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American Notes: Harold Meltzer and Jessie Montgomery

Orpheus engages two American composers as part of its American Notes commissioning initiative for premieres in 2016.

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Records from a Vanishing City

Posted on November 22, 2016 by Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

Orpheus was proud to premiere Jessie Montgomery’s new work at Carnegie Hall on October 27th. Here are Jessie’s own words about the piece which appeared in the evening’s Playbill.

Orpheus Insight
Jessie Montgomery, Composer

Records from a Vanishing City is a tone poem based on my recollections of the music that surrounded me as I grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1980s and 1990s. Artists, truth seekers, and cultures of all kinds defined our vibrant community. The embracing diversity burst out with an effortless everydayness in block parties, festivals, and shindigs of every sort. Partly because my parents were artists—but also because I just couldn’t help it—I soaked up all that surrounded me: Latin jazz, alternative rock, Western classical, avant-garde jazz, poetry, and Caribbean dance music, to name a few.

A year before completing this work, a very dear family friend passed away and it was decided that I would be the one to inherit a large portion of his eclectic record collection. James Rose was one of the many suns in the Lower East Side cosmos who often hosted parties and generous gatherings for our extended artist family. His record collection was a treasure trove of the great jazz recordings of the 1950s, 1960s and beyond—he was mad for John Coltrane, but also Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman, as well as traditional folk artists from Africa, Asia and South America.

In the process of imagining this piece, a particular track on a record of music from Angola caught my ear: a traditional lullaby which is sung in call and response by a womens’ chorus. This lullaby rang with an uncanny familiarity in me. An adaptation of this lullaby and the rhythmic chant that follows it appears in each of the three main sections of Records.

This piece is dedicated to the memory of James Rose. 

BachTrack reviewed the performance and called Jessie’s work “a breath of fresh air…from a Gershwinesque wailing clarinet to the vaguely tonal pulsing of the strings running like traffic throughout the piece, Ms. Montgomery’s piece was a joy to listen to.” 

Orpheus’ American Notes initiative continues with the premiere of Michael Hersch’s “end stages” on February 3. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.orpheusnyc.org.

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Inspired by architecture

Posted on November 22, 2016 by Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

On March 19, Orpheus premiered Harold Meltzer’s new work entitled “Vision Machine” at Carnegie Hall. The piece was inspired by Jean Nouvel’s building at 100 Eleventh Avenue in New York City, which the architect described as a ‘vision machine’. 

The New York Times said “The music deftly captures the interaction of the architecture and its environment, with puffy woodwind chords evoking cloud-chased skies, and delicate arpeggios, traded back and forth between the violins and the harp, mimicking light bouncing off a faceted surface.”

Click here to read the full review.

The new work was also premiered on tour to East Lansing, Michigan, Toronto, Canada, and Kansas City, Missouri. Here’s another great review from the Kansas City performance.


Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s American Notes commissioning initiative continues with its second cohort of exciting composers: Harold Meltzer and Jessie Montgomery. Chosen for their varied music styles and diverse backgrounds, these composers will create original orchestral works for Orpheus to be premiered at Carnegie Hall and on tour to audiences across America. The creative framework for each composer begins with the complex question of what defines the American spirit today – the characteristics, experiences, communities, and relationships. Each composer will develop his/her own musical exploration, providing musical portraits of current American life and contributing to the ongoing global conversation of national identity.

The theme of American Notes is inspired by Charles Dickens’ 1862 travelogue American Notes for General Circulation. Written during a six-month trip throughout the United States just before the outbreak of the Civil War, Dickens documented an America in transition, encapsulating in detail the changing communities he observed. American Notes is also influenced by the artists of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, who documented American identity in diverse settings and providing a record for future generations. By engaging dissimilar and gifted composers, Orpheus hopes to create sonic snapshots that illustrate the emotional and personal aspects of current American identity and spirit.

Winner of the prestigious Rome Prize in 2004 and a 2015 award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Harold Meltzer has garnered praise for his fresh compositional voice. His unique background includes lawyer, professor, and founder of the new music ensemble Sequitur. Jessie Montgomery, a New York native violinist, composer, and music educator has been recognized as an important emerging composer by the American Composers Orchestra, the Sphinx Organization, the Joyce Foundation, and the Sorel Organization. Her work is praised for its inventiveness, blending multiple musical influences into a uniquely American “melting pot” sound.

Both Harold’s and Jessie’s new works will have their premieres at Carnegie Hall in 2016 as part of the orchestra’s subscription Signature Series. Their works will be featured alongside canonical orchestral pieces; in this way, audiences who might not otherwise choose a new music performance will also be engaged, and connections within the broader context of orchestral music can be highlighted. The new works will be performed across America as part of the orchestra’s annual tours, reaching communities that may not have regular access to new music. American Notes is also integrated into Orpheus’ two award-winning education programs: Access Orpheus and Orpheus Institute. Access Orpheus reaches over 2,000 public school students through in-class visits, working rehearsals, and free tickets to Carnegie Hall concerts. Students discuss the compositional process with Orpheus musicians and composers, witness the musical refinement at rehearsals, and experience the final performances at Carnegie Hall. Through Orpheus Institute, university-level students throughout the country engage in masterclasses, coachings, and performances with composers and Orpheus musicians. In this way, Orpheus aims to spur discussion across geographic boundaries, engaging broad views and interpretations on American identity.

Project Media

Word of Mouth, Mvt. 1
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Orpheus Chamber Orchestra commissioned Brooklyn-based composer Timo Andres as part of the first cohort of American Notes. Timo’s new work, entitled Word of Mouth, drew on the American southern tradition of shape-note singing. This work premiered at Carnegie Hall and on tour in February 2015.

This excerpt is a wonderful example of Orpheus’ commitment to new music and to nurturing new voices and to expanding the boundaries of new music.

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Features: Jessie Montgomery

Banner is a tribute to the 200th Anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key, which was officially declared the American National Anthem in 1814. It is scored for solo string quartet and string orchestra. The excerpt displays Jessie’s incredible facility in interweaving echoes from America’s musical heritage with her own contemporary voice. In this way, Jessie is a natural fit to the American Notes theme and Orpheus.

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Features: Harold Meltzer

Premiered in 2012, this string quartet was inspired by Jeanne Gang’s skyscraper Aqua in Chicago. The interconnected episodes of the string quartet work at replicating both the building’s rippling surface and its brawny materials.

This excerpt showcases Harold’s emotive yet intellectual exploration of our current environment. Orpheus is looking forward to his interpretation of the American Notes theme.

Start and End Dates



New York, New York

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Last update on November 22, 2016

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New York, New York
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra believes in empowering the unique voice of all people to make a valuable contribution. Working together as a collective of leaders, members explore each other’s musical ideas using their signature collaborative method, the Orpheus Process®, and give flight to vibrant, unconventional interpretations. Orpheus performances unfold dynamically, moment-by-moment, creating an energy shared by…

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