The Berkeley Symphony, under music director Joana Carneiro, has boldly incorporated a commissioned world premiere from a contemporary composer on each of its programs this season and is about to conclude that admirable project with a work from Pulitzer Prize winner Steven Stucky, who has been the orchestra's "Music Alive" composer-in-residence this year. Stucky's "The Stars and the Roses," a song cycle for tenor voice and orchestra, will close out Berkeley Symphony's 2012-13 season in Zellerbach Hall on March 28, on a program that also includes Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 in E flat major.
Carneiro's only marching orders for this particular commission were that it be orchestral songs and that they be written for the American tenor Noah Stewart, with whom she had worked in London. So it was up to Stucky to come up with the text, and he selected a favorite writer, the late Czeslaw Milosz, the Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet of Lithuanian extraction who served as a professor of Slavic languages and literature on the UC Berkeley faculty for nearly four decades. Although his dark anti-Nazi poetry from the World War II era brought Milosz his first and perhaps most enduring fame, Stucky looked elsewhere in his body of work for inspiration. "I gravitated toward lyrical texts expressing happiness and acceptance," he writes in his program notes. "These, it seemed to me to fit the medium of tenor with orchestra and the artistic personalities of Carneiro and Stewart."
In a short video for Berkeley Symphony's website, Stucky playfully says his settings of Milosz's "Happiness," "The Sun" and "The Bird Kingdom" are "very gentle, very warm songs on very gentle, very warm poems." The choice of Stewart to premiere them, he adds, is "a stroke of luck for me, because he's a gorgeous singer."
Opera lovers with long memories may recall Stewart, the Harlem-born, Juilliard-trained tenor, from his days in San Francisco Opera's Merola apprenticeship program in 2006, which led to his advancement into the Adler Fellows program the following year. While there, he won praise for his role in the world premiere of Philip Glass' "Appomattox" at War Memorial and also impressed by rushing in to replace an ailing Macduff in Verdi's "Macbeth" on the same stage during the last half of its final performance. In 2008, he was Festival Opera of Walnut Creek's choice for the starring role in that company's production of Verdi's "Il Trovatore." Opera roles here and abroad have continued to occupy him ever since, but he has also become something of a crossover artist, especially in England. His debut album, "Noah," came out on the Decca label there last year and peaked at No. 14 in the regular charts and hit No. 1 in the classical charts, making him, as incredible as it sounds, the first black musician to ever top the British classical music charts.
Details: 8 p.m. March 28 at Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft and Telegraph, Berkeley. $15-$68, 510-841-2800, www.berkeleysymphony.org.
MOVE OVER MIDORI: The celebrated and supremely talented Midori is in the Bay Area playing the complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin by J.S. Bach -- but sorry, fans, you and I are going to miss her. Both of her Saturday and Sunday recitals at St. Mark's Lutheran Church for San Francisco Performances are sold out, and that's no surprise. But the former prodigy might be wise to look over her shoulder at a Bay Area-bred violinist who is coming up fast behind her, and who will be playing his next concert here for free.
Stephen Waarts of Los Altos is not yet 17, but he has been playing in public to high acclaim for a dozen years and has an impressive string of competition prizes and other awards to show for it (the most recent being the 2012 American Philharmonic Young Artist Award). A graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (at age 14), a pianist, a math whiz and an artist, he is now in his second year at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia; his mentors have included violinists Li Lin, Elizabeth Blumenstock and San Francisco Symphony concertmaster Alexander Barantschik.
Stephen has been heard with orchestras all around the Bay Area, but it is Oakland's community-based Prometheus Symphony Orchestra that presents him next, at a free concert at 3 p.m. Sunday in St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 114 Montecito Ave., Oakland. Having performed Beethoven and Mozart concertos with the orchestra in previous appearances, he will this time tackle the Alban Berg concerto "To the Memory of an Angel." The last work the composer completed before his death in 1935, the concerto was inspired by the death by polio of Manon Gropius, the 18-year-old daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius. The program, conducted by music director Eric Hansen, also includes Igor Stravinsky's Suite from "Petrushka."
Contact Sue Gilmore at email@example.com.