First, a few shots of the campus being gorgeous:

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Now, some composers. Left to right, Casey Ginther, Augusta Read Thomas, Bun-Ching Lam:

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Gerald Levinson, Yehudi Wyner, and John Harbison at a rehearsal of Levinson’s Here of most amazing now:

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Here’s the ensemble for the Levinson:

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(Jiyeon Kim, guitar; Blair Francis, flute;Nicholas Tisherman, oboe and english horn; Mary Patchett, saxophone; Matthew Howard, percussion; Jakob Alfred Paul Nierenz, cello, Nash Tomey, double bass. Obscured at left is pianist George Xiaoyuan Fu, piano.)

Harbison and Levinson at Jerry’s dress rehearsal:

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Bright Sheng conducting his own Deep Red:

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Yehudi Wyner at a rehearsal for his new work on an Elizabeth Bishop text, Sonnet: In the Arms of Sleep:

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Yehudi’s singers at work – Lucy Shelton, Paulina Villareal, and Quinn Middleman:

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John Harbison conducting a Dallapiccola rehearsal:

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The dress rehearsal for the late Gunther Schuller’s Magical Trumpets. The piece is scored for 12 trumpets – or, to be more precise: 1 piccolo trumpet in F, 1 D trumpet, 3 B-flat trumpets, 3 C trumpets, 1 cornet, 1 flugelhorn, 1 bass trumpet in E-flat, and 1 bass trumpet in B-flat. Jonathan Berman is conducting.

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Michael Tilson Thomas rehearsing the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in the Copland Orchestral Variations:

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MTT exhorting the players as they work on the Ives Holidays Symphony. That’s Marzena Diakun on the podium next to him; the blonde head between the first two violins is that of another conductor assisting in the Ives, Ruth Reinhardt. Christian Reif rounded out the team of conductors for the Ives.

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More composers now – a blurry shot of a pre-concert chat with John Harbison, Charles Wuorinen, Helen Grimes, Shulamit Ran, and program annotator Robert Kirzinger:

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One more group shot: Robert Kirzinger, Yehudi Wyner, Eric Chasalow, myself, Augusta Read Thomas, and I’m sorry to say I don’t know the name of the gentleman on the far right – help me out by identifying him in the comments, please.

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There is so much to say about the recently ended Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music that I have been having trouble getting started with a blog post about it all. This won’t be a complete report, just a beginning. I hope to have more to say in subsequent posts – though I really need to get back to the violin and piano piece I am working on for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society.

My own Dark the Star was performed on the Friday, July 24 program, and magnificently so. The piece is scored for baritone, clarinet, cello, piano, and percussion, but there were two superb young baritones among the Fellows – Dimitri Katotakis and Davone Tines –  so the renowned baritone Sanford Sylvan, coach for the performance, devised a division of labor where the two singers alternated, sometimes even dividing up the text for a single song. I’m not going to alter the score to include two singers, but what Sandy worked out was uncannily effective. The texts for the piece are full of shadows and doubles; plus, in two cases I set the same text twice, so the double-soloist strategy made organic sense. For one phrase near the end, Davone and Dimitri sang in unison to devastating effect. The instrumentalists were superb: Ethan Young, cello; John Diodati, clarinet; Joseph Kelly, percussion; and Pierre-André Doucet, piano. The distinguished pianist Stephen Drury conducted.

Dark the Star opened a well-considered program devised by John Harbison, with threads of connection among the pieces both in terms of form and expression. There was an ecumenical flavor established by including pieces with Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist roots. Sacred song, broadly defined, occupied the first half. My piece was followed by Dallapiccola’s Concerto per la notte di Natale dell’anno 1956, with a 17-piece chamber orchestra conducted by John Harbison and the brilliant Suzanne Rigden as soprano soloist. Intimate and piercingly intense by turns, the piece sets two medieval texts by Jacopone da Todi, along with an instrumental prologue, intermezzo, and epilogue. After intermission, Dark the Star‘s formal strategy of relatively short songs played without pause was echoed in the premiere of Harbison’s Seven Poems of Lorine Niedecker – in this case truly short songs, or perhaps a single song making use of several poems – played continuously and running about 7 minutes. Harbison is able to find fresh piano textures with unobtrusive and economical means, and the vocal writing is equally engaging. Soprano Sarah Tuttle was the appealing soloist, accompanied by veteran pianist Ursula Oppens. (There were several touching instances on the festival when veteran performers handed on their commitment to new music by performing alongside their more junior colleagues, including new works by Michael Gandolfi (Dawn Upshaw with singers Nola Richardson, Alison Wahl, and Zoe Band) and Yehudi Wyner (Lucy Shelton with mezzos Paulina Villareal and Quinn Middleman.)) The closing work on the program was also a set of miniatures, this time instrumental movements for a mixed chamber ensemble: Gerald Levinson’s Here of amazing most now, originally written for an Orchestra 2001 concert in honor of George Crumb on his seventieth birthday. Though not part of the composition, it worked well to have the instrumentalists speak the various haiku or poetic fragments that serve as epigraphs for each movement of the piece. New works by Helen Grime (a vibrant duet for clarinet and trumpet called Embrace) and a quartet for clarinet and piano trio by Shulamit Ran entitled (in Hebrew) Birkat Haderekh (“Blessing for the Road”) rounded out the second half. There was a sense of tenderness in the Ran, not the most common affect in new music concerts.

