The Augusta Symphony celebrates 50 years with something new - very new.
To commemorate its golden anniversary, the symphony commissioned a piece by composer Stephen Paulus for the orchestra and soprano Deborah Voigt. The result, Ancient Spirits: Songs of Sensuality, Love and Longing, will premiere Saturday at First Baptist Church.
Symphony musical director Donald Portnoy told Mr. Paulus that the symphony wanted a piece that could be played by any ensemble at any time.
Mr. Paulus said an important part of the process was listening to recordings of Ms. Voigt, with whom he had never worked, so he could determine her strengths.
"Of course, I found that everything is her strength," he said with a laugh in a recent telephone interview. "I also met with her once, while we were both in New York, so I could talk to her about what interested her musically."
She told him she was drawn to the melancholic. Using that as a starting point, Mr. Paulus developed a cycle based on ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese and Japanese poetry, which Ms. Voigt embraced.
Mr. Paulus said he was attracted by the universality of the messages of the ancient verses.
"You read something like Asklepiados or Sappho, and those verses, those lines about love and longing, could have been written today," he said. "I find that very exciting."
Mr. Paulus said the popular image of a composer alone slaving over a score is a falsehood. While he will deliver a finished score to the symphony and Ms. Voigt, the first rehearsal merely marks the beginning of a collaborative effort.
"That's when you find out what works and what doesn't work," he said. "That's when you discover that what you've done and maybe what you intended to do are not exactly the same."
Comparing the process of composition with gift-giving, he said that when the musicians begin leaving their imprint on the piece is when he begins to let it go.
It's a sentiment echoed by Dr. Portnoy.
"Being able to do something like this, to engage the services of Stephen Paulus and Deborah Voigt is a great gift," he said. "It's a great gift to us and a great gift to the people in the community."
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
50th anniversary concert
WHO: The Augusta Symphony
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: First Baptist Church of Augusta, 3500 Walton Way
COST: $65-$100. Call 826-4705.