North State Symphony Premieres a New Work

by Matthew Raley

Many orchestras might shun new music during hard economic times. Audiences are often nervous about hearing contemporary pieces, dreading the dissonance associated with the last century. So it’s safer to offer proven concert fare: listeners will pay to hear what they know.

Conductor Kyle Wiley Pickett and the North State Symphony have not retreated from new music, even during the slump. Last May, the NSS gave the west coast premiere of the Clarinet Concerto by Lowell Liebermann, a winning piece played by the fantastic Jon Manasse. Audiences in Redding, Chico, and Red Bluff greeted the new work with thunderous approval. The concerts had great reviews as well.

Every NSS season features major works of the 20th century from composers like Bela Bartok, Igor Stravinsky, and Dmitri Shostakovich, and north state concert-goers have responded with enthusiasm.

This weekend, the NSS will give the world premiere of another new piece, the Symphony No. 1 by Dan Pinkston.

Pinkston is local, the associate professor of theory and composition at Simpson University in Redding. He told me that his interest in composition began early. He was “essentially writing pop songs in junior high school, and studied classical composition in college, as well as for my masters and doctoral degrees. Composing has always been the most natural way for me to express myself musically.”

His Symphony was commissioned by the NSS, which also commissioned Pinkston’s Woman, Why Are You Crying? and gave its premiere in 2007. Pinkston has composed yet another symphonic work called Oracles, which will be premiered at a later date.

The Symphony, he says, is “a conscious attempt to engage the audience.” Pinkston has influences as diverse as Stravinsky, Bartok, the Beatles, and U2. But Shostakovich is his favorite composer. “I have tried to strike the balance [Shostakovich] has between beauty, modernism, form, communication, etc. His music is liked by audiences and musicians, and it moves me personally.”

As the NSS rehearsed the Symphony for the first time last weekend, I was especially impressed by Pinkston’s orchestration. He makes the orchestra sound good — always a winner with musicians, who can be even more surly about new music than audiences. The flow of the work is also well-conceived. It was written to communicate, and it does so with strong use of motivic devices, inventive textures, and drama.

I think north state audiences are going to like this work, and will look forward to more new music from Dan Pinkston. Here’s a conversation between Pinkston and Pickett:

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