Recently awarded the Heinz Medal in the Humanities, Mason Bates writes music that fuses innovative orchestral writing, imaginative narrative forms, the harmonies of jazz and the 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, and it is championed by leading conductors such as Riccardo Muti, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Leonard Slatkin. He has become a visible advocate for bringing new music to new spaces, whether through institutional partnerships such as his residency with the Chicago Symphony, 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. In awarding Bates the Heinz Medal, Teresa Heinz remarked that "his music has moved the orchestra into the digital age and dissolved the boundaries of classical music."
The San Francisco Symphony continues its exploration of Bates' music with its Beethoven & Bates Festival. Each of his three largest works — Alternative Energy, Liquid Interface, and The B-Sides — will be recorded and paired with a Beethoven work this season and next. Another major work, his Violin Concerto, will be recorded in September with Leonard Slatkin, the London Symphony, and extraordinary violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, who will perform the work with the Chicago Symphony and many others.
Continuing performances of works such as Rusty Air in Carolina, an electro-acoustic tone poem about the ambience of the South, and Mothership, which premiered at the Sydney Opera House by the YouTube Symphony to an online audience of 1.8 million, have demonstrated that electronic sounds can be a welcome addition to the orchestral palette with minimal logistics. While Bates often performs the electronica onstage with orchestras, dozens of repeat performances of his symphonic music happen without him. Many purely acoustic works complement his diverse catalogue, such as Sirens, an a cappella work recently recorded by the superstar chorus Chanticleer, and Desert Transport, which a helicopter trip over the Arizona landscape.
Bringing classical music to new audiences is a central part of Bates’ activities as a curator. With composer Anna Clyne, he has transformed the Chicago Symphony’s MusicNOW series into an imaginative concert experience drawing huge crowds, with cinematic program notes and immersive stagecraft. Another new take on new music is Mercury Soul, which embeds sets of classical music into a fluid evening of DJing and immersive stagecraft. With ongoing collaborations with the Chicago Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony, and debuting last season in a sold-out show with the Pittsburgh Symphony at Static, Mercury Soul has become an important game-changer in both club culture and the leading “alt classical” audience development project within the symphonic world. For more info, go to www.masonbates.com and www.mercurysoul.org.