Higher Purpose Productions presents the launch of Orchestra Moderne NYC at Carnegie Hall on Saturday, October 7, 2017 at 8pm. Orchestra Moderne NYC is a new, dynamic, and game-changing ensemble founded by internationally known conductor Amy Andersson in March 2017. Featuring top musicians in New York City, this diverse orchestra will engage audiences by performing music from film scores, video games, and concert music that is relevant and connected to the important cultural issues in our society. Their mission is to create musical experiences that celebrate humanity and are connected to key social issues, resonating with diverse audiences of music lovers, and providing inclusive opportunities for all composers and performers including women and minorities.
The inaugural program, titled The Journey to America: From Repression to Freedom (Part 1), celebrates the legacy of immigration to America. Orchestra Moderne NYC makes its debut featuring Peter Boyer’s Grammy-nominated work Ellis Island: The Dream of America. This beautiful tribute to historic American immigration features seven actors reading stories chosen from the Ellis Island Oral History Project, accompanied by an emotional orchestral score and projected photos from the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Also on the program is Overture to Light by Emmy-winning composer Lolita Ritmanis, the world premiere of Steven Lebetkin’s compelling Violin Concerto with soloist Momo Wong, and the beloved Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland.
Conductor Amy Andersson has toured throughout 20 countries conducting operatic, symphonic and video game repertoire. Named by British music critic Norman Lebrecht as “America’s most watched Symphony Orchestra Conductor,” Ms. Andersson is known for her dynamic and moving performances.
In 2014 Ms. Andersson toured with the video game show Replay; Symphony of Heroes and was Music Director from 2015-2017 for the internationally celebrated tour of Zelda Symphony: Symphony of the Goddesses. In addition to performing, Ms. Andersson has been an active teacher of conducting, holding the post of guest professor of conducting at the Berlin University of Arts in Germany, and is a well-known advocate and supporter of new composers and up and coming opera singers. This is Ms. Andersson’s first time as producer of a musical event– she also has dual Austrian/American citizenship.
Lolita Ritmanis is a 10-time Emmy Award-nominated American-Latvian composer, having won this award for her work on Batman Beyond in 2002.
Ritmanis is currently composing music for hit TV series Marvel’s Avengers Assemble, as well other exciting projects.
Ritmanis’s symphonic work Overture to Light, which had its European premiere as part of the World Latvian Cultural Conference in Riga, Latvia in 2014, will have its US premiere at The Journey to America: From Repression to Freedom (Part 1) concert. Inspiration for this work comes from Ritmanis’s parents and the generations of Latvians that fled Communism during World War II. We spoke to Lolita about her interesting past and how it inspires her music, especially her piece Overture to Light.
“We are a country of immigrants. Our nation is a tapestry of many ethnicities and cultures. The current climate is one of fear, one of uncertainty. We must fight against the ignorance, and raise our voices in support of the American dream and against racism and white elitism. I am deeply disturbed by the things I hear our president say.”
How does your Overture to Light connect to the theme of the concert?
When conductor Amy Andersson shared her wish to include my piece in the inaugural concert of her newly formed Orchestra Moderne NYC as part of The Journey to America: From Repression to Freedom concert at Carnegie Hall, I was thrilled!
Inspiration for this work comes from my parent’s generation, the remarkable young people who fled Communist oppression during World War II, yet never turned their back on their culture, language, and the fight for freedom.
In the summer and fall of 1944 during WW II, around 200,000 Latvians left their homeland—among them my parents. Andris Ritmanis and Asja Meļķis, 18 and 19 years of age, were just entering adulthood—full of hope and promise, but also full of uncertainty as to what the future would bring. They believed that when the war ended the West would ensure that Latvia would regain its independence, which in turn would allow them to return home to their country. That did not happen. What lay ahead were dark days of Soviet occupation.
