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.