By Jacob Stockinger
To many Madison-area residents and local classical music fans, John Harbison may be best known as the co-director of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival each summer during which he gives excellent talks, plays jazz and serves as a violist.
Yet John Harbison (below) is far better known throughout the rest of the world as a composer—and a very fine, respected and yes, frequently performed, composer. Many people forget that he has won both a Pulitzer Prize and a prestigious MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” and that he remains a favorite of Metropolitan Opera maestro James Levine, who commissioned Harbison’s opera “The Great Gatsby” to kick off the millennium in 2000.
He continues to teach at MIT and concertizes, especially with the music of Bach, but Harbison is busier than ever with composing new commissions.
This last week saw the world premiere of his Symphony No. 6 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which, under Levine’s direction, started last season to hold a complete retrospective of Harbison’s symphonies.
For health reasons, Levine has left the Boston post, as well as the Met post for next season. But the reviews for the performance under conductor David Zinman and with mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy, are in and they are by and large very positive and agree that Harbison is not a composer to rest on his laurels or repeat himself.
Some critics even called the work, which used both an orchestra and a mezzo-soprano, a “masterpiece” and described it as “powerful.” Below is John Harbison coaching during a rehearsal.
You can read some of the reviews for yourself:
Here is also a good set-up or background piece with Harbison talking about his own new symphony (below he takes a bow with the conductor and singer who performed the world premiere of his Symphony No. 6):
And the world premiere for John Harbison aren’t over by any means. On Saturday, April 21, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, in a FREE and PUBLIC concert, Habison’s 10-movement String Quartet No. 5 will receive its world premiere from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer). The Pro Arte Quartet commissioned the work to celebrate its centennial this season.
For details of that FREE and public performance and other centennial events, visit: www.proartequartet.org