The Philadelphia Orchestra presents a world premiere opera in two acts, “The Hours,” based on a novel by Michael Cunningham and also on a film with the same name. With music by Kevin Puts, it features seven opera singers in major roles, including the renowned soprano Renee Fleming. It also includes additional singers plus the Philadelphia Symphonic Choir.
Timed appropriately for March, which is Women’s History Month, “The Hours” focuses on a day in the life of three women from three different eras.
A world premiere is exciting for the musicians, who are the first anywhere to perform it.
It can also be a special challenge since they are the first to perform.
“We have to come up with our own interpretation of what’s been written, because there are no past performances to listen to,” said percussionist Angela Zator Nelson of Media.
Then, too, when vocalists are part of the program, orchestral musicians have to adapt accordingly.
“We have to make sure the soloist is heard above the orchestra,” said Nelson. “In many cases, composers like Kevin Puts know how to write for an orchestra, keeping the dynamics on the quieter side so the soloists can be heard”.
She will have special challenges as a percussionist. Unlike other orchestra musicians, percussionists play a variety of instruments. The line-up for “The Hours” is especially extensive.
“Marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, chimes,” Nelson said. “And also crotales, which are circular-tuned discs made of metal. “
She’ll be playing all of these except for crotales. The percussion section for this program includes three other musicians on percussion and one playing timpani.
These musicians are positioned near the back of the stage of Verizon Hall. Unlike those in other sections, such as violinists or cellists who are seated, the percussionists remain standing during the entire performance.The movements often involve split-second timing. So Nelson will be especially busy as she moves from vibraphone to glockenspiel to marimba and other instruments.
“The composer has written so interestingly for percussion instruments,” she said.
The program will be conducted by Yannick Nezet-Seguin, the orchestra’s music director who is especially eager to present “The Hours.” In his regular column, “Beyond the Baton,” which appears in all concert programs, he recalled his initial keen interest in hearing that composer Puts was writing an opera based on “The Hours.”, noting that the movie has always been a favorite of his.
“I thought this was an exceptional opportunity to get the best singing actresses,” Nezet-Seguin wrote. “I quickly involved the Metropolitan Opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra, my two institutions in the United States, coming together for the birth of a new wonderful opera.
“This is one of my pet projects over the last few years,” he continued. “And I couldn’t be more excited to bring it to life for the first time in Philadelphia.”
Besides the excitement of a world premiere, for the musicians there’s also the pleasure of being able to present live concerts again after a lapse of almost two years.
Of course, Covid restrictions still apply. Like audience members, musicians must show proof of vaccination and wear masks inside Verizon Hall- except on stage.
“Masks are not required while we’re performing,” said Nelson, who noted that some musicians still like to wear them. Also, the musicians are tested for Covid several times a week. “We are just so grateful to continue to be performing.”
Nelson’s been grateful to be part of this world-class orchestra ever since her first season 23 years ago, when she was the first woman percussionist hired by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Nelson still is the only one.
She’s not the only musician in the family. Husband David Nelson, also a percussionist, is a longtime member of the Philly Pops. Daughter Alexis, age 12, is a musician who plays the baritone, a small tuba and is also an aspiring ballerina.
Twin daughters Kayla and Natalie, age 10, are also interested in performing arts. Kayla loves dance and Natalie plays the glockenspiel.
“She’s doing wonderfully,” said her mother, “She’s picking up all the techniques very nicely. And we enjoy playing glockenspiel duets at home.”
But, right now, Nelson is especially looking forward to the Philadelphia Orchestra performances March 18 and March 20.
“There’s the excitement of presenting a world premiere, and with music by a composer who writes so interestingly for percussion,” Nelson said. “Also we’re working with world class soloists like Renee Fleming- and that makes it even more inspiring.”
If YOU GO
The Philadelphia Orchestra presents the world premiere of “The Hours” this Friday evening at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. at Verizon Hall, Broad and Spruce Streets in Center City. For tickets and information, visit www. philorch.org or call 215-893-1999. Patrons are required to show proof of Covid 19 vaccination and those 18 or older must also show photo ID. All patrons must wear masks.
Source: Berkshire mont