Milton Babbitt’s Transfigured Notes, for string orchestra, scored for nine absolutely separate and distinct lines,is surely the most controversial piece ever written by that most controversial of composers.The work was commissioned in the mid 1980s by Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra as part of the celebrations for the bicentennial of the Constitution. Three different guest conductors in three successive seasons (Erich Leinsdorf, Dennis Russell Davies, and Hans Vonk) were appointed to conduct the piece. Each attempt, after several rehearsals, ended in canceling the performances, and the orchestra’s management finally pronounced the piece “unplayable.” 

In 1991 Gunther Schuller put together a freelance string orchestra in Boston and gave two performances of the piece, later melding the two into a single performance for a commercial recording. Schuller confessed that his performances were far from perfect, but that he thought the recording did represent the piece’s “mood and character, and all its polyphonic, rhythmic/metric and structural splendor.” He urged listeners to hear it as “a gigantic, multi-layered collective improvisation, an atonal work with nine individual lines all vying for equal contrapuntal attention….It is pointless for the listener to try to ferret out conventional melodies and harmonies, for there are none….” (Nor is there any repetition in Babbitt’s music.) “The music is best listened to – and appreciated, especially at a first hearing – in its overall surface totality, rather than trying to follow any individual lines or shapes or gestures….Just let the music wash over you and you might be surprised by what rich and and totally new listening rewards you will reap.” 

In 1995, thinking the piece ought finally to be heard in Philadelphia, I scheduled it for two performances with Orchestra 2001. After many rehearsals, we realized that our performances, like Schuller’s, would still be far from perfect, so I called those performances “open rehearsals.” The Broad Street Review’s critic Tom Purdom wrote the following. “I had assumed Transfigured Notes would be a classic example of the dry, unpleasant music the academics inflicted on us before composers wised up a few years ago. Surprisingly, there was nothing ugly about anything the orchestra did. Most of the music was melodious and even sweet. The problem was that they played a lot of different things simultaneously. Transfigured Notes reminded me of all those Renaissance madrigals in which five voices sing five different melody lines at the same time. To really appreciate that music, you have to sing it. It’s music for performers. Transfigured Notes is composer’s music. Even the performers have trouble grasping it.” 

I think both Schuller’s and Purdom’s comments about the piece may help us as we rehearse and play it, and as you listen to it.  

At the time of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s aborted performances of the piece in the 1980s, composer Richard Wernick was the orchestra’s advisor in contemporary music. As “an admirer of Babbitt’s beautiful music,”  he later proposed that Babbitt might reimagine the piece for nine SOLO string instruments, not as Babbitt had written it for nine different string SECTIONS. “I think it is possible,” Wernick said, “for one player to perform (each part of) the music, when asking five or six to do it exactly together is not.“  Babbitt, however, always insisted that he wrote the piece for string orchestra and that it must be played by string orchestra, not solo strings.

There have been no performances of Transfigured Notes anywhere in the world since Orchestra 2001’s in 1995, either by a string orchestra or by solo strings – until today’s, twenty-seven years later! Milton Babbitt died in 2011, and I apologize deeply and respectfully to him in absentia for going against his wishes. But I thought it was time to take up Richard Wernick’s suggestion, even if for just a short segment of the piece – allowing us finally to hear what it actually will sound like for solo strings. This is with the enthusiastic blessing and permission of the composer’s publisher, C.F. Peters, Inc.

For many reasons, we decided not to play the whole piece at these concerts, but instead, to play only the first three minutes (out of twenty-six for the whole piece!) We’ll then talk about the piece for a few minutes, then play the three-minute beginning a second time, giving you another chance to hear it.  We hope those three minutes might in the end point you in the direction of Gunther Schuller’s recording of the entire piece. It is available on YouTube – James Freeman

Program Notes for Time Diverted by Jay Fluellen

Time Diverted, for string orchestra, is a meditation on 3 sources of personal inspiration; Mozart, jigsaw puzzles and literary images connected to water. The source of fascination in my favorite pieces by Mozart, lie in his ability to imbue all of his melodic content with rhythmic energy. Melodic and rhythmic content seamlessly progress through time in a rich, cohesive tapestry of sound. My fascination with jigsaw puzzles comes from the uniqueness found in the shape of each piece. Jigsaw puzzle pieces may have a very similar shape, but each piece is distinctly individual. My piece is sectional in a similar manner of a puzzle. Each section fits together by maintaining a constant eighth note pulse through shifting time signatures. My fascination with water images stems from my recent rereading of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Melville creates such captivating literary images around being at sea for months at a time. The water finds its musical expression through areas of compound meter woven throughout the composition. – Jay Fluellen


Free and open to the public without ticket!


