U-M's School of Music, Theatre & Dance. (Bolcom's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, released by Naxos, won four Grammy Awards in 2006, including Best Classical Performance.)

The Oresteian Trilogy will be performed in French with English supertitles. It will be recorded for international release by Naxos, which marks the first-full-length recording of the Trilogy.

Incorporating whips and hammers into the orchestration, long percussive sections featuring nearly 20 different instruments, and a chorus that's required to groan, whistle, and shriek, The Oresteian Trilogy is challenging for performers, all of whom are on stage for the entire concert. "You're sitting there with all this blood and thunder all around your all the time," said Bolcom. "It's pretty incredible."

To read more about how Milhaud's Oresteia of Aeschylus came to be performed in Ann Arbor, visit For tickets, visit

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September 2017
March 2014

U-M UpstART Festival Begins 03/31/2014

Students Present "Wall-to-Wall Theatre Festival" 03/27/2014

First-Ever SMTD Chamber Music Competition Launches April 5 03/27/2014

Doctoral Fellow Named MTNA Distinguished Composer of the Year 03/26/2014

Theatre Student Lands Major TV Role 03/25/2014

Elizabeth Batiuk (ethnomusicology) has been chosen as a fellow at the Sweetland/Rackham Dissertation Writing Institute for spring 2014 and James McNally (ethnomusicology) received a summer and academic year FLAS for the study of Portuguese.    03/17/2014

Musicology graduate student Elizabeth McLain has been awarded a prestigious Lurcy Fellowship for research in France during the 2014-2015 academic year.   03/14/2014

December 2013

SMTD students Zoe Kumagai, Stephanie Aboukasm, and Adam DesJardins are among students profiled in an LSA article about the "Michigan in Washington" program, in which students intern at various Washington, DC organizations and businesses, including the National Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Center, and the Washington Performing Arts Society.    12/10/2013

October 2013
August 2013

Evan Zegiel, a sophomore who studies with Fritz Kaenzig, was the First Place winner in the Tuba Student division of the 2013 Leonard Falcone International Euphonium & Tuba Festival.     08/21/2013

July 2013

Professor Ashley Lucas and three Theatre & Drama students are engaged in an intensive exchange program with UniRio in Rio de Janiero, Brazil this summer, where they are blogging about their experiences in UniRio's prison arts program and more.   07/12/2013

November 2011
August 2011
June 2011
Current Student News
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Two musical theatre students perform with New York Philharmonicmore

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Photography Credits:

U-M Photo Services

Joe Welsh

Peter Smith

David Smith

Glen Behring

Tom Bower