Written for eight cellos, “Carbide & Carbon” was inspired in part by Sofia Gubaidulina’s Labyrinth. The work, which received its world premiere in December, also happens to reference the name of composer Mason Bates’ favorite Chicago skyscraper.

Mason Bates


(2013 world premiere)

Duration: 13 minutes

Instrumentation: cello octet

MusicNOW Commission

The composer writes:

No musical body possesses the power, warmth, and range of the cello ensemble. But every time I’ve encountered a new work for cellos (including Sofia Gubaidulina’s Labyrinth last season), I find myself wishing the ensemble’s rhythmic possibilities received deeper exploration. Eight carbon-copy instruments, after all, present many intriguing possibilities for shattered, morphing figuration to whip around the ensemble.  Indeed, the “carbon” of the title refers as much to the duplicating material that jumps from player to player, and the “carbide” conjures the work’s industrial-age energy. (The title was certainly suggested by my favorite Chicago building just down the street, but the homage ends there.)

An embryonic version first appeared as a fiendishly difficult solo cello work for the incredible Joshua Roman, who is perhaps the only person who can play it (quite stunningly).  But it was particularly inspiring to create this new octet for some of my closest friends in the Chicago Symphony, for whom I’ve create a kind of “super cello” that is hopefully worthy of their outstanding skills.

About the composer:

The music of Mason Bates fuses innovative orchestral writing, imaginative narrative forms and the harmonies of jazz and rhythms of techno. Frequently performed by orchestras large and small, his symphonic music has been the first to receive widespread acceptance for its expanded palette of electronic sounds.

Bates was appointed by Music Director Riccardo Muti, along with Anna Clyne, as one of Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Mead Composers-in-Residence and took up the post in the 2010/11 season for a term of two years. Maestro Muti extended both Bates’ and Clyne’s terms through the 2013/14 season, which enables them to develop further the collaborations begun with various partners in Chicago as well as new relationships.

Bates has become a visible advocate for bringing new music to new spaces, whether through institutional partnerships or through his classical/DJ project Mercury Soul, which has transformed spaces ranging from commercial clubs to Frank Gehry-designed concert halls into exciting, hybrid musical events drawing over a thousand people. Other collaborations include works toured by Levy Dance. As a DJ, he often appears with upright bassist David Arend in spaces from San Francisco to Berlin, including Mezzanine, Temple, Volksbühne, John Colins and SFMOMA.

Carnegie Hall’s 2012/13 season opened with Riccardo Muti leading the CSO in Alternative Energy, an “energy symphony” that spans four movements and hundreds of years. Premiered by the CSO in February 2012 to rave reviews, the work subsequently toured California and New York’s Carnegie Hall; it received its Canadian premiere in February by the Toronto Symphony. In June 2013, a new piece by Bates had its world premiere on the CSO’s MusicNOW series. A new violin concerto for Anne Akiko Meyers and the Pittsburgh Symphony premiered in December under the baton of Leonard Slatkin, and the Pittsburgh Symphony will perform many of Bates’ works while he serves as Composer of the Year. Under choreographer Aszure Barton, the Houston Ballet premieres a new ballet to The B-Sides, a dance suite that drops into five surreal landscapes that has been performed around the country since its San Francisco Symphony premiere. The Phoenix Symphony presents two of his works this season: Desert Transport, which conjures a helicopter trip over the Arizona landscape, and a new song cycle for soprano and orchestra.

While Bates often performs the electronica onstage with orchestras, dozens of repeat performances of his symphonic music happen without him — demonstrating how electronics can act as a new section in the orchestra with little logistical effort.  A good example is Mothership, which premiered at the Sydney Opera House by the YouTube Symphony to an online audience of 1.8 million; it will appear on symphonic programs across the country this season.

Many purely acoustic works complement his diverse catalog, such as Sirens, an a cappella work touring with the superstar chorus Chanticleer. The solo piano work White Lies for Lomax, commissioned by Tanglewood Music Center, won the Van Cliburn Composers Invitational and is heard regularly in recitals.  A new string quartet premiered by the Del Sol Quartet at the 2012 Cabrillo Festival received its Bay Area premiere in December. A great deal of his music has been performed by the musicians of Young Concert Artists, the acclaimed New York organization where he served as composer-in-residence.

Raised in Virginia, where he studied piano with Hope Armstrong Erb and composition with Dika Newlin, Bates enrolled in the Columbia-Juilliard program in New York City. Earning degrees in music composition and English literature, he studied primarily with John Corigliano and also under with David Del Tredici and Samuel Adler. He worked with Edmund Campion at the University of California-Berkeley, where the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies became an important influence on his approach to electro-acoustic composition. Awards include the Heinz Award, the Rome and Berlin Prizes, a Charles Ives scholarship and fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Jacob Druckman Memorial Prize from Aspen Music Festival, ASCAP and BMI awards, and fellowships from Tanglewood, Creative Capital and the Guggenheim Foundation.

For more information about Mason Bates, visit masonbates.com.