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Symphony’s Masterworks 3 concert features Anna Clyne’s ‘Dance’

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 11, 2021

A cellist in her university days, composer Anna Clyne attended the University of Edinburgh with Spokane Symphony music director James Lowe.  (Christina Kernohan)
A cellist in her university days, composer Anna Clyne attended the University of Edinburgh with Spokane Symphony music director James Lowe. (Christina Kernohan)

A fitting turn as we venture further into sweater weather, the Spokane Symphony’s Masterworks 3: “Points North” concert will feature a lineup of works whose themes collectively do just that.

In addition to Felix Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides Overture” and Jean Sibelius’ fifth symphony, the program also includes a recently rediscovered piece by Nikolai Tcherepnin titled “Prelude to the Distant Princess” and “Dance,” a cello concerto by London-born composer Anna Clyne. A cellist in her university days, Clyne attended the University of Edinburgh with Spokane Symphony music director James Lowe.

“I’ve loved Anna’s music and have followed her career for a long time,” Lowe said. “So I always knew I was going to program something of hers.”

Lowe originally had another of Clyne’s pieces programmed, but when he heard the cello concerto, he was bewitched.

“I heard this and suddenly I thought, ‘We have to do this,’ ” he said. “I think it’s one of the most beautiful pieces written in the last 50 years of contemporary classical music. It’s just fantastic.”

During Masterworks 3, the concerto will feature cellist Inbal Segev, for and in collaboration with whom Clyne composed the piece. A full recording of the concerto featuring Segev and the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Marin Alsop, which has now been streamed more than 5 million times on Spotify, is also available on Apple Music, among other music streaming services.

Before embarking on the project, Clyne had been waiting for an excuse to compose for the instrument again. So, when Segev and Alsop commissioned the work, she jumped at the chance.

“A mutual colleague of ours … Marin (Alsop) knew that I wanted to write a cello concerto, and she also knew that Inbal was looking to have a concerto composed,” she said. And, from there, everything fell into place.

Over the course of several months, Clyne set about composing an initial draft of the piece and then met with Segev to work through the final details for the solo cello part.

“There were a few passages that we wanted to make a bit more flashy or a bit more idiosyncratic for the cello,” she said. “It was great to have that final step be very collaborative.”

While composing, Clyne took inspiration from the following poem by Rumi: “Dance, when you’re broken open. / Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. / Dance, in the middle of the fighting. / Dance, in your blood. / Dance, when you’re perfectly free.”

Each of the five movements corresponds to a line from the poem.

“The language is so potent and concise … I knew it would be a good structural device,” Clyne said. “When you’re composing a new piece, one of the first things you consider is the form. ‘What’s the structure going to be? What’s the journey it’s going to be taking the listener on?’ ”

Lowe said the piece – like Clyne’s other work – manages to be both “emotionally impactful and contemporary,’ a combination most modern composers struggle to master.

“Contemporary music can often sound either a bit harsh and hardcore,” or fade entirely into the background. “But she manages to tread this line,” he said. “It’s remarkable.”

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