How to celebrate 100 years of collaboration between Hill Auditorium and the University Musical Society? Murder and revenge, of course! For one night only, three choirs, one orchestra and over 400 musicians come together to attempt the impossible and bring Darius Milhaud’s opera trilogy, “Oresteia of Aeschylus,” to life.

Darius Milhaud’s Oresteian Trilogy

Thursday at 7:30 pm
Hill
From $10


The University Symphony Orchestra will be the first to perform the three-hour masterpiece in the United States, which will be recorded live Thursday evening.

The orchestra has already won four Grammys, in 2006 for William Bolcom’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience” — including the Grammy for Best Classical Album.

“It sent a shockwave through the recording industry,” said Kenneth Kiesler, the conductor of the University Symphony Orchestra.

While the orchestra searched for distributors for its last 10 albums, it was approached by Naxos, the largest distributor of classical music.

Though the piece may already have a producer, preparing for the performance has not been easy.

“There were many problems, like the music is filled with hundreds of misprints and mistakes, and we had to fix those,” Kiesler said. “Also, the students are not used to singing in French, and the music is very complicated. It has been a challenge for everyone involved.”

“A lot of the orchestral parts don’t match up. It’s been a great deal of time trying to make it match and a huge undertaking,” said George Case, assistant conductor of the UMS Choral Union.

With these complications in mind, Kiesler said, “It took me years to decide it would be a good thing to do.”

Four years after receiving the music, Kiesler finally came around in 2008, but the performance was pushed back until 2013 with an anniversary in mind.

“We decided we should just wait until the centennial, since the first part (of the trilogy) was written in 1913,” Kiesler said.

“The Oresteian Trilogy” contains particular significance to the University because of the composer Milhaud’s connection with former Composition Prof. William Bolcom.

Bolcom, who worked for the University from 1973 to 2008, is a world-renowned and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer. Bolcom studied with Milhaud in the 1950s, and it was because of Bolcom’s connection that the piece was chosen.

Milhaud’s three-piece opera is based on the plays by Aeschylus and tells the story of murder and revenge of the Greek royal family of Argos. In the narrative, the mother kills her husband and then the son kills his mother to avenge his father’s death. The son ends up on trial for murder but eventually walks free, with the jury deciding that he was merely defending his dead father.

Despite the story being an old one, Kiesler insisted that themes like class conflicts, power, gender conflicts and jealousy still ring true today.

But more important than those themes is the trial that takes place.

“It was the first trial ever,” Kiesler said. “Before this, justice was just revenge, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But at the end of the story, Athena says to stop the revenge and that they are going to have a trial and an impartial jury to decide. She lays out the rules for how a jury should work.”

With an intense plot and complex music, the task of directing Milhaud’s piece would seem like a daunting feat, but Case has full confidence in Kiesler’s abilities.

“He’s one of the most incredible musicians I know,” Case said. “Music just comes out of him.”

“Everyone’s been working really hard. In the end, we will have an extraordinary performance,” Kiesler said.

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