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A new symphony gets its world premiere in Las Cruces

Nov 12, 2021

(clockwise from top left) Composer Joni Greene, NMSU Director of Bands Michael Mapp, Intermezzo host Leora Zeitlin, and NMSU violin professor and conductor Simon Gollo on a Zoom interview.

It’s not often that Las Cruces hosts the world premiere of a symphony. But we will next week, when the NMSU Wind Symphony premieres “Reaching Nirvana,” the first symphony written by Austin-based composer Joni Greene. The work is the result of the long-time friendship between NMSU band director Michael Mapp and Greene, who will be in residence all week working with students ahead of the premiere on Nov. 18. The concert will also include another rarity — a large work for violin solo and wind band called “Latent Emotions,” by Spanish composer Oscar Navarro, which will feature violin professor Simon Gollo as the soloist.

All three participated in this Zoom interview with Intermezzo host Leora Zeitlin to discuss the music, the genesis of the symphony, synesthesia, the collaborative processes between each other, thoughts on 21st century music, and more.

Greene's symphony is based on tenets of Buddhism that are reflected in the titles of its three movements: “Awakening,” “Meditation,” and “Reaching Nirvana.” For Greene, setting out to write her first symphony was both exciting and daunting. "It has to be a very large work, it has to cover a broad span of ideas, and there’s the expectation of the gravity of a symphony,” she said. "So I knew this had to be my best. Everything that I’ve brought forward to this point in writing — this was the next step. So it was a gift of opportunity to take on this challenge, and yes, at times, that can be scary.”

Gollo heard about “Latent Emotions” by Oscar Navarro on one of his frequent trips to Spain, which has a long tradition of music for wind bands. The work was written for Lebanese violinist Ari Malikian, originally with orchestra, but the composer himself arranged the band version.

“Each movement is addressing one of the hundreds and thousands of emotions that we go through in our life,” Gollo said, such as desire, passion, tranquility, and happiness. Gollo noted that it fits well with Greene’s new symphony because both are dealing with emotions. “To me, it’s important in music. It has to be a human experience and an emotional experience to attend a concert.”

Michael Mapp, who will conduct the concert, was familiar with Navarro but not with this piece. “I’m always very interested in works that highlight things that you wouldn’t normally see with the wind ensemble,” like a violin soloist, he said. "I want our audience to not be scared that both of these pieces are contemporary, in the sense that they were written in the 21st century. I would say that both of these pieces are very audience-friendly.”

The concert takes place at the Atkinson Recital Hall at NMSU on Thursday, Nov. 18 at 7:30. Masks are required. Listen to the full interview here:

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