Photo Credit: Stephanie Girarad

Sasha Cooke Gives World Premiere With SF Symphony

Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke returns to Davies Symphony Hall on Sunday, January 30, for a program made up entirely of world premieres written by 17 composers during the COVID-19 pandemic, all commissioned by and written specifically for Cooke.

Cooke’s Great Performers Series concert, also featuring pianist Kirill Kuzmin, marks the first live performances of the works, which all appear on her forthcoming album, how do I find you, to be released via Pentatone on January 28, 2022.

A collection of words and music created in 2020, the new works shine a light on the hopes, fears, and observations of living through an unprecedented time, featuring 17 gifted composers in their 40s and younger, including Missy Mazzoli, SF Symphony Collaborative Partner Nico

“When cancellation after cancellation was coming in, I felt an utter loss of identity,” says Cooke. “This project provided me with a sense of purpose and hope—a way to orient myself through the haze of so much change and uncertainty. From the moment I called the first composer, it felt as if a light suddenly shone and a piece of myself was returned to me.”

Following the hour-long concert on January 30, composers Matt Boehler, John Glover, Jimmy López Bellido, Nico Muhly, and Frances Pollock, and librettists Kelley Rourke and Todd Boss will join Cooke on stage for a Roundtable discussion about their process creating these works and the origin of the project.

While Cooke has premiered works of composers such as Mason Bates, William Bolcom, and Joby Talbot, she recognized how do I find you as an ideal opportunity to connect with new collaborators whose work she had admired from afar. With the notable exception of Nico Muhly—Cooke created the title role in his opera Marnie—each piece featured on how do I find you is the result of a new creative partnership.

“This album was a crash course in nurturing artistic alchemy over distance,” says Cooke. “And that turns out to have its own sort of magic! Each time that a song came in, it felt like my birthday: unwrapping a package that revealed a new and surprising sound world. As I sat at the piano working through the songs, I would often find myself overwhelmed with emotion. I hope listeners also find moments that resonate with their recent lives.”

Some of the pieces are earnest, wrestling with societal challenges from racial injustice and school shootings to California wildfires.

Others are abstract or wryly humorous, told through the lens of harried parents working from home, or tackling quarantine quandaries such as whether to order a Peloton bike. The juxtaposition of these varied works is an apt reflection of the ways in which the pandemic has required humanity to toggle between existential threats and daily life.

Read our exclusive interview with Ms. Cooke from 2019, where she describes her passion for poetry and new operatic compositions.