"Can we evaluate new music without thinking about the old? Why do we like the old?...The queries surrounding the value of old and new music in 'A New Song' are appropriately represented by its Washington Bach Consort premiere: New music performed on period instruments."

These are some of composer Trevor Weston's thoughts about his cantata that will be receiving its world premiere on Sunday in the opening concert of the WBC's 2022-23 season, a program entitled “Mythologies Past and Present”. His piece will open the program, but to fully understand what it’s about we first have to turn to the work on the second half of the program, by Johann Sebastian Bach. 

J. S. Bach's Cantata BWV 201 is a secular work based on the story in Ovid's Metamorphoses about a music competition between Phoebus (Apollo) and Pan. As in any endeavor involving Greek gods, it’s a rigged contest: after expressing his preference for the sprightly, rustic flute of Pan over the sublime, sophisticated lyre of Apollo, King Midas's ears are turned into the ears of a donkey!

With a libretto by Picander (a frequent collaborator of Bach’s who also wrote the non-scriptural texts for the St. Matthew Passion), this is a major but rarely heard work, nearly an hour in length, that is full of humor and sharply defined characters in the manner of a comic opera. Bach creates distinct musical styles for the two gods as well as the judges themselves, expressing the longing for the kind of music they want to hear.  

Trevor Weston
Composer Trevor Weston

For Sunday's concert Washington Bach Consort has commissioned a new cantata in response to Bach’s. It’s a rare example of a contemporary work written for Baroque instruments, but it’s part of a long line of pieces of music about music, from the earliest operas about the magical effects of Orpheus’ voice to “Killing Me Softly”, a powerful pop song about another powerful pop song.  A New Song by Trevor Weston takes the debate among the characters in BWV 201 regarding the aesthetics of music into the present day.  

Dr. Weston teaches at Juilliard in addition to chairing the music department at Drew University. His many projects and honors include a commission from Carnegie Hall for the American Composers Orchestra, an album of choral music by Trinity Wall Street, and winning the first Emerging Black Composers Project sponsored by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the San Francisco Symphony. Here are more of his thoughts on the piece:

"The text of 'A New Song' responds to an essential theme in the competition found in the myth of Bach’s cantata: How do we evaluate music? Many of the questions and topics found in my libretto come from years of teaching a course at Drew University entitled “Music and Meaning.” The course surveys many perspectives and debates about music by humans across time and cultures, encouraging discussion seeking a better understanding without attempting to find a definitive answer. What is the next new music? What makes music good or bad? Do we like music due to our emotional connection? Is every music respected or heard? Specifically, post-“Me Too” and “Black Lives Matter,” can we truly evaluate our music history without including music ignored in the past? "

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