excerpted from Seattle Symphony premiere notes:
For Reena Esmail, Seattle Symphony’s Artist in Residence this season, RE|Member is a chance to explore what the world has gone through: “When I first spoke to Maestro Dausgaard about this piece, we thought it would be opening the 2020 season. We spoke about that feeling of returning to the concert hall after the summer – a change of season, a yearly ritual. But as the pandemic unraveled life as we knew it, the ‘return’ suddenly took on much more weight.”
Now the piece charts the return to a world forever changed… writing the musicians back onto a stage that they left in completely uncertain circumstances, and that they are re-entering from such a wide variety of personal experiences of this time.”
I wanted this piece to feel like an overture, and my guides were two favorites: Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Bernstein’s Candide. Each is breathless and energetic, with pockets of intimacy and tenderness. Each contains many parallel universes that unfold quickly. Each has beautiful, memorable melodies that speak and beckon to one another. I strove for all of this in RE|Member.”
It is a multifaceted title, and by happy coincidence also allowed Esmail to ‘sign’ the work with her initials, RE: “I only noticed that after the fact! This piece connects two meanings of the word ‘remember’. Firstly, the sense that something is being brought back together. The orchestra is re-membering, coalescing again after being apart. The pandemic will have been transformative: the orchestra is made up of individuals who had a wide variety of experiences in this time. And they are bringing those individual experiences back into the collective group. There might be people who committed more deeply to their musical practice, people who were drawn into new artistic facets, people who had to leave their creative practice entirely, people who came to new realizations about their art, career, life. All these new perspectives, all these strands of thought and exploration are being brought back together.”
“And the second meaning of the word: that we don’t want to forget the perspectives which each of these individuals gained during this time, simply because we are back in a familiar situation. I wanted this piece to honor the experience of coming back together, infused with the wisdom of the time apart.”
— program note by Raff Wilson
live recording from Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra — July 31, 2023
Elias Medina, oboe; Stefan Asbury, conductor
Special Performance Requirements
This work has a solo part in it at the beginning and end. In the beginning, the soloist appears on a video, and at the end, the live person appears with the video of themselves.
For the full conception of this work to be realized, the orchestra should make a video of their own principal oboist playing the opening, and then allow the same oboist to play in duet with their own video at the end of the piece, preferably in a location that is separated from the rest of the ensemble.
It is possible and totally encouraged to do this with ANY instrument — it doesn’t have to be an oboe. As long as the live performer is the same person that is on the video. If there is another performer you choose to feature in your ensemble, feel free to adapt the oboe parts to your performer’s needs.
The piece can also work traditionally, if video is not an option. The principal oboist starts the piece, separated somehow from the orchestra, but still visible (in a balcony, at the edge of the stage in a spotlight et al) and the ending duet features the same oboist along with the person playing Oboe 1 from within the orchestra. When the piece is rented, there are separate parts for the Oboe Soloist and Oboe 1, which redistribute the same music so that this can happen seamlessly.
This work was premiered in September 2021 by Seattle Symphony and oboist Mary Lynch VanderKolk.
A work to summarize the pandemic experience? Esmail’s RE|Member (2021) might be the one. RE|Member, opening the bracing orchestral program at the end of the contemporary festival, laps itself. It opens with a video of a solo oboist, shown above the silent orchestra. After that Zoom meeting, the orchestra plays a rambunctious, nostalgic romp through various styles. At the conclusion, the video returns, this time in duet with a spotlighted oboe partner, standing in the orchestra. It was a rush of a concert opener, offering a poignant but confident observation on making music alone and making music together.Keith Powers, Classical Voice America
The surprise of the evening, for this listener at least, was the Esmail piece: evocative, imaginative and surprisingly powerful, it featured a large screen above the stage, and a film of principal oboist Mary Lynch playing a wistful and evocative solo. The orchestral music rises to a big statement and trumpet motif, then fluttering downward passages for the winds — and then Lynch herself rises from her seat in the orchestra to play a duet with her filmed self. It’s beautiful, moving music.— Seattle Times