Guest Blog: Bringing a New Piece – And Instrument – to Classical Music

Performances and Artists

By Donato Cabrera, Music Director, Las Vegas Philharmonic

As an artist dedicated to making sure that Western classical music remains a living art form, it is with great excitement and gratitude that the Las Vegas Philharmonic and I are performing the world premiere of the orchestral version of “YTTE” (“Yield To Total Elation”), composed by one of the most profound and thoughtful composers of his generation, Nathaniel Stookey.

Read my conversation with Stookey below on how this piece came to fruition.

Cabrera: I remember a couple of years ago, after a performance I gave of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, your desire to begin a new orchestral piece. What prompted this? 

Stookey: I remember that concert! I was struck by how operatically you conducted Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9. The idea of treating the orchestra in a more theatrical way was exciting to me and was one of the forces that drove “YTTE” from the beginning.

Cabrera: Cabrera: While “YTTE” isn’t “program music," there is an interesting story behind the title. Can you share that?

Stookey: The piece doesn’t tell a story – which is, of course, what real “program music” would do. “YTTE”’s theatricality is about character and emotion, rather than about plot. The title of the piece gives a sense of the emotion I was after, but the character aspect might require a bit more explanation:

“Yield To Total Elation” was the name given to a vast and elaborate imaginary city created during the 1930s and ‘40s by San Francisco “outsider” artist A.G. Rizzoli. “Outsider” artists aren’t typically recognized by the art establishment during their lifetimes, but Rizzoli took it a step further: he was scarcely recognized by anyone at all. He spent his entire lifetime as an outsider in every sense of the word: living with his mother, working in complete obscurity, socially alienated, and sexually repressed.

What makes Rizzoli’s story so compelling is that, despite these seemingly insurmountable constraints, he single-mindedly pursued a sort of Nirvana through his art, and, on the evidence of the work, I would say he achieved it: not every day, not with every effort, but enough to keep him coming back for more.

I can relate to that sort of striving, which is both a pursuit and, at its best, a sort of giving in. From the moment I saw the words “Yield To Total Elation,” I thought: This is how I want music to feel.

Cabrera: Can you speak about the instrument you will be playing in “YTTE?”

Stookey: It’s called an OOVE, which is a one-of-a-kind, electro-acoustic instrument created by Oliver DiCicco. The OOVE provides the harmonic background from which “YTTE” emerges; later, it rejoins the orchestra as though to remind us of that lineage.

The OOVE doesn’t have a written part but, because it shares the orchestra’s harmonies, it is able to mirror what it hears, both on its own through the sympathetic vibration of its strings, and on behalf of the performer.

For me, playing the OOVE, as I will be in this performance, is like being wired to a machine that first generates the music — my own music, composed over many months! — and then registers my responses in real time. It’s a surreal compression of experience for which the conductor’s score gives only one instruction:

"Give in to it."