Charles Abramovic

Marcantonio Barone

James Freeman

Andrew Hauze

Sumi Onoe

• W.A. Mozart, Concerto for Three Pianos, K. 242

• Richard Danielpour’s “A Simple Prayer” for strings

• W.A. Mozart, Concerto for Two Pianos, K. 365

*2:30 PM – Onstage discussion with musicians will precede the concert.

Mozart’s Concertos for Three Pianos and Two Pianos will highlight Chamber Orchestra FIRST EDITIONS’ program at Lang Concert Hall, Sunday afternoon, February 9, at 3 PM. Swarthmore College’s Marcantonio Barone, Andrew Hauze, and Sumi Onoe ‘2021, will be the soloists in the three-piano concerto, K. 242. Swarthmore resident Charles Abramovic will join Barone for the two-piano concerto, K. 365. Between the two concertos, the Orchestra will present the local premiere of Richard Danielpour’s “A Simple Prayer” for strings.

Said the orchestra’s artistic director and conductor James Freeman, “What Mozart learned in the three years between K. 242 (1776) and K. 365 (1779) is more than astonishing. We can see and hear the remarkable growth of a supremely talented young composer to an incomparable genius. Balancing these remarkable works of Mozart’s final years in Salzburg is a small masterpiece by Richard Danielpour, one of the most sought-after composers of his generation.”


Come help us celebrate renowned composer, George Crumb! Free and open to the public without ticket!


Charles Abramovic
Lori Barnet
James Freeman
Gilbert Kalish
Barbara Ann Martin
Mimi Stillman

• Music for a Summer Evening, final movement

• Night of the Four Moons

• Vox Balaenae

• Ancient Voices of Children, final movement

Performing artists, composers, former students, and scholars will speak briefly between the works.



Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, 7:30pm, Settlement School, Queen Street, Philadelphia 

Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, 3pm, Marshall Auditorium, Roberts Hall, Haverford College 

Pianists Charles Abramovic and Marcantonio Barone
Artistic Director: James Freeman

W.A. MOZART, Fugue in g minor, for piano, four-hands, K. 401
RICHARD WERNICK, “Pieces of Eight,” for solo piano
VINCENT PERSICHETTI, “Poems for Piano,” Op. 4
SAMUEL BARBER, “Nocturne,” Op. 33, for solo piano
GEORGE ROCHBERG, “Four Short Sonatas,” for solo piano
Celebrating the composer’s 100th birthday
GEORGE CRUMB, “A Little Suite for Christmas, A.D. 1979,” for solo piano
W.A. MOZART, “Theme and Variations in G Major,” K. 501, for piano, four hands

A half-hour onstage discussion with the musicians will precede each concert.

All COFE concerts and masterclasses are free and open to the public.


Sunday, January 27, 2019, 3pm, Lang Concert Hall, Swarthmore College


W.A. MOZART, Symphony no. 25 in g minor, K. 183 (1773)
DAVID FINKO, “Glory,” new commissioned work
DAVID CRUMB, “Vocalise,” new commissioned work
LILI TOBIAS “Lament”, new commissioned work
W.A. MOZART, Piano Concerto no. 20 in d minor, K. 466 (1785)

A half-hour onstage discussion with the musicians will precede each concert.

All COFE concerts and masterclasses are free and open to the public.

Mr. Kalish will offer a piano masterclass on Saturday, Jan. 26, 4pm, at Lang Concert Hall.

Two Premieres and Early Mozart Magic, with Cynthia Raim and Natalie Zhu

Two beloved Philadelphia-based pianists share the stage for our second concert series of the 2017/18 season.  New commissioned works by RICHARD DANIELPOUR and JAN KRZYWICKI will be surrounded by Mozart’s only two Rondos for Piano and Orchestra.  Ms. RAIM and Ms. ZHU  will then join with the orchestra in Mozart’s only concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra.

Saturday, February 17, 7:30 PM

Haverford College’s Roberts Hall, Marshall Auditorium

Sunday, February 18, 7:30 PM

Trinity Center, 22nd and Spruce Streets

James Freeman, conductor
Heidi Jacob, Associate Conductor

Journey from Mozart to Jazz, with narrator Barney Frank

Chamber Orchestra First Editions kicks off its second season with a program exploring the synthesis of classical music and jazz – called “third stream music” – with a performance of Gunther Schuller’s 1962 classic “A Journey into Jazz,” narrated by liberal icon Barney Frank, and the premiere of a new composition by jazz drummer Gabriel Globus-Hoenich. As with all COFE productions, these 20th and 21st century pieces will be complemented by early works of W.A. Mozart, including the Piano Concerto No. 12 with pianist Andrew Hauze and the remarkable Symphony No. 29, written at age 18. A half-hour discussion with Rep. Frank and the musicians will precede each concert.

Friday, October 6, 8 PM

Lang Concert Hall, Swarthmore College
concert free and open to the public without ticket

Saturday, October 7, 3 PM

Roberts Hall, Haverford College
concert free and open to the public without ticket

Sunday, October 8, 3 PM

Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
tickets $10 – $25


James Freeman, conductor
Heidi Jacob, Associate Conductor

  • W.A. Mozart, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A Major, K. 414
    • Andrew Hauze, piano
  • Gunther Schuller, Journey into Jazz, for narrator, orchestra, and jazz quintet
    • Barney Frank, narrator
    • Rittenhouse Jazz Quintet
  • Gabriel Globus-Hoenich
    • new commissioned work for jazz quintet and string orchestra
  • W.A. Mozart, Symphony in A Major, K. 201

The Sparkling Flute of Mimi Stillman plus Three Provocative New Works

COFE concert2 photos

Saturday, February 18, 8 PM

Roberts Hall, Haverford College
concert free and open to the public without ticket

Sunday, February 19, 8 PM

Trinity Center, 22nd and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia
concert free and open to the public without ticket


James Freeman, conductor

  • Bright Elegy (2016), for string orchestra, Robert Maggio
    • First Performance
  • Via Cordis (2016), for string orchestra, Ingrid Arauco
    • First Performance
  • A Meeting of Souls (2012), Curt Cacioppo
    • Curt Cacioppo, harpsichord
    • Heidi Jacob, conducting
    • First Performance
  • Intermission
  • Concerto in G for Flute and Orchestra, K. 313 (1778), W.A. Mozart (1756-91)
    • Allegro maestoso
    • Adagio ma non troppo
    • Rondo. Tempo di Menuetto
    • Mimi Stillman, flute
  • Viaje (2015), for flute and string orchestra, Zhou Tian
    • Mimi Stillman, flute

Two Haunting Elegies and Mozart: Salzburg 1776 to Vienna 1784

Concert 1 photo landscapeSaturday, September 24, 8 PM

Roberts Hall, Haverford College

Sunday, September 25, 8 PM

Lang Concert Hall, Swarthmore College

Both concerts free and open to the public without ticket

How does a personal calamity, an international disaster, or just the passage of years affect a composer’s music? How does Janice Hamer deal with the tragedy of refugees fleeing war and poverty in “For the Uprooted?” How does Arne Running express the inner turmoil of his personal life in his “Lamentation”? What circumstances led Mozart to interrupt his work on the piano concerto we now list as K. 449, finally completing it more than two years later? Can we see his progression as a composer from the “Wunderkind” years of the “Serenata Notturna” to the mastery of K. 449, or even in the two years that separate the movements of K. 449? What makes a composer “tick”? We hope you’ll join us to ponder these questions or just sit back and enjoy a compelling combination of early Mozart and new music.

2015/2016: Mozart / Folio / Jacob



Chamber Orchestra FIRST EDITIONS

James Freeman, Artistic Director


New Works by Cynthia Folio and Heidi Jacob
Mozart’s Symphony K. 16 and Piano Concerto K.271
Charles Abramovic, soloist

Sunday, Feb. 21, 3:00 PM
Lang Concert Hall, Swarthmore College

Friday, Feb. 26, 7:30 PM
Roberts Hall, Haverford College

Both concerts free and open to the public without ticket