“A Catskill Eagle” at SongFest

I am way overdue in posting about this, but realizing that June will be over in a few hours motivates me to try to catch up and write about my visit to SongFest this past May.

SongFest is a remarkable training program for young singers, with an exceptionally fine faculty and gifted students. It is based at The Colburn School in Los Angeles. In addition to master classes and coachings, SongFest presents a number of concerts open to the public. I was there for one of those concerts because the program’s director, Rosemary Hyler Ritter, invited me to write a new song in honor of John Harbison’s 80th birthday. John has regularly been on the SongFest faculty, coaching his own work and conducting each year a concert of Bach cantatas. My new song was premiered at a performance honoring both John and William Bolcom, another 80th birthday celebrant and SongFest faculty member (they are part of that class of ’38, the birth year of an unusual number of  important American composers). A Catskill Eagle sets a passage from Moby Dick; I wrote about the song here. Kyle Ferrill was the baritone for my premiere, and I played piano. Kyle gave a beautiful performance, with gorgeous sound and expert musicianship. The concert also included an exquisite performance of my Shadow Memory by soprano Victoria Browers and pianist Javier Arrebola. This is a setting of a text by Susan Orlean that was commissioned by SongFest a few years ago. Throughout the concert there were superb performances of wonderful pieces; Bolcom’s haunting Jane Kenyon settings, Let Evening Come, and Harbison’s searing Simple Daylight were standouts for me, but I enjoyed everything I heard. Here’s the program:

And here are a few pictures from my visit. There was a pretty great view of Disney Hall from the window of my Colburn dorm room:

some very smart posters in the Colburn practice rooms:

Bolcom and his wife Joan Morris at a coaching:

Victoria and Javier at the Shadow Memory run-thru in Zipper Hall:

John Musto, Amy Burton, Bill Bolcom and Joan Morris at a post-concert meal at which we stayed up past midnight so as to celebrate Bill’s actual birthday that day:

The Greek Orthodox cathedral where the Harbison-led Bach concert took place, with the BVM looking like a ’20’s movie star:

and with Jesus watching you from the dome:

I also visited the Catholic cathedral. I was a bit disappointed by the interior; the light fixtures make the space visually too busy. But I was greatly moved by the tapestries of saints old and new; my pictures of these didn’t come out well, go here to get some sense of these.

I’m very grateful to have had a chance to be part of SongFest this year. Congratulations to Rosemary for her ongoing commitment to this important program, and for making new music an integral part of it.

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