For the first time since it was completed in 1922, Darius Milhaud’s monumental operatic trilogy, L’Orestie d’Eschyle (Oresteia of Aeschylus), has been recorded and will be released by the Naxos label on September 9. The epic work is performed by the University Symphony Orchestra of the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD); a 320-voice choir comprising the UMS Choral Union and SMTD’s Chamber Choir and Orpheus Singers; the SMTD Percussion Ensemble (under the direction of Joseph Gramley and Jonathan Ovalle, SMTD professors of percussion); and a cast of nine professional vocal soloists. The performance is conducted by Kenneth Kiesler, U-M’s director of university orchestras and music director of the University Symphony Orchestra; the choirs were directed by Jerry Blackstone, U-M’s director of university choirs and music director of the UMS Choral Union, and Eugene Rogers, associate director of choirs and conductor of the University Choir. The recording engineer was Jason Corey, associate professor and chair of SMTD’s Department of Performing Arts Technology.
The recording is the result of the first North American performance of the entire work, which is believed to be the first anywhere in the world since 1963. The University Musical Society (UMS), one of the country's leading presenters, which is located on the University of Michigan campus, produced the mammoth work for the live concert and recording. The concert took place in April 2013 in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Hill Auditorium, the renowned U-M concert hall. The last time UMS and SMTD collaborated on a recording was in 2004 with William Bolcom’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, which went on to win four GRAMMY® Awards in 2006 (Best Choral Performance, Best Classical Contemporary Composition, Best Classical Album and Producer of the Year).
Based on the plays by Aeschylus, The Oresteian Trilogy is a quintessentially modern piece based on an ancient text. It relates the bloody chain of murder and revenge within the royal family of Argos through three movements: L’Agamemnon, Les Choéphores, and Les Euménides.
Part of the great French musical tradition, Darius Milhaud was an important avant-garde figure in early 20th-century Paris. The Oresteia of Aeschylus trilogy arose from his lifelong interest in Greek mythology and drama, inspired by the expressive, syncopated rhythms of Paul Claudel’s poetic translation of the texts from Greek to French. In addition to innovative rhythmic elements, the trilogy exhibits complex harmonic techniques, particularly polytonality, which Milhaud believed gave him more varied ways of expressing sweetness in addition to violence.
William Bolcom, U-M professor emeritus of composition, was instrumental in bringing the work to U-M. He had been a student of Milhaud’s in the 1950s and remained a close friend until the composer’s death in 1974. When Bolcom was introduced to the Trilogy, he knew he was encountering something remarkable: “It absolutely knocked me over,” he said. “It has a certain kind of savagery, which is straight out of the Aeschylus.” Bolcom vowed to himself that he would someday arrange for a performance of the work. With the success of the performances and CD of his Songs of Innocence and of Experience, he was emboldened to have the work performed by the student musicians of U-M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, whose orchestras, choirs and bands are renowned for their excellence.
“The Trilogy is a piece of music-theatre so sonically brilliant and innovative, so striking and dramatic, that it reaches out and makes a visceral, palpable impact,” said conductor Kenneth Kiesler.
Musicologist and Milhaud scholar Frank Langlois wrote that the project gave Milhaud “free rein to his rhythmic experiments as well as to his lyrical and dramatic temperament.” 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 offered an exciting challenge for the student performers. “It’s very theatrical, very colorful music,” said Jerry Blackstone. “ It does not keep you at arms length; it draws you in.”
The CD of Milhaud's Oresteia of Aeschylus is now available to pre-order at Amazon.com.
ABOUT THE U-M SCHOOL OF MUSIC, THEATRE & DANCE
Widely recognized as one of the preeminent performing arts schools in the nation, the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) has produced performing arts leaders since its founding in 1880. SMTD is distinguished by its unparalleled synergy of scholarship, artistry and comprehensive education in all disciplines of performance as well as in research and pedagogy, and is known for interdisciplinary experiences that can only be offered in a world-class research university. With a celebrated history of traditional conservatory programs, the school also offers acclaimed programs in jazz, modern dance, musical theatre, interarts performance and performing arts technology.
ABOUT UNIVERSITY MUSICAL SOCIETY
The University Musical Society is an independent non-profit affiliated with the University of Michigan, presenting over 70 music, theater and dance performances by professional touring artists each season. One of the oldest performing arts presenters in the country, UMS is committed to connecting audiences with performing artists from around the world in uncommon and engaging experiences. With a program steeped in music, dance and theater, UMS contributes to a vibrant cultural community by presenting approximately 60-75 performances and over 100 free educational activities each season. UMS also commissions new work, sponsors artist residencies, and organizes collaborative projects with local, national and international partners. For more information, please visit ums.org.
ABOUT NAXOS OF AMERICA
In addition to being an award-winning classical label, Naxos of America is the #1 independent classical music distributor in the U.S. and Canada. Specializing in state-of-the-art distribution, marketing and promotion, Naxos of America distributes nearly 50,000 titles on CD and DVD to traditional brick and mortar retail, as well as offering a comprehensive suite of services tailored to consumer direct fulfillment. Naxos of America is also the largest digital distributor of independent classical music, supplying a catalog of over 50,000 albums to hundreds of digital download and mobile outlets worldwide. Naxos of America offers marketing, e-marketing, publicity, e-publicity, physical and digital e-commerce services, licensing opportunities, streaming services, sales and customer service for all new releases and active catalog titles of Naxos Records and more than 400 distributed labels.
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
L’Orestie d’Eschyle (Oresteia of Aeschylus)
L’agamemnon, Les Choéphores, Les Euménides
Libretto by Paul Claudel
Released by NAXOS
8.660349-51 • 3 CDs Playing Time: 02:21:24 • $29.99
A co-production of UMS and the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance
University Symphony Orchestra
Percussion Ensemble, directed by Joseph Gramley and Jonathan Ovalle
UMS Choral Union
Kenneth Kiesler, conductor
Jerry Blackstone and Eugene Rogers, chorus masters
Sophie Delphis, speaker
Julianna Di Giacomo, Lori Phillips and Brenda Rae, sopranos
Kristin Eder and Tamara Mumford, mezzo-sopranos
Jennifer Lane, contralto
Dan Kempson and Sidney Outlaw, baritones
Jason Corey, recording engineer
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