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Here are a few pictures.

At the dress rehearsal for Dark the Star  in Ozawa Hall – Davone Tines:

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Dimitri Katotakis:

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Ethan Young:

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and the band:

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time for bows:

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after the show:

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“Team Baritone” – that’s Sanford Sylvan with my two soloists:

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The July 24th Tanglewood performance of Dark the Star, my song cycle for baritone and chamber ensemble, is just a week away. It’s part of an attractive program, with music by Luigi Dallapiccola, John Harbison, Helen Grime, Shulamit Ran, and Gerald Levinson. The Harbison, Grime and Ran pieces are premieres. I’ll be there starting earlier in the week, so as to attend rehearsals of my piece and to catch several of the other concerts in the Contemporary Festival, as well as some of the regular programs. Highlights for me in the latter category include Paul Lewis playing the last three Beethoven sonatas and Michael Tilson Thomas conducting Mahler 5.

Dark the Star sets texts in English by Susan Stewart, in German by Rilke, and in Latin from Psalm 116, with the title for the cycle borrowed from one of Susan’s poems. Here’s my program note on the piece:

Composing this cycle of songs began with my discovery of three poems in Susan Stewart’s collection Columbarium that I knew I must set to music. The deep, dreamlike wisdom of these poems haunted me, just as I had experienced with Susan’s poem “Cinder” that had served as the fulcrum of my song cycle Holy the Firm. Eventually, texts by Rilke and an earlier setting I had done of a psalm verse were drawn into the gravitational orbit of Susan’s poems. I ordered the texts in a nearly symmetrical pattern, with two texts set a second time in versions that shadow their first readings. This is partly for the sake of the formal design, but, more importantly, to re-examine the poems in the penumbra of what comes before. Rounding the cycle in this way reflects not only the circles and repetitions in Susan Stewart’s texts, but also the way in which, as Rilke writes, the things we have let go of yet encircle us.

 

 

recently completed:
Lila – Marilynne Robinson. Like its companions in Robinson’s “Iowa” trilogy (Gilead and Home), Lila offers writing that is beautiful in an intense but quiet way, full of a sober wisdom, rich in empathy.

in progress and upcoming:
Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Life – Dana Greene
Harvard Composers – Howard Pollack
The Spectral Piano – Marilyn Nonken
Composition in the Digital World – Robert Raines
A Dance of Polar Opposites – George Rochberg
Stomping the Blues – Albert Murray

Having enjoyed Pollack’s book on Copland, I sought out his Harvard Composers at the Penn library. On an nearby shelf was the Raines, a recent book I had not heard about, offering a collection of interviews with contemporary composers. Would any algorithm have suggested the Raines if I searched online for the Pollack? (Amazon does not.) I haven’t seen anything online yet that can replace the peculiar serendipities of libraries.

My wife, the painter and writer Mary Murphy, has an essay in Title Magazine on the recent Frank Bramblett show at the Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia. Click on the images to see them enlarged and with the titles and dates.

Mary also has a piece in the recently opened Woodmere Annual, the museum’s 74th Juried Exhibition.

I was interviewed by soprano Liv Redpath as part of a project for a class she took with pianist J. J. Penna at Juilliard earlier this year. The result is posted here. Do look around the site for more interviews, I was honored to be part of a project involving some very fine composers and performers.

Liv is wonderfully gifted, check out her performance at a Renée Fleming master class here.