New England String Orchestra with Sirota: the conductor's view

by Victoria Aschheim

On Friday I posted an e-mail exchange I had with Nadia Sirota, an inspired interpreter and advocate of new music. Today I bring you Maestro Federico Cortese's view of his intelligently programmed concert that takes place twice this weekend. Gems of artistic information always emerge in interviews with figures of Harvard's life of the arts. It is significant to know that Cortese and Derek Bermel were fellows at Tanglewood together, a strong musical bond; Nadia has also been a fellow and New Fromm Player at the Tanglewood Music Center. This weekend's concerts present our community with opportunity to experience musical fireworks that had their foundation in the Berkshires. And, as ever, stay tuned for future fireworks from Cortese's Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, including a forthcoming tour to Cuba!

You have selected a fascinating and cutting-edge program for December 4 and 5, including Derek Bermel's Soul Garden, which Nadia will perform as viola soloist. What were the inspirations to form this exciting program? Derek Bermel is an enlightened choice. Have you worked with Bermel's compositions before?

With Derek, we were fellows together at Tanglewood, many years ago, alas. He is an extremely original and interesting composer. I always wanted to do his music. For several reasons I never had the right opportunity. It is a long awaited first collaboration. I really hope we can have many more.

Robert Spano is usually in the conductor slot, so the choice of Spano as piano soloist was also quite inspired.

Spano is just a fantastic musician and a wonderful pianist. I remember several chamber music and solo performances in New York (for instance a wonderful "Winterreise" with James Maddalena, if I am not mistaken). So I asked him if he wanted to play with us and he accepted with enthusiasm. He has in his schedule several other performances as a pianist, including with his own orchestra. I am really looking forward to this. It is always special to make music with friends.

Tell us about your work with the New England String Orchestra and its recent change of name from ensemble to orchestra. I fondly remember playing a recording of Brahms by the NESO under your direction that you brought to our HRO interview series on WHRB last year.

The board felt that orchestra was a name that described better our plan to expand the number of players and to include more often non string players when the repertoire requires it. We are a string orchestra, and we will continue to be a string orchestra: with non-string players as more frequent members. Ensemble sounds, just in terms of size, smaller.

HRO will be going on tour to Cuba. How did you and the orchestra decide upon Cuba for the tour? HRO and the New York Philharmonic are on the same page about musical work in Cuba.

I think that HRO should not travel for tourism. When we go on tour we should make a little statement about what a special group of Harvard students feel important. Our plans have nothing to do with what NY Phil had in mind. It is great that we agree from different angles on what is important to discuss in our artistic and political lives.

What are you most looking forward to about working with Nadia? Have you worked with her before?

I knew Nadia by reputation, not personally. I just met her and had a rehearsal with her. She is absolutely terrific.

[Caption: Federico Cortese (Photo: Michael Lutch)]