Bard scores with Shore

Photo of Sophie Shao by Christian Steiner.

Sophie Shao fronts American Symphony Orchestra this weekend in world premiere of famed film composer’s Mythic Gardens


The American Symphony Orchestra (ASO), headquartered at Bard College in Annandale, has accomplished a notable coup, and you’ll be able to hear the results live this weekend. To showcase the skills of its star cellist Sophie Shao, the ASO decided to commission a full-scale concerto for her to premiere. And somehow it managed to lure top-shelf film composer Howard Shore away from his current gig of creating the score for Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit to do the job. Shore’s Mythic Gardens Concerto for Cello and Orchestra will get its first public airing anywhere this Friday and Saturday, April 27 and 28 at 8 p.m. at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, under the baton of ASO music director and Bard president Leon Botstein.

Howard Shore may not be quite as big a household name as, say, John Williams, but if you go to the movies you certainly know his music. You can probably hum his main theme from the Lord of the Rings flicks; he copped two Academy Awards and three Grammies for those scores, plus a Best Original Song Oscar nod and another Grammy for “Into the West” from The Return of the King. He got another Oscar nomination just this past year for Hugo. He has also composed the scores for The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, Mrs. Doubtfire, Nobody’s Fool, The Aviator and a slew of other films, including just about everything ever directed by David Cronenberg.

Shore also has an impressive television résumé: He was musical director for Saturday Night Live from 1975 to 1980 and is said to have come up with the moniker the Blues Brothers for John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. With John Lurie, he co-wrote Conan O’Brien’s theme song. In short, a talented, well-connected and busy guy; but somehow the ASO snagged him.

Mythic Gardens is a companion piece to Shore’s 2010 piano concerto Ruin and Memory, which he composed for Lang Lang. “The work was inspired by the architecture of three classic Italian gardens: Cimbrone, Medici and Visconti Borromeo Litta,” says Shore. There are gardens built by the powerful Medici family all over Italy, but presumably he’s talking about the grand formal gardens at Rome’s Villa Medici, laid out by Ferdinando de Medici in 1576 to house his collection of Roman statuary, including a famous weeping Niobe. This territory has been visited musically before: in Ottorino Resphighi’s Fountains of Rome. So it will be interesting to listen for references to the earlier work.

Villa Visconti Borromeo Litta in Milan was designed in 1585 for the viscount Pirro I, but is most renowned for an addition by an 18th-century descendant: the Nymphaeum, a complex of artificial caves and grottos built to house the Marquis Pompeo Litta-Biumi’s art collection, including some gorgeous mosaics. Today a hotel, the Villa Cimbrone is perched high above the Amalfi Coast in the town of Ravello in Campania. The Villa itself was built to resemble the prow of a ship breasting the waves, and its rambling gardens include a spectacular “Terrace of Infinity” overlooking a heart-pounding sheer drop. Discovering how Howard Shore has evoked these places in music will be a pleasure worth pursuing. I expect that, in my mind’s eye, I’ll be picturing the mythic Italian garden of my own dreams: the appropriately cinematic grounds of Castello Brown in Portofino, the setting for my all-time favorite chick flick, Mike Newell’s 1992 Enchanted April (not scored by Shore, incidentally).

“I am so excited to premiere this complex piece, full of such beautiful and dramatic moments,” says Shao. “Just to have the opportunity to perform a Howard Shore work in front of a live audience is a thrill.” Also on the program are Witold Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra; Christopher Brubeck’s Prague Concerto for Bass Trombone, with Bard Conservatory student Tamás Markovics as featured soloist; and Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. A preconcert talk by Peter Laki kicks off the proceedings at 7 p.m.

Individual tickets cost $25, $35 and $40. To order, or for further information, call the Fisher Center box office at (845) 758-7900 or visit the website at


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