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Composer celebrates 40th anniversary with Tucson commission

Composer celebrates 40th anniversary with Tucson commission

Richard Danielpour is celebrating his 40th anniversary as an American composer.

It’s been 40 years since he received his first commission and on Friday, Jan. 17, he will celebrate commission No. 125 — “Songs of Love With Loss,” commissioned by the Tucson Desert Song Festival and written for Israeli soprano Hila Plitmann.

The commission was a first for the festival and the first in the Wesley Green TDSF Composer Project, underwritten by Green, a retired insurance adjuster.

Danielpour, 63, said of all the commissions he has had over the past four decades, this one is special. Call it serendipity; call it fate. But the story of how all the pieces fell into place is pretty remarkable.

Ideas first

Danielpour and Plitmann are good friends; he considers her like a little sister. So when she wished aloud one day for Danielpour to write her a song cycle in the Persian language Farsi, he eagerly agreed.

With one stipulation.

He would need someone to commission it.

Then the phone call

“The very next day George Hanson called,” Danielpour said during a phone call from home in Los Angeles in early December.

Hanson, the song festival’s coordinator, wanted to commission Danielpour for the inaugural Wesley Green Composer Project. And Hanson wanted a work that was not set in English.

“That was one really interesting thing,” the composer said.

The Tucson connection

Hanson and Danielpour have worked together before. When he was the Tucson Symphony Orchestra music director in 2012, Hanson conducted the orchestra in Danielpour’s “Romeo and Juliet”-esque “Toward the Splendid City.”

Danielpour also has been a guest of the University of Arizona Fred Fox School of Music. But arguably his strongest Tucson tie is his mentorship of Tucson native Anthony Constantino, who has been a student of Danielpour’s first in New York and now at UCLA, where Constantino is a doctoral composing student.

Outside of the classroom, Constantino works as a copyist for the composer including on “Songs of Love With Loss” and he sometimes travels with him. Last summer, Constantino tagged along to the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland and this month he comes home for the world premier at the song festival.

Danielpour said Constantino is one of the best composers in the UCLA graduate program, where Danielpour teaches.

“He has become a star,” Danielpour said. “He has literally become if not the best graduate composer we’ve got, one of the two or three best. I actually think of all the students we’ve got there, I think he’s the one

who, if I’m a betting man, stands the greatest chance of having a major career. … He’s an amazing young man.”

And about “Songs”

“Songs of Love” is based on “Rubáiyát,” a collection of short poems by the first century astronomer/mathematician Rumi.

Danielpour wrote the cycle from a female point of view as she experiences the descent into heartbreak when relationships fall apart. As the work progresses, the heartache dulls and the will to survive kicks in.

The song cycle opens as a celebration of life before growing darker as the central character dreams of meeting and falling in love with a ghost who ends up breaking her heart.

The third movement is that “Romeo & Juliet” moment, where the woman throws herself into her despair like Juliet who followed Romeo to his death, followed by a moment of clarity in the fourth, a flash of enlightenment when she can see her aloneness and recognizes herself again.

“Songs” ends as it began, with joy expressed in renewed confident and empowerment.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch


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