An Overture to Vera


An Overture to Vera


for mixed ensemble (1995)

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  • Premiere: 7 September 1995 / Rennebohm Auditorium/ Present Music Ensemble / Donna Hagen
  • Instrumentation: ob.cl1.cl2(=b.c.).bsn-hn.2tpt.tbn-perc-synth-vln.vla.vlc.cb
  • Duration: 12:11
  • Dedication: For Present Music of Milwaukee, 1995
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Program Note

Present Music, Kevin Stalheim, artistic director.

Originally composed for the Encore Brass Quintet, a short-lived ensemble based in New York City, Everything Must Go! (the piece that "grew up" to become An Overture to Vera) was composed at Yaddo, and completed on 21 June 1992. Hagen writes, "Everything Must Go! was originally premiered by the brass section of the Orchestra of Saint Luke's in New York. I ‘assembled' the piece rather than ‘composed' it by writing four ideas (a D-A-B flat motive, a rhythmic cell / groove, a skein of sixteenth notes, and a quartal harmony chorale) on flash cards. I sat at a table, shuffled the cards, and dealt them in different patterns before me. I then notated the results. This injected aleatoric compositional procedures into an already ‘non-expressive' mechanical process. The result allowed the music to go all sorts of unexpected places." 

Program from the premiere.

Program from the premiere.

Present Music's artistic director Kevin Stalheim asked Hagen for a mixed ensemble work in 1995. Already sketching the one act opera Vera of Las Vegas with librettist Paul Muldoon based on the musical "source code" of Everything Must Go!, Hagen expanded and rethought the work as he "remixed" it. The result (first titled Everything Must Go! Fourteen Player Remix) is An Overture to Vera, a free-standing concert work that serves as a musical bridge between the quintet and the opera. Hagen played synthesizer, and Donna Plotz, then his wife, conducted the Present Music Ensemble's premiere performances in Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin.


"An Overture to Vera goes for broke. Like the composer's orchestral variations Heliotrope, It is a truly original piece, one that either you love or you love to hate; there is no middle-ground. By turns desperate to amuse (itself? or the listener?), plangent, emotion-free, innig, elegant, vulgar, and bewilderingly over the top, Hagen's postmodern, post-pastiche stance is provocatively sincere, and ultimately subversive in its gleeful / woeful mashup of styles. It's like a walk through New York's east village in the late 80s, both high and low at the same time, and leaves one feeling a little dazed and definitely overexposed." -- Staten Island Review, November 1995

(Banner photo: A still from Opera Theater's Irish tour of the opera Vera of Las Vegas.)