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PREVIEW: Daniel Hope and the New Century Chamber Orchestra set for La Jolla debut with ‘a piece that’s very close to my heart’

San Diego Union-Tribune

Beth Wood

May 7, 2023


The conductor-less ensemble will perform works by composers Max Richter, Jessie Montgomery and Benjamin Britten

The New Century Chamber Orchestra is billed as “conductor-less,” but that doesn’t mean it’s leader-less. The San Francisco-based group of 19 string players is led by its concertmaster and music director, Daniel Hope.

“It’s an exciting and dynamic way of making music,” said the Berlin-based Hope, who has been in the position since 2018. “Rather than being a conductor, giving instructions, and having the orchestra follow you, you are part of that creative process and part of the sound production.

“You’re playing as a member of the ensemble. It’s chamber music on a grand scale.”

On Friday, Hope and the New Century Chamber Orchestra will play at La Jolla Music Society’s Baker-Baum Concert Hall. The program will feature Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons Recomposed” by Max Richter.

Hope, 49, was the featured violinist on Richter’s wildly successful 2012 “recomposed” album, which hit No. 1 in 22 countries. It’s since been heard on many soundtracks, including on the television series “Bridgerton.”

When Richter approached Hope a decade-plus ago about his idea for the album, the violinist couldn’t fathom why anyone would tinker with Vivaldi’s beloved magnum opus. But Richter felt the original had been overplayed, relegated to elevators and for phones’ on-hold music.

“I became fascinated by what Max was doing with it, leaving certain elements of the original and giving it a new frame,” Hope said, speaking from Zurich, Switzerland. “He scraped off some of the patterns and dust and gave it a new light.

“We recorded it not thinking much more than it being an interesting take on the great masterpiece. And suddenly, the recording just exploded — it blew everything off the charts. Still, 10 years later, it’s one of the most popular classical recordings. And people travel from around the world when there’s a performance of it.

“This is my first time in La Jolla. It’s rather nice for my debut there to be a piece that’s very close to my heart.”


Time travel

Friday’s program will begin with Chicago-based composer Jessie Montgomery’s “Banner,” which is her personal take on the national anthem. Montgomery, also a violinist, wrote the piece as a string quartet.

New Century plays it full-strength.

“She’s a fantastic composer, deeply personal and singular in the way in which she expresses music and herself,” Hope said. “With the full orchestra, the piece has even more pathos and power.”

The next piece in the concert will be Benjamin Britten’s “Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge.” A tribute to Britten’s teacher, it was the British composer’s breakout work in 1937.

It covers a range of styles, from a march and waltz to funeral music and a fugue.

“The program for our La Jolla concert is like time travel,” Hope said. “Each of the pieces are written looking backwards in time. The ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ is 200 years old when Jesse Montgomery picked it up. Benjamin Britten looks at composition forms from the waltz and brought them into the early 20th century. The Vivaldi was about 300 years old when Max Richter picked it up.

“Each of these composers are reaching back into the past, but also looking forward in a particularly individual manner. It’s fascinating.”

In June, Hope and the New Century Chamber Orchestra will release their latest album, “Music for a New Century,” on the Deutsche Grammophon label. The four works on the album — three of them world-premiere recordings — were commissioned or co-commissioned by New Century over the last five years.

The composers showcased are Philip Glass, Tan Dun, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Jake Heggie. Ukraine’s Alexey Botvinov, who has collaborated with Hope for almost 10 years, is featured on piano.

Last September, Hope and Botvinov released the album “Silvestrov.” It honors the works of 85-year-old Valentin Silvestrov, one of Ukraine’s most famous classical composers. After Russia invaded his country, Silvestrov escaped on foot to Poland and now resides in Berlin.

“Silvestrov” was released by Deutsche Grammophon, which has produced most of Hope’s more than 30 albums.

Hope has made two documentary films and is active in humanitarian efforts to aid refugees.

He was 3 years old when he and his parents had to leave his birth country of South Africa, because of his father’s anti-apartheid stance.

“We were kicked out of the country and had to submit our passports,” Hope said. “We were stateless. We ended up in Europe, going through several countries, living with friends, and finally were living in London in the early 1970s.

“It was very difficult for my parents, because they had no money and no prospects.”

Eventually Hope’s mother got a job as a secretary to — wait for it — the legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

“That completely changed our lives,” Hope said. “He opened his world to us and introduced us all to music.”

At 4, Hope announced he wanted to play violin and Menuhin found him a teacher. In Hope’s late teens, Menuhin became his mentor.

Hope is also the music director of Zurich Chamber Orchestra, which — like New Century — is “conductor-less.” In addition, he’s artistic director of Dresden’s Frauenkirche Cathedral and president of Bonn’s Beethovenhaus, both in Germany.

With so much on his plate, why does he make the yearly trip to the U.S. to tour with the New Century Chamber Orchestra?

“It’s an absolutely fantastic ensemble of musicians who are incredibly energetic and enthusiastic,” he said. “They have a particular dedication to contemporary music.

“I was struck, from the first time I worked with the ensemble, how communicative they were with me, their audiences and their community.”


New Century Chamber Orchestra with concertmaster Daniel Hope

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (6:30 p.m. Prelude lecture by Michael Gerdes)

Where: Baker-Baum Concert Hall, The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, 7600 Fay Ave., La Jolla

Tickets: $31-$75

Phone: (858) 459-3728


Wood is a freelance writer.