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Creation Myths

Rohnert Park orchestra premieres myth-inspired work

By Zack Stentz

Those crafty spiders. When they're not catching flies, building ornate webs, or turning Peter Parker into a web-slinging superhero, they're busy creating the Universe, at least according to quite a few Native American folklore traditions.

Several tribes in the American Southwest share the tale of Stitch-te Naku, the "Spider Old Woman" who creates the world and its inhabitants as she weaves her web, a rich and compelling metaphor for the creative act. So it was only logical that a creation myth inspire another generative act, as when New York composer Katherine Hoover was moved to create a musical composition out of Stitch-te Naku's story, joining the elite company of arachnid-inspired compositions like "The Tarantella," "Itsy-Bitsy Spider," and "Theme from Spider-Man."

The piece Stitch-te Naku will have its world premiere on Saturday, Oct. 12, in Sonoma County as part of the Rohnert Park Chamber Orchestra's inaugural concert of the 1996 fall season, and organizers couldn't be more thrilled. "We're stretching our budget on this one," says RPCO executive director Linda Temple, "especially to get [internationally renowned cellist] Sharon Robinson, but it's worth it to us because the composition and the story are so wonderful."

Temple even saw some opportunity for cross-promotion in Stitch-te Naku's constructionist theme. "We tried to get an architectural firm to help underwrite the performance, because of the whole theme of building and creation in the composition," she recalls. "It didn't work, though."

In the grand tradition of Sergei Prokofiev making the orchestra's various sections represent a young boy, a wolf, and hunters in his classic Peter and the Wolf, Stitch-te Naku also links character with instrument, in this case the agile spider with the equally dextrous cello playing of Sharon Robinson, for whom Hoover custom-wrote the work. "I can see the comparison with Peter, though I think this piece has a very different tone. It has a lot of dignity to it, and the cello especially has a real 'singing' quality to it," says RPCO conductor Nan Washburn, explaining that by 'singing' she means "not just a lot of fast showy notes like many cello solos."

Other works in the "Folk Tales and Tunes"­titled opening night concert include influential American composer Henry Cowell's Old American Country Set in honor of his centennial, Jose Bragato's Graciala y Buenos Aires, and--for those die-hard classicists out there--Italian Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn. "All of the works have the common theme of the composers reacting to non-classical, folk influences," says Washburn of the evening's common theme. "Even Mendelssohn, a German-Jewish composer, was inspired by the traditional songs he heard on his first trip to Italy."

Also linking the works is the RPCO's characteristically adventurous approach to musical programming. "We want to prove to the community here that we have our own identity and fill a different niche than the Santa Rosa Symphony," says Temple. "We don't rely so much on traditional classical music--the 'three Bs' of Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven--but try to emphasize, modern, living composers, including works by women and people of color."

But to Washburn, choosing the riskier path of lesser-known living composers over the work of safely dead European masters offers rewards far wider than following some abstract affirmative action­like quota. "I'm excited because when audiences come for the premiere, they'll be witnessing and participating in the creation of a new work as it's played before an audience for the first time," she says of her opening-night dress rehearsals. "And because our setting is more intimate than some big concert hall, and the composer will be there, it'll be a completely different experience for the audience. At how many classical music concerts can you watch a work being performed for the first time and then meet the composer after the show?"

Stitch-Te Naku premieres Saturday, Oct. 12, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 13, at 2:30 p.m. Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 1540 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. $13-$17. 584-1700.

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From the October 10-16, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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