On January 8, David Bowie released his 25th studio album, Blackstar, on his 69th birthday. He stuck around for two days while critics went wild over the extraordinarily rich and jazz-infused tracks, then died, leaving the world, as The New Yorker wrote, “as elegantly as he inhabited it.”
One of the most arresting tracks was Sue (Or in a Season of Crime), a collaboration with composer and bandleader Maria Schneider—the wildness, drama and varied textures of which are typical of music by this “national treasure” (NPR) and winner of five Grammy awards, one for Sue.
Hop audiences once again get to experience Schneider’s music firsthand on Tuesday, April 19, at 7 pm, when the Maria Schneider Orchestra performs in the Hop’s Spaulding Auditorium. The concert includes the New England premiere of an as-yet unnamed work by Schneider co-commissioned by the Hop.
Schneider’s music has been astonishing critics, music lovers and fellow musicians since she and her orchestra first became widely known in the early 1990s with their first recording, Evanescence. With that recording, Schneider began to develop her personal way of writing for her 17-member collective, made up of many of the finest musicians in jazz today, tailoring her compositions to distinctly highlight the uniquely creative voices of the group.
Their most recent release, The Thompson Fields (2015), inspired by the countryside of her native Minnesota, has inspired raptures: “majestic” (The Guardian, UK); a “magnificent, nature-drunk masterpiece, one of the great jazz records, period” (Buffalo News); “beyond categorization….simply sublime” (Audiophile Audition); and “ultimately breathtaking, a testament not simply to the hipness of jazz but to the uplifting and sustaining powers of art” (Ottawa Citizen).
Wrote The New York Times, “The Thompson Fields …[is] an extravagant show of [Schneider’s] strengths: precise, expressive harmony; ribbons of diaphanous texture; a rhythmic momentum that doesn’t feel propulsive so much as wind-borne. Her new pieces, inspired by various ecological and personal epiphanies, stands alongside the best of her previous work, which is saying something.” Sterophile said the album “places [Schneider] in the pantheon of big-band composer-leaders.”
The Maria Schneider Orchestra tours worldwide, and Schneider and her orchestra have a distinguished recording career with ten Grammy nominations and three Grammy awards. She herself has received numerous commissions and guest-conducting invitations, working with more than 85 groups from over 30 countries spanning the globe. Because her music blurs the lines between genres, her commissioners and collaborators range from the aforementioned Bowie to soprano Dawn Upshaw (who sang on Schneider’s Grammy-winning Winter Morning Walks, a Grammy-winning Hop-commissioned work), and include the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, Monterey Jazz Festival, The American Dance Festival, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, Peter Sellars’ New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna, Kronos Quartet, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Ojai Music Festival. She is among a small few to have received Grammy awards in both jazz and classical categories.
Unique funding of projects has become a hallmark for Schneider through the trend-setting company, ArtistShare. Her album Concert in the Garden (2004) became historic as the first recording to win a Grammy with internet-only sales, even more significantly, it blazed the “crowd-funding” trail. She’s twice received “Jazz Album of the Year” from the Jazz Journalists Association and has won numerous Downbeat Critics and Readers Polls. In 2012, her alma mater, the University of Minnesota, awarded Schneider an honorary doctorate, and in 2014, ASCAP awarded her their esteemed Concert Music Award.
Schneider has become a strong voice for music advocacy and in 2014, testified before the US Congressional Subcommittee on Intellectual Property about digital rights. She has also appeared on CNN and was quoted in numerous publications for her views on Spotify, Pandora, digital rights and music piracy.
Hop audiences have had the privilege of tracking Schneider’s career over the decades, from an early appearance as a guest artist with the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble; to 2006, when the Hop co-commissioned Schneider’s The Pretty Road; to 2012, when the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Upshaw performed Winter Morning Walks.