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MAINE PUBLIC BROADCASTING: Channeling Beethoven: Composer Unveils New Work Inspired by the Master


By Tom Porter

PORTLAND, Maine - Tonight in Portland is the world premiere of a new piece of music dedicated to Beethoven. The Portland Symphony commissioned the work as part of its 90th anniversary celebration series.Michael-Thomas Foumai has composed a new work inspired by the great symphonies of Beethoven.

As winner of the Portland Symphony Orchestra's Young American Composer Competition, 27-year-old Michael-Thomas Foumai was tasked with a daunting project. "It's not something very easy to tell a composer to write a piece about another composer, let alone Beethoven. Where do you begin?"

But Foumai, a native of Hawaii, says that as he learned more about his life and works, he found a way to incorporate Beethoven into his music. In his piece, Foumai draws musical inspiration from several of the great composer's symphonies.

"I used some material from, mainly, the 5th, the 6th and 9th symphonies," Foumai says. "I didn't quote anything verbatim, but I took maybe a rhythm, or a snippet of a melody and kind of weaved them together. There's a lot of Beethoven in there, but it's kind of infused with my own musical language.

Foumai says he likes to tell stories through his music and he often cites films and literature as his inspiration. He says the primary goal of this work - entitled "Becoming Beethoven" - is to tell the story of the composer's hearing loss, which he suffered fairly early in his career.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra will perform Michael-Thomas Foumai's tribute to Beethoven at Merrill Auditorium in Portland. It's kind of a psychological piece," he says. "It begins with the great energy that I find in a lot of Beethoven's music. It kind of represents Beethoven as a young composer, and then tragedy strikes. And so the music reflects that. It's dramatic, and when it gets to the middle section, it's more of a therapeutic section where I try to bring the audience into the mind of the composer and his love of nature."

And Foumai says it was Beethoven's love of nature that gave him comfort and strength as he came to terms with his deafness and went back to composing. "Which brings us to the last part of the piece, which just explodes and represents this triumph over deafness, and the beautiful works that he would create afterwards," Foumai says. "Beethoven was the greatest composer ever. I've had to live with his works, I've studied his scores, listened to many recordings, and I've gained a much deeper appreciation for his craft and what he's done."

Michael Foumai's "Becoming Beethoven" will be performed tonight at Portland's Merrill Auditorium, in a program also featuring Beethoven's 3rd Symphony, the "Eroica."

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