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"Symphony in D" comes home to the D
Tod Machover is a double-barreled geek -- music and technology.
That made him the perfect composer for "Symphony in D," an ambitious new mixed-media piece that's being premiered this weekend with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
"Symphony in D" is actually fifth city symphony by Machover -- the New York state-born son of a pianist and a computer scientist -- following previous works with Canadian orchestras. It weaves together an orchestral score with sampled sounds Machover selected from more than 15,000 submitted to him during the past couple of years, from factories to Michigan farms and most points in between.
"Detroit has an incredibly powerful story to tell right now, and it's an important moment to be thinking about Detroit," Machover, 61, says from his office in the Experimental Media Facility at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., where he's designed interactive systems for Prince, Peter Gabriel and others. "And for a project like this, one of the cool things about music is you can convene people around a feeling or an idea and they can share things that are really important to them.
"So it becomes a fantastic context for people to share things they care about, and in Detroit people really care about what's happening and where the city is going. The response has been fantastic."
DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin, who will be conducting the five-movement piece, calls "Symphony in D" "intriguing" and says it's a fresh way to integrate the orchestra with the sampled sounds generated from equipment that will also be on stage. "The orchestra will be acting as a kind of gateway for the sounds to occur," Slatkin explains. "There's nothing that's synced, rhythmically, and at no point will the orchestra be imitating the (sampled) sounds.
"Hopefully it will be wonderful and everybody will enjoy it and there will be some call for it in the future. We'll find out."
"Symphony in D" involves more than just the orchestra and a laptop. During the fourth movement, according to Machover, four groups of people will tell stories on stage, including two poets, third graders from the Detroit Achievement Academy and a group of senior citizens from American House, which has been supporting the project since its earliest days. During the fifth movement, meanwhile, musicians -- DJs, an African drummer, a Chaldean choir and a middle school ensemble -- will join the DSO.
"It's a pretty wide sonic palette," Machover notes. "It's great to have these people from different parts of the community who will be on stage representing what they do. It just tells more of the story."
Machover is hoping the story will live on, of course. Saturday's performance of "Symphony in D" will be webcast live by the DSO, and a subsequent commercial release is also possible. A film crew has also been following the project during the past year for a planned documentary.
"And, of course it's a piece of music," says Machover, who's starting to consider his next composition. "My goal is that as a symphony it will be something people just want to listen to and will be picked up by other orchestras. Haydn wrote the London Symphony, the Paris Symphony...
"It's not quite the same idea, but now that I've done five of these (city symphonies) there's a body of work that I think people can really tap into, and hopefully there will be more we'll do in other places around the world."
Detroit Symphony Orchestra: Symphony in D and Dvorak, Concert for Cello and Orchestra
10:45 a.m. Friday, Nov. 20, and 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21.
Orchestra Hall, 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit.
Tickets are $15-$100.
Call 313-576-5111 or visit dso.org.
Note: Saturday's performance be webcast at dso.org/live.
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