Hidden from small

The Piece Is Born

October 30, 2013

Daniel Matsukawa performs David Ludwig’s “Pictures from the Floating World”


There was applause at the end of rehearsal in Verizon Hall. Also hugs, a thumbs up or two, pats on the back, maybe even a few sighs of relief. The Orchestra had just played—for the first time—Behzad Ranjbaran’s Flute Concerto, written for Principal Flute Jeffrey Khaner, and David Ludwig’s Pictures from the Floating World, written for Principal Bassoon Daniel Matsukawa. “The piece is born!” says Ranjbaran. 

Even the composers, who were sitting in the audience, were hearing their works for the very first time. “You work for months and years—intense work,” says Ranjbaran. “In a matter of a few minutes, suddenly the piece comes to life. It’s a strange feeling. All along you hear bits and pieces in your head as a composer,” he says. “Then one day, you’ve arrived at that exhilarating moment when 100 people are playing it. It’s not gradual. It’s sudden. Suddenly all aspects of the music come together in one moment.”

And did it sound like he expected? “Listen. When you hear Jeff and The Philadelphia Orchestra, it’s better than what you imagined.” “That’s kind,” laughs Khaner. “It’s true. It’s true!” says Ranjbaran. “Usually the first rehearsal is a rough reading. But not this morning. It was ready to go.”

The first rehearsal was exhilarating—and exhausting. “Right now, I’m wiped out!” says Khaner. “I’m tired just because there’s such a build-up to this. The preparation is so intense … I feel like now I can relax into playing it without the stress of having the first time ahead of me.” 

Yannick discusses Behzad Ranjbaran’s Flute Concerto with the composer and Jeffrey Khaner.

The audience, predicts Khaner, is going to like what it hears. “I think it will be a very popular piece. I think this is major repertoire for the instrument,” he says. “It’s loaded with character. … It’s fun to play, and challenging, and great to listen to. What more do you need?” 

The two concertos get their world premieres this week in Verizon Hall as part of a micro-festival showcasing new works. Also on the program: the American premiere of Tan Dun’s Nu Shu: The Secret Songs of Women, Symphony for Microfilms, Harp, and Orchestra, written for Principal Harp Elizabeth Hainen. (Rehearsals for Nu Shu begin today.) 

“We chose three very different composers with very different backgrounds,” says Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who is conducting all three premieres. His goal with the festival is to continue championing new music in the spirit and tradition of his predecessors, most notably Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy, who premiered countless new works. (Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances—composed for The Philadelphia Orchestra and given its world premiere in 1941—is also on this weekend’s Philadelphia Commissions program.)

Matsukawa sums up the first rehearsal in a word: “Wow. I’m feeling great,” he says. “I’m even more impressed than I expected. You never know how it’s going to turn out. … It’s so amazing. It’s beautiful. Walking off stage after the rehearsal, Nézet-Séguin had high praise for his soloists: “Jeffrey and Danny—they owned their pieces as if they had played them so many times. So that made my job easier … and the musicians as well. I’m using the word exciting a lot in my life, but exciting is really appropriate,” he says, to describe what is happening right now.

Ludwig describes hearing his piece for the first time as emotional, moving, poignant, and humbling. “Here’s this moment. Suddenly this exists in the world. And it didn’t before,” he says. “We spend months and months for that 20 minutes. And boy is it worth it.”Matsukawa calls the bassoon concerto perfect—“everything I asked for.” He and Ludwig, who are friends as well as colleagues, share a mutual respect and admiration for the other’s work. “With Danny, the sound that he makes is always, for the rest of my life, the sound I want to hear in my head when I’m writing a bassoon part,” says Ludwig. “There’s a history in the sound. And a history in the sound of the Orchestra. And to now be a part of that is a dream.”

David Ludwig’s Pictures from the Floating World for bassoon and orchestra, featuring Principal Bassoon Daniel Matsukawa, premieres Friday, November 1, at 2 PM in Verizon Hall with a repeat performance Saturday, November 2 at 8 PM. Behzad Ranjbaran’s Flute Concerto, featuring Principal Flute Jeffrey Khaner, premieres Thursday, October 31, at 8 PM with a repeat performance Saturday, November 2 at 8 PM. Tan Dun’s Nu Shu: The Secret Songs of Women, Symphony for Microfilms, Harp, and Orchestra, featuring Principal Harp Elizabeth Hainen, premieres Thursday, October 31, at 8 PM with a repeat performance Friday, November 1, at 2 PM. For tickets click HERE.