Nova Chamber Series Preview: Andrew Norman and Beethoven 11.13

Posted November 9, 2011 in

Andrew Norman

The Nova Chamber Music Concert Series continues this Sunday, November 13 at 3 p.m. in the Libby Gardner Concert Hall, which is on the north side of President’s Circle on the University of Utah campus. Bring cash, they don’t take plastic.

The high point for music fans in Salt Lake City, will be the performance of several pieces by Andrew Norman, one of the most interesting young composers in America. At 32, a graduate of UCLA and Yale, Mr. Norman writes classical music about architecture with an abstract expressionist aesthetic. His pieces are formal, but you might not guess from listening. His music tries to get unexpected noise and electrical sounds from classical instruments. The result is a little horror movie feeling at times, sixties anti-drug documentary at others. If late twentieth, early twenty-first century experimentalist music is your bag, here it is as you haven’t heard before––atonality, alien playing styles, ad hoc time signatures, internal games with time, key and melody that don’t conclude quite right, or at all. It is, in short, very exciting, and even more precisely, it is art. If Thurston Moore were one of us Beehivers, I would expect to see him at this.

There will be two Norman pieces performed: one, a short, hard-to-play piece for piano called “Sync Up,” which is a smart, surface-oriented reverie. A game for the ears, as it were, the music stops before you do.

More importantly, we will hear a new, major piece, "The Companion Guide to Rome,” for string trio. The first group to play it was the Scharoun Ensemble in Berlin, which is a group of musicians that are also members of the Berlin Philharmonic. I’m not entirely sure, but it sounds like this might be only the second ever full performance of this piece. So, good for us, and good work Nova. This nine movement cycle, each taking the name of a different Roman church, should be a monster. You can hear parts of each piece on Andrew Norman’s website, which is worth a visit, and a listen.

Two Beethoven pieces will be played as well. The Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major, Op. 69, which is an optimistic piece written the same year as the Fifth and Sixth symphonies. It is, in the history of cello sonata, one of the first new styled ones, the piano and cello talking back and forth in a moving conversation, as compared to the more traditional style where the piano parrots the cello’s melodies, and acts as bass and rhythm section to the cello’s lead. There is a totally fun, if amusingly unselfconscious version with Glenn Gould and Leonard Rose on YouTube. I’m told that this week’s performance won’t be quite that ... performative (watch the clip to see what I mean). This is my favorite of the Beethoven cello sonatas. And, if you want to be like the Japanese, there is a nice pdf of this score for free to download at if you want to follow along with the show. The second piece is also a historic composition, the first song cycle by a major composer, “An Die Ferne Geliebte.” It is from a set of short poems, probably written at Beethoven’s request, by a 22-year-old poet, Alois Isidor Jeitteles, which he then composed into one long connected song with six distinct parts. Working somewhat like the second half of Abbey Road, this fifteen minute story is about the emotions of loneliness and loss, and the girl that got away, as it were. Translated as “To My Distant Beloved,” it is said to have been written for the same subject (read “woman”) as the famous “Immortal Beloved” letters, from which we got the Gary Oldman movie, and the sex symbol Beethoven of contemporary thought.

I think you should come hear this music. I’ll be there of course, to the right of center if I can, getting an eyeful of what should be a great show.

Andrew Norman Beethoven