Curtis Composer’s Creativity Sparked by COLD MOUNTAIN
“Opera’s where my heart is,” said Rene Orth this January, and in June, Opera Philadelphia announced her appointment as its new Composer in Residence. She will be the sixth composer to hold that position and was chosen from a field of applicants from across the country.
The residency will allow Orth to focus on her skills as an operatic composer, which were already on display this winter in her chamber opera, Empty the House, on a libretto by Mark Campbell. It received its world premiere with Curtis Opera Theatre in sold-out performances in January, 2016, right around the time Orth spoke with WRTI?’s Meridee Duddleston about her One Book One Philadelphia commission.
The novel Cold Mountain is a searing story of a Confederate soldier who walks away from the Civil War back home to the Blue Ridge Mountains and his love Ada. The best seller, published nearly 20 years ago, has already inspired a movie and most recently, an opera.
Composer Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain opera and a fiddle-playing character from Charles Frazier’s novel inspired Curtis composition student Rene Orth’s Miniatures from the Mountain,;but she didn’t necessarily want to add to the emotional appeal of what already existed. Her composition encapsulates alternatively haunting and fun mixes of the familiar and the new.
Originally from Dallas, Orth graduated from the composition program at the Curtis Institute of Music this spring.
Orth started her composition, called Miniatures from the Mountain, by cataloging the fiddle tunes referenced in the novel Cold Mountain.
A young composer scoured the novel Cold Mountain for its allusions to music and then fashioned musical vignettes of her own. WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston has more.
Meridee Duddleston: The beauty and horror depicted in Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain has served as the launching pad for more than an opera and a movie. There’s also this: a composition by Curtis Institute of Music student Rene Orth.
Music: From Miniatures from the Mountain. Rene Orth, composer; Abigail Fayette, violin, recorded at Curtis on February 4, 2016.
Rene Orth: I think, as a composer, the most important thing for the instrumentalist is to write so that it’s idiomatic to the player, like it comes out the instrument. It seems very natural. And so a good way for me to learn how to do that is to look at the masters; the people who have done it well already.
MD: She started her composition, called Miniatures from the Mountain, by cataloging the fiddle tunes referenced in the best-selling novel.
RO: I was really interested in how long of a period can happen between something where the listener is able to grab onto something again.
MD: Orth, who’s originally from Texas, has composed other works, including a one-act opera presented at Curtis and a string quartet piece performed at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.
RO: I just want to write music that moves people. So if that means I’m doing a part-time job while I’m also writing, that’s fine - I’m happy to do that - that’s all I care about doing. I just want to write.
MD: Her haunting miniatures premiered in early February at the official beginning of the One Book, One Philadelphia program.