VIOLIN CONCERTO (2011), for violin and orchestra
"Matheson's Violin Concerto is a supercharged showpiece for virtuoso violinist and orchestra that connects with the listener on a visceral as well as intellectual level. It keeps the soloist extremely busy as he negotiates a maze of vivid, colorful orchestral effects that ultimately are the most interesting aspect of the piece. While neo-romantic in overall flavor, Matheson is original enough to shun the feel-good bromides that constitute so much of today's 'new' classical music."
—John von Rhein, The Chicago Tribune, December 16, 2011
"Unlike many younger composers who have a basic idea and then try to orchestrate it, Matheson writes in full orchestral 3-D. Waves of tonal sounds moved across the stage, and sections had individual voices and even voices within the sections."
—Andrew Patner, The Chicago Sun-Times, December 17, 2011
Co-commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Violin Concerto is approximately 25 minutes in performance, and cast in three movements:
The third movement proceeds from the second without pause.
Instrumentation: solo violin; 3333 4331 timp 3perc harp pf/cel solo vln. strings
Premiere: December 15, 16, 17 and 18, 2011, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Baird Dodge, violin, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen; March 2, 3 and 4, 2012, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Martin Chalifour, violin, conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado
TIMES ALONE (2012), for soprano and piano
Premiere: February 26, 2013 at Rockefeller University, Kiera Duffy and Roger Vignoles
A song cycle comprising five settings of poems from Spanish poet Antonio Machado's Soledades, Galerias y Otros Poemas, as translated and reworked into English by American poet Robert Bly.
1. I have walked along many roads (He andado muchos caminos)
2. Last night, as I was sleeping (Anoche cuando dormía)
3. Clouds ripped open (Desgarrada la nube)
4. The wind, one brilliant day (Llamó a mi corazón, un claro día)
5. Is my soul asleep? (¿Mi corazón se ha dormido?)
Antonio Machado's early poems are imaginative, deeply personal observations on being and spirituality in early 20th century Spain. They are urgent, modern, and sometimes devastating in the sheer loneliness of their perspective. As with many great poets, Machado's existential predicament gives rise to works that are rapturously beautiful and deeply moving in the level of their personal exposure.
Thankfully for English-speakers, Robert Bly, the iconic and quintessentially American poet and guru, has reworked Machado's early works into versions that retain the potency of Machado's purpose and vision. They soar above mere translation—and they are, unquestionably, of lasting relevance to those among us who search, but are not lost.
TRUE SOUTH (2010), for chamber orchestra
Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert, Music Director
"Mr. Gilbert, describing James Matheson’s True South during a pre-concert interview with the WNYC radio host John Schaefer, used the word “cinematic,” a term well suited to a work inspired by Werner Herzog’s Antarctica documentary, Encounters at the End of the World. Mr. Matheson’s lively 20-minute sequence of ear-catching timbres and evocative passages was bracketed by episodes of surging energy and buoyant fanfares."
—The New York Times
"James Matheson's True South used the orchestra to make surprising sounds, if less enchanting than astonishing. Matheson hears Antarctica as a landscape ripe for strange and fascinating guttural and esophageal instrumental effects carried on for 17 raucous minutes."
—The Los Angeles Times
"True South demands an astonishing array of orchestral effects. In True South, one hears the promise of Matheson’s future as a major composer."
—LA Classical Music Examiner
"The sound-world of True South piece is truly remarkable, with deeply reverberant, hard-charging strings set against percussion and vivid, dancing melodic figures from the woodwinds. This chamber orchestra plays with the depth of an ensemble twice its size and the strings especially can dig in in a way that is almost gasp-inducing."
—J. Anthony Macalister, Note x Note
Instrumentation: 2022 2110 2perc hp pf/cel strings
Premiere: December 17 and 18, 2010, New York Philharmonic, conducted by Alan Gilbert
West Coast premiere: Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Jeffrey Kahane, October 6 and 7, 2012
From Tim Mangan's review of the premiere of String Quartet:
"Matheson’s String Quartet is an impressive piece of work. [I]t is brimming with ideas; the richness of their number is palpable.
"The String Quartet is, perhaps first and foremost, beautifully orchestrated, the combination of instruments used to create one wondrous color after another."
Mannes American Composers Ensemble
May 2, 2014
150 West 85th Street, NYC
The Anatomy of Melancholy to be featured at the 2014 Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music
July 17, 2014
Tanglewood Music Center
Review of the World Premiere of Bagatelle
"The piece alternated material from the final movement of the Eroica with spectral and torrential washes of sound—think Franz Liszt playing Beethoven on hallucinogens."
—John von Rhein, The Chicago Tribune
New work for two Shakuhachi and Chamber Orchestra for 2015-6 season
New work for chorus and orchestra to celebrate the Sesquicentennial of Swarthmore College for the Fall of 2014