Mark Adamo

2022-23 Commission Club

American composer-librettist Mark Adamo’s latest opera, Becoming Santa Claus, was released on DVD/Blu-Ray in September 2017; it was commissioned and introduced by Dallas Opera in December 2015.  The DVD release follows a new production in Boulder, Colorado, which Adamo directed, of a chamber version of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, his third full-length opera, which was commissioned and introduced by San Francisco Opera in June 2013 and which itself followed a busy season of opera and chamber premières. In May 2012, Fort Worth Opera opened its first production of his second opera, Lysistrata; that September, the Constella Festival in Cincinnati opened their season with August Music, for flute duo and string quartet, commissioned by Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway: in December, Sasha Cooke and the New York Festival of Song introducedThe Racer’s Widow, a cycle of five American poems for mezzo-soprano, cello, and piano; and, in April 2013, baritone Thomas Hampson and the Jupiter String Quartet introduced Aristotle, after the poem by Billy Collins, in concerts at the Mondavi Center in Davis, California before continuing to Boston and New York under the auspices of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Read More

The Work

Last Year is a concerto for Solo Violoncello with Harp, Piano, String Orchestra, and Percussion to be premiered by ACO on October 20, 2022 at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall.

Artist Statement

I: Autumn: Dismissing Eunice 

II: Winter: Le Triangle Noir 

III: Spring: Zephaniah 1:14-15 

IV: Summer: For Julia, born 2045 (played without pause)  

In 2018, for reasons that don’t really matter now, I’d listened—really listened—to a  new-to-me recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.  And I marvelled: not only at the  score’s vigor and clarity, but at its innocence, too—as it portrayed each season offering its own delights and terrors while still yielding, safely, to the next.  The  recording finished: I turned to the news, and learned that—due to the latest in our  series of once-in-a-lifetime-except-now-every-year storms—a hurricane had left the  city of Houston nearly drowned. 

Vivaldi couldn’t write those scores today, I thought. But—if he were alive now, and  knew what we know—what would he write? 

Last Year is my answer. While Four Seasons is a cycle of four concerti for violin and  strings, mine is a single concerto in four movements (the last three played without  pause) for the richer-voiced cello; I also add to the string ensemble a choir of piano,  

harp, timpani, and ringing percussion.  A fanfare that shifts, uneasily, between the  major and minor modes precedes I: Autumn: Dismissing Eunice.  The title  remembers Eunice Foote, the American scientist who was the first scientist— in  1856!—to describe and theorize what we now call the greenhouse effect. This music  weaves a single melodic thread from Vivaldi’s Autumn concerto into a polymetric  scherzo of nervous and glittering character; it’s interrupted, twice, by a tolling procession of chords in the percussion choir—too slow and separated in register,  just now, to comprise a recognizable theme.  Ignoring those interruptions, the  scherzo barrels headlong to an ambiguous conclusion.  

In January of 1998, a once-in-a-lifetime ice storm struck North America, causing so  much havoc that Canada had to deploy more military personnel than the country had sent during the entire Korean War to address the damage. Because the available  images of that storm remain stunningly beautiful—the Canadian terrain seems  rendered an eerily silent ice-sculpture of itself—one could forget that the area south  of Montreal was without power for so many weeks that English media nicknamed it “The Triangle of Darkness.”   Remembering this, my second movement, Winter: Le  Triangle Noir introduces an original theme of hushed, awed character as more  rumours of Vivaldi murmur in the background: when the percussion choir 

interrupts again as it had before, its material accelerates and condenses until we can  identify it as one of our oldest musical tropes of warning. 

The text which gives that trope its name can be read in the title of the next  movement. Two solo cadenzas—one stunned, one vehement—frame Spring:  Zephaniah 1:14-15, in which the motto from the Vivaldi’s Spring alternately outruns  itself at breakneck speed or slows to a crawl in the lowest registers of both cello and  orchestra: spurred by the racing soloist, the ensemble attempts a final time to  retrieve the feeling, the faith of that baroque theme. It cannot: and the orchestra  refracts into, almost literally, a thundercloud of sound—a cluster which begins in  noise, little by little acquires pitch, and just as gradually loses pitch, evanescing until  only the soloist, serenely maintaining a low B-natural, can be heard. 

Now begins, without pause, the finale: Summer: For Julia, born 2045, in which the  cello, in a harmonic landscape emptied of everything but sustained bass tones and  the cries of seagulls, attempts to speak a promise into the future. But—even as the orchestra takes up and develops, harmonically, that determined theme—the solo  cello cannot help, for a moment, but lose itself in recrimination.  Memories of chaos,  and that opening premonition, return to haunt the final moments: but the cello  maintains the last word. 

It’s hard to claim that I enjoyed composing Last Year: to try to give voice to the fears  and hopes we experience during this moment of crisis pushed me both emotionally  and technically in ways I’ve never experienced before. But I was, and am, humbled to have been offered the privilege to attempt it. I thank, generally, the consortium of  four ensembles—American Composers Orchestra in New York, New Century  Chamber Orchestra in San Francisco, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra on Houston,  and Manitoba Chamber Orchestra—who committed to the work of a composer who  is, after all, scarcely known for his work outside the opera house; and, specifically,  the woman who has done as much as, if not more than, anyone else of her  generation to support the institutions, composers, and performers who host and  make and play the music that tries to sing the way we live now.  This piece—but not  only this piece—would not exist without her.  With all warmth, gratitude, and  admiration, I dedicate Last Year to Susan W. Rose.

Last Year recorded by ROCO (December 2021)