Mary Mackenzie, soprano, and Heidi Louise Williams, piano, gave a fabulous performance at Florida State University last Friday that featured a big chunk of my song catalog. The program included the sets Holy the Firm and Three Sacred Songs, plus the individual songs Waltzing the Spheres and Shadow Memory. They closed the program with my arrangement of How Can I Keep From Singin’? Mary was in dazzling form throughout, particularly in the big Holy the Firm cycle, with beautiful singing at the service of formidable emotional impact. She’s done the piece a number of times now, and I liked that she is getting more theatrical in the “mad scene” opening of the cycle’s last song, with its juxtapositions of dreaminess and terror. Heidi’s pianism was no less impressive. She played a Fazioli piano with a slightly glassy and sweet tone that could be clattery in less gifted hands. Heidi commanded complete control of balance, color and dynamics, not an easy thing on any instrument, but especially on the Fazioli.
In addition to my music, the program included John Harbison’s Vocalism: A Grand Aria for Soprano and Piano (that’s the composer’s subtitle) on a Whitman text. It is indeed grand: emotionally big-hearted, vibrantly textured. On a very different scale was John’s Seven Poems of Lorine Niedecker, a work premiered at this past summer’s Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music. The piece is a set of seven short songs bound together (played without pause) that can also be understood as one larger song. Mary and Heidi offered a lovely short song by Daniel Crozier as an encore.
The recital (along with the one the ladies gave at Southern Mississippi University earlier in the week) served as preparation for a CD recording including my music, set to take place next month. On the basis of the concert last week, it will be a remarkable document.
Here’s a post-concert shot, with Heidi on the left:
Much to write about and very little time in which to do so – I have been traveling to hear performances of my music and give talks about it.
Just last night was the New York premiere of my Rilke song cycle, From a Book of Hours, given in its chamber version by the New Juilliard Ensemble. (There is also a version for soprano and orchestra.) Read the New York Times review here. The brilliant Juilliard musicians, most notably the soloist, soprano Alexandra Razskazoff, gave a powerful performance. The indefatigable Joel Sachs directed. (Has anyone conducted more new scores than Joel in New York over the years?)
a post-concert shot, with Alexandra, Joel, composer Du Yun, unidentified, myself, Michael Zev Gordon, and Elliott Sharp:
Last week the Carolina Choir of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, led by Susan Klebanow gave a splendid performance of my George Herbert motet, The Call. They had it by heart (!) and their affection for the piece came through in a finely shaped rendition, commanding both powerful and gentle nuances with precision and passion.
Here I am with Susan and composer Allen Anderson (faculty member at UNC) whose touching anthem on a Li Po text was also beautifully performed.
Will write more about recent events as soon as I can – am off to Tallahassee tomorrow for the Mary Mackenzie & Heidi Williams program featuring a number of my vocal works.
You can stream recordings of new music from the Library of Congress at WQXR’s website here. The diverse repertoire includes music by George Lewis, John Adams, Irving Fine, Jennifer Higdon, George Walker, and Nico Muhly, among others.
The Woody Herman Story. Nearly one hundred tracks, documenting Herman’s First and Second Herds. This may not be Ellington or Basie, but there is still much to enjoy. The driving and sometimes goofy flag wavers (Your Father’s Mustache or Blowing Up A Storm, for example) are a slightly guilty pleasure for me; trombonist Bill Harris’s eloquence is always of interest, including his occasionally fanciful relationship with the tempered scale. The Second Herd was a bop-influenced band, and included writing by Ralph Burns and the famous Four Brothers sax section with tenors Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, and Stan Getz, plus Serge Chaloff on baritone. Herman’s persistence in the business was remarkable. I saw him leading a band of musicians much younger than he when I was a high school student in the ’70s.
Zemlinsky: The String Quartets. The La Salle Quartet. Alex Ross recently noted the cycle of Zemlinsky quartets programmed by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. It’s surprising these pieces are not taken up more often. While the second is a highlight, I enjoyed the third and fourth as well. Ross is right to mention the Schoenberg influence, but there are a few moments when you might think of Mahler. The album is rounded out with a real rarity, a quartet by Hans Erich Apostel, a student of Schoenberg and Berg. These are exemplary performances by a group known for its advocacy of the Second Viennese School, as well as for the fact that the Lutoslawski Quartet was written for them.
As you know from checking the Performances page, I have several things coming up soon. This week I will be in North Carolina for a performance of The Call by the Carolina Choir at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Susan Klebanow will conduct, and there is music by John Harbison and Allen Anderson on the program as well. I’ll be giving talks at UNC and at Duke during my visit.
Here is the George Herbert text for my piece, as well as a program note.
Come, My Way, My Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joyes in Love.
– George Herbert (1633)
Thirty years after setting George Herbert’s The Call in a folk style for use by the Catholic Campus Ministry at Columbia University, I have returned to the text with a setting for Emmanuel Church that retains some melodic elements of the first version.
While I usually treat a text in a linear manner from beginning to end, in this piece I have broken open Herbert’s tightly bound form by freely repeating and fragmenting the poem in two contrapuntal Fantasias based on musical motifs from the Chorales that frame the motet.
As was the case with seven previous motets, I gratefully offer The Call as a gift to the Emmanuel community. But this piece is dedicated to a particular member of that community, to John Harbison on his 75th birthday: admired composer, generous advocate, dear friend.
You have probably seen this, but just in case… as Alex Ross expressed it on Twitter, “a startling finding!”
There were an unusually large number of musical events taking place in Philadelphia the day Network for New Music did its recent Vincent Persichetti program – hence it is all the more welcome that Network has posted recordings from the concert and a PDF of the program booklet on its website. Find them here.
I am preparing a pre-concert lecture for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concert this Friday, November 9, at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater. The concert is at 8 pm, my talk at 6:45. The concert features the Juilliard String Quartet in the first performance of Richard Wernick’s String Quartet Nr. 9, a PCMS commission. Dick has let me study the score in preparation for my talk, and it looks to be very Wernickian in its tightness of construction, coupled with passionate expression. Dick has headed the second of the quartet’s two movements with a phrase from Dante – “per una selva oscura…”, and I think this slow movement will be quite haunting, a kind of night music, with striking short motives and an emerging poignant lyricism. The Mozart “Dissonant” and the Debussy Quartet round out the program.