It’s been a week now since I drove up to Cornell University in Ithaca, NY to assist in the recording of several of my pieces being made by soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon and pianist Ryan MacEvoy McCullough. This involved the set of piano preludes called Pure Contraption, Absolute Gift (go here to find out about that title, and more about the piece.) Lucy joined Ryan for piano versions of two songs from A Sibyl, a set of songs for soprano and sextet that was premiered last fall by Collage New Music and Mary Mackenzie. I’m calling the pair I’ve arranged for piano Descent/Return. Lucy also introduced two recent individual songs: The Old Astronomer, on a text by Sarah Williams, and The Pitcher, with a poem by Robert Francis. Who Do You Say That I Am?, with words by Kathleen Norris – a song premiered last year by Susan Narucki and Donald Berman – completed my portion of the repertoire being recorded. I say portion because by the time I got to Ithaca, Lucy and Ryan had set down two major pieces by John Harbison: the song cycle on Michael Fried poems, Simple Daylight, and the big Piano Sonata No. 2. All this music will be issued on a CD from Albany Records. Hard to say what the release date might be; laying down the tracks is only the beginning of a process that includes editing, mastering, taking care of the CD booklet, etc. My guess is that it will come out some time in the 18-19 season.
Pianist Andrew Zhou produced the sessions: keeping track of the takes, making sure every note got covered; confirming details of the score; encouraging, critiquing, nitpicking. The sessions could not have gone so smoothly without him, and I am very grateful for his work.
Lucy and Ryan had already performed this program earlier in the week at Bard College and Cornell; I think it is always good to have some experience performing a piece before heading into the studio, and they were extremely well-prepared. Both artists were happy to accept last-minute input on interpretation – not that I needed to ask for tweaks of anything other than the most minute details. I was thrilled with their passionate and elegant performances, hair-raisingly intense at the music’s biggest moments. Their command of this repertoire was complete. It’s going to be a fabulous CD.
Here are some pictures from the sessions, including several taken by Qiushi Xu, a doctoral candidate at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. She is a visiting student in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell, studying (in her words) the “intersection between piano sound, technology, culture and art convention.” Recording took place in a re-purposed chapel at Cornell:
Ryan at work:
In the recording booth:
checking the score of Pure Contraption:
Ryan and Lucy consulting and at work:
there was a little time during the weekend to check out the local rugged terrain:
and a gorgeous organ in a chapel on campus:
one last shot, this from after the recital with the same repertoire given at Penn this past week: