When Princesa de la Luna makes its world premiere this weekend during ROCO’s season finale extravaganza, Flamenco, it will be the first opportunity Houston audiences will have to see one of classical music’s brightest young stars: 25-year-old Quinn Mason.
The Dallas-based composer-conductor has routinely gotten heady praise over his short career, winning various awards and competitions. Mason, who is both prolific and unflappable, shrugs off such accolades. “I still have work to do,” he tells Houstonia.
But for someone only in his mid-20s, Mason’s been at work for a while. He wrote his first chamber ensemble piece at age 14 and his first symphony at 18. He was only 19 when his work was first performed professionally.
His taste in music is eclectic, to say the least. He has a near-obsession with Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and loves salsa legend Hector Lavoe. He also counts banda music—a regional Mexican genre with brass instruments that would seem as unlike concert music as physically possible— among his favorites.
“I grew up in a primarily Hispanic neighborhood,” Mason says. “I went to a primarily Hispanic school, so I had a lot of friends that not only introduced me to that music, but were actually in banda groups or merengue bands. I knew people who actually did this stuff.”
Throughout his career, he’s seen incredible success with dozens of commissions and performances of his work by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Seattle, and New Texas Symphony Orchestra among others.
By the time he wrote Princesa de la Luna in 2017, Mason had developed a reputation for writing quickly and easily. But as the commissions keep coming in, he’s slowing down, taking upwards of a year to fine-tune some of his pieces.
“Back then, I was just writing for myself,” he says. “Now, I’m doing a lot of commissions, so I really have to make sure that what I put out to the public is some of my best work.”
Mason’s even been known to revise a work after its premiere, so, the version of Princesa Houstonians hear might just be a once-in-a-lifetime performance. Fitting, then, that it’s in ROCO’s final concert of the season.
Called Flamenco, Saturday night’s show also features the world premiere of The History of Red, a co-commission by Indian American composer Reena Esmail based on a text by Chickasaw poet Linda Hogan that , as well as Carlos Surinach’s flamenco for orchestra, Ritmo Jondo, which is accompanied by live dance by Solero Flamenco, among other numbers.
An adagio for strings, Princesa is a romantic depiction of a fictional princess who lives in the sky and can only be seen at night when there's a full moon.
“It's a portrait of a sparkling, beautiful princess but the princess is also vain, so there's a bit of tension there,” explains Mason. “There’s a lot of texture in it. I'm working with the full range of string instruments and also the harp, which can be very hard to write for.”
Princesa’s premiere is the first time Mason will visit Houston. He assures us it’s not because of any Houston-Dallas rivalry, he’s just never had an occasion to come before.
However, Mason won’t be conducting Princesa during ROCO’s Flamenco (Brett Mitchell will be at the podium); he’ll be listening among the spectators, something he admits makes him nervous. Still, he’s as unflappable as always.
“I don’t think it matters if I enjoy it or not, if I’ve touched someone in the audience then I’ve done my job, It’s not for me. It’s for the audience.”
5 p.m. April 24. For more info, visit roco.org.