A Trip to the Moon (U.S. premiere, LA Phil commission)
Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd = piccolo), 3 clarinets (3rd = bass clarinet), 3 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion (crotales, splash cymbals, resonant metals, temple blocks, tin cans, kick drum, boomwhackers, thunder tubes, triangle, glockenspiel, xylophone, suspended cymbals, log drum, slapstick, guiro, vibraphone, tam-tam, opera gongs, bongos), piano, celesta, strings, chorus, children’s chorus, and vocal soloists
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (U.S. premiere)
Andrew Norman (b. 1979) is a Los Angeles-based composer of orchestral, chamber, and vocal music.
Andrew’s work draws on an eclectic mix of sounds and notational practices from both the avant-garde and classical traditions. He is increasingly interested in story-telling in music, specifically in the ways non-linear, narrative-scrambling ideas from other time-based media might intersect with traditional symphonic forms. His distinctive, often fragmented and highly energetic work has been cited in The New York Times for its “daring juxtapositions and dazzling colors,” in the Boston Globe for its “staggering imagination,” and in the Los Angeles Times for its “audacious” spirit and “Chaplinesque” wit.
Andrew was recently named Musical America’s 2017 Composer of the Year. He is the recipient of the 2004 Jacob Druckman Prize, the 2005 ASCAP Nissim and Leo Kaplan Prizes, the 2006 Rome Prize, the 2009 Berlin Prize, and a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship. He joined the roster of Young Concert Artists as Composer in Residence in 2008 and held the title “Komponist für Heidelberg” for the 2010/11 season. Andrew has served as Composer in Residence with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Opera Philadelphia, and he currently holds that post with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Andrew’s 30-minute string trio The Companion Guide to Rome was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music, and his large-scale orchestral work Play was named one of NPR’s top 50 albums of 2015, nominated for a 2016 Grammy, recently won the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, and was praised in The New York Times as a “breathtaking masterpiece” and “a revolution in music.”
Andrew is a committed educator who enjoys helping people of all ages explore and create music. He has written pieces to be performed by and for the young and has held educational residencies with various institutions across the country. Andrew joined the faculty of the USC Thornton School of Music in 2013, and he is thrilled to serve as the director of the LA Phil’s Barry and Nancy Sanders Composer Fellowship Program for young composers.
Andrew recently finished two piano concertos – Suspend, for Emanuel Ax, and Split, for Jeffrey Kahane – as well as the percussion concerto Switch for Colin Currie. Upcoming projects include a symphony for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and collaborations with Jeremy Denk, Jennifer Koh, Johannes Moser, yMusic, and the Berlin Philharmonic.
Andrew’s works are published by Schott Music.
A Trip to the Moon is an opera with many forebears. It is a melodrama, both in the specific, historical sense of the word as it was used in the 18th and 19th centuries (to denote a stage work that combines spoken recitation with musical accompaniment), and in the more general, emotionally heightened and dramatically sensationalized sense that the word has accumulated since then.
A Trip to the Moon is also a retro-futurist sci-fi adventure opera, and it was inspired by three interrelated sources of 19th century science fiction. The first is Jules Verne’s 1865 novel De la terre à la lune (fun fact: Verne spent his bohemian youth working in a Parisian theater writing light librettos for his friends while birthing literary science fiction on the side). The second – from which I borrowed a few useful plot points – is the 1875 Offenbach operetta Le voyage dans la lune, a work that took the fastidious, scientifically grounded Verne and launched it into the realms of fantasy and grand stage spectacle, adding royal romances, magical umbrellas, dancing snowflakes, and an erupting volcano to the moon journey. The third inspiration is the seminal 1902 silent film by Georges Méliès, also called Le voyage dans la lune. Drawing on elements from Offenbach, Verne, and other contemporaneous depictions of moon travel, Méliès created his own unique mélange of what were by then familiar moon tropes – the arguing astronomers, the smoking forge, the bullet-shaped rocket, the tribunal of mysterious moon people, and the hurried journey home.
In addition to being a melodrama and a sci-fi adventure opera, A Trip to the Moon is, more importantly, a comnmunity opera. There are roles in this piece for world-class professional musicians, and there are roles that require no musical training whatsoever, that anyone can sing (or whack, or whirl). It is a piece that is inherently flexible with regard to the size and skill set of its forces (the premiere in Berlin featured 200 volunteer singers and an orchestra made up of school children alongside members of the Philharmonic), and it is a piece that was conceived as an experience for the wide variety of people making it as much as for the audience watching it. In this sense, it can trace its lineage through works like Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde and Bertold Brecht’s Lehrstücke all the way back to the morality and mystery plays of late medieval Europe. Like A Trip to the Moon, these works were allegorical, archetypal, participatory, and ritualistic in nature, to be made by a community for a community.
But aside from all those historical antecedents, A Trip to the Moon is first and foremost a children’s opera, to be performed by and for children. And while I’m thrilled to get to share the latest version of this piece with all of you tonight, I feel it won’t truly find its home until next week, when it goes in front of 7,000 of Southern California’s most discerning 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders as part of the Philharmonic’s Symphonies for Schools program.
Special thanks go to Simon Rattle, who commissioned A Trip to the Moon as part of the community outreach initiatives of the Berlin Philharmonic and the London Symphony, to Opera Philadelphia, who gave me a deep dive into the practicalities of opera-making in the 21st century, and to the many gifted and generous storytellers who helped guide and shape my ideas for the work: Royce Vavrek, Mark Campbell, Ela Baumann, Yuval Sharon, Alexander Birkhold, and, most significantly, Brian Selznick. – Andrew Norman