Many of the brightest minds fled during the war. These dedicated young people were tossed throughout the world. Some remained in Europe, others immigrated to Canada, Australia, South America, and many came to the United States. My parents, with their first-born daughter Brigita in tow, were welcomed to America in 1949 where they would begin the next chapter of their lives and become U.S. citizens. My brother, Alberts, was born a few years later, and I was born in 1962. My father received his medical degree from the University of Oregon and practiced family medicine until his retirement. My family fought for freedom for Latvia from afar by keeping their Latvian language and culture alive while living in Oregon.
When was Overture of Light composed?
I began composing this work in 2013, and completed it mid 2014. This work had been commissioned by the World Latvian Association for a concert honoring Latvian composers living outside of Latvia. The World Premiere was performed in Cēsis, Latvia by the Jāzeps Vītols Academy of Music Orchestra, under the guest baton of Ainārs Rubiķis on October 4, 2014, which coincided with Latvia’s national elections. Because of my dual citizenship, I had the privilege to vote in that election. I cast my ballot in a region of Latvia where the majority of my ancestors came from on the actual day of the premiere. Latvia is now a part of the European Union and a member of NATO—but was occupied by the Soviet Union from 1940 to 1991. The threat of future aggression by Russia is a daily fear for many Latvians. The preservation of freedom and democracy is of utmost importance. Every vote counts, helping to ensure that the elected officials reflect (in their actions) what is paramount for the preservation of Latvia’s independence, culture, and language.
What is your background in music? What got you into composing?
Throughout my childhood I studied piano, flute, guitar, and voice, performing in both jazz and classical music ensembles. I composed my first song at age 11. By age 16 I had toured the USA, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, composing for and performing with a Latvian popular music group “Amber.” Latvian song festivals throughout the world provided me with an opportunity to conduct and perform my works before larger audiences.I graduated from Cleveland High School in Portland, Oregon in 1980 and moved to Los Angeles. I received my composing and arranging education at the Dick Grove School of Music, specializing in film scoring. Early in my career, I orchestrated for many composers, including: Michael Kamen, Basil Poledouris, Mark Snow, and Shirley Walker. Shirley opened the door for me to begin working on Batman: The Animated Series as a composer. That was 25 years ago. I am very fortunate to have been able to sustain my career solely as a composer since then, composing both for media projects as well as for the concert stage.
An immigrant of Latvian descent, how do you feel about the situation the United States is currently in regarding the president’s position against immigrants?
We are a country of immigrants. Our nation is a tapestry of many ethnicities and cultures. The current climate is one of fear, one of uncertainty. We must fight against the ignorance, and raise our voices in support of the American dream and against racism and white elitism. I am deeply disturbed by the things I hear our president say.
Do you think artists have a responsibility to use their platforms to start difficult conversations within their communities? Why/why not?
Ah, this is a loaded question for me. This is relevant on several different fronts, but I will focus on two.
One: For me as a woman composer, I represent a very small percentage of women composers composing music for the top grossing films, and highest rated television series. Simply by being a woman composer in a male dominated field I am “using my platform”. I am the current president of the Alliance For Women Film Composers, I strive daily to amplify other women, mentor aspiring women composers, and speak out about gender equality.
Two: On another front, as the daughter of Latvian immigrants, I feel a tremendous responsibility to tell the story of my parents and their generation of immigrants, people who fled Communism during World War II. America opened her doors to hundreds of thousands of immigrants. In the case of my parents, my father completed medical school, became a doctor, my parents became US citizens, all the while still keeping our Latvian culture and language alive. What is happening today, beginning with Trump’s “wall,” and continuing with his inconsistent comments related to immigration reform, promotes fear, uncertainty, racism, and a climate of intolerance that is un-American, and simply wrong. •
You can enjoy Lolita's piece Overture to Light conducted by Amy Andersson at The Journey to America: From Repression to Freedom, first show by Orchestra Moderne NYC at Carnegie Hall on Saturday, October 7, 2017 at 8pm.