Blog: Secret Geometry

Sticky post: “Sacred Songs” CD

CD coverThis CD is devoted to my music for voice and ensemble, and has been released by Bridge Records. Susan Narucki and William Sharp are the soloists; Christopher Kendall conducts the 21st Century Consort. It’s available at Amazon and at Arkiv Music. Scroll down for several more posts about the album. A review by Christian B. Carey on the Musical America website is here; another is at Audiophile Audition, by Steven Ritter. Composer Daniel Asia discusses the album at the Huffington Post here.

“Notes of Thanks” is Coming

Go here for tickets to the upcoming “Notes of Thanks” concert in honor of Network for New Music’s outgoing artistic director Linda Reichert on April 29 at 1:30 pm. The concert features 10 premieres, including my Two Sketches. (Scroll down for the portion of that post about the new piece.) There’s a nice article by Linda about her experiences with Network on New Music Box.

Snow Day Miscellany

The white stuff is not coming down that hard in Philadelphia – yet. But my day job has shut down for today, and I have a moment to catch up on a few things in this post.

– I want to add my voice to the chorus of praise for the Met’s Elektra, which I saw on March 9. Christine Goerke (known on Twitter as @heldenmommy), Elza van den Heever, and Michaela Schuster were all fabulous in the principal roles, and the Met Orchestra was comparably superb under Yannick. I don’t know why Elektra never clicked for me until the past few years; I preferred Rosenkavalier. Lately, Ochs is a stumbling block for me in the latter, and the intensities of Elektra hold me. My inner jury is still out on Salome.

– recent listening: Reading a review of Dudamel conducting the Vienna Phil in the Ives 2nd made me pull the Philadelphia Orchestra recording of the piece off the shelf. It had struck me as terribly unlikely that the Vienna would play Ives, but the 2nd is not that forbidding, wide-ranging materials and final splat notwithstanding. The polished sound of the Philadelphia, under Ormandy, certainly makes a good case for the piece simply as an attractive late romantic work. Far more interesting, of course, is the 4th, on the same CD in a performance by the London Philharmonic under José Serebrier. This is truly one of the greatest American symphonies, and listening to it again I found the piece deeply touching, especially in the first and last movements.

The other disc I’ve been listening to lately is a new collection of music by Charles Wuorinen. This Bridge release features brilliant performances of some fiercely challenging music, with two substantial vocal works framing Wuorinen’s most recent piano sonata.  Loadbang performs  Ashbery Alphabetical, a piece that weaves together settings of four John Ashbery poems with instrumental sections into a continuous whole. The piece’s beauties are more austere than those of the album’s other vocal work, It Happens Like This, a big (39-minute) setting of James Tate’s funny and disturbing poetry for four singers and a chamber orchestra of 12 players. Anne-Marie McDermott’s virtuosity and (in Wuorinen’s words) “demonic intensity” serve the Fourth Piano Sonata dazzlingly well.

– I recently finished my contribution to the upcoming Network for New Music tribute concert for retiring artistic director Linda Reichert, scheduled for April 29. It’s an honor to be part of that program, not just for the chance to celebrate Linda, but to be part of a roster of contributing composers that includes Andrea Clearfield, John Harbison, Jennifer Higdon, Bernard Rands, August Read Thomas, Melinda Wagner, Richard Wernick and Maurice Wright. Two Sketches is scored for Pierrot instrumentation; I’ll play the piano part myself at the premiere. Here is my program note:

Two Sketches

  1. Riddle
  2. Circles (Little Variations)

Program Note

Two Sketches was composed on a commission from Network for New Music in honor of its long-time artistic director, Linda Reichert on her retirement. Linda’s extraordinary record of advocacy for a wide range of composers, taking the form of excellent performances, commissions, recordings and more, has made a tremendous contribution to our musical life in Philadelphia and beyond.

For a visual artist, a sketch can be a memorandum, a way of keeping eye and mind and hand limber, a place of experimentation, or simply a work employing a certain modesty of means. All of these attributes were at play for me in writing these musical sketches.

The riddle of the opening movement resides in the mysterious chorale-like passage first sounded by the clarinet and cello, and later repeated in the flute, violin and clarinet. The third repetition explodes. Hypnotic repeated figuration in the piano ponders the question, but offers no answers.

The theme of the second movement’s variations is a pattern known to musicians as the circle of fifths. The moods of the short variations shift quickly, including gently lilting passages and cryptic mutterings. The last variation sounds fragments of the previous sections over widely-spaced, ringing piano writing.

 

“Dark the Star” at Florida State

About a year ago, a performance of my song cycle for baritone and chamber ensemble, Dark the Star, was scheduled for performance at the Florida State University New Music Festival. Evan Jones, the soloist came down with a terrific case of laryngitis, and the performance had to be cancelled. I’m delighted that the performance has at last been re-scheduled, and Evan will be singing the piece, with most of the same players from last year, on a faculty recital at FSU this Friday, March 2. I heard a rehearsal of the instrumentalists last year, and the performance is going to be fantastic. Here’s the lineup:

Evan T. Jones, baritone
Deborah Bish, clarinet
Gregory Sauer, cello
Heidi Williams, piano
Jacob Kight, percussion
Keith Dodson, conductor

The concert takes place at FSU’s Opperman Music Hall at 7:30.

There are a couple of ways you can get to know the piece. Check out an earlier post, including a program note here. You can listen to the superb Bridge recording by baritone William Sharp, the 21st Century Consort, and conductor Christopher Kendall:

and you can look at the score, published by Theodore Presser Co. here.

Order the CD that includes Dark the Star, plus three other vocal works of mine, at the Bridge website.

 

 

Recording in Ithaca

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:

Fitz Gibbon and McCullough at Bard, Cornell, and Penn

Soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon and pianist Ryan MacEvoy McCullough just gave a recital yesterday at Bard College featuring my music and that of John Harbison. The program will be repeated at Cornell on Thursday, Feb. 15 and at University of Pennsylvania on Wednesday, February 21 at 8 pm in Rose Recital Hall, found in Fisher-Bennett Hall at 34th and Walnut in Philadelphia.

It’s a nice program in that it brings together a mix of voice and piano songs plus piano solo pieces by myself and by an important mentor of mine, John Harbison. Here is the repertoire for the concert:

Primosch:
Descent/Return (texts by Susan Stewart; these are piano arrangements of  two songs from my recent work for soprano and chamber ensemble, A Sibyl)
The Old Astronomer (Sarah Williams)
Who Do You Say That I Am? (Kathleen Norris)
The Pitcher (Robert Francis)
Pure Contraption, Absolute Gift (set of piano preludes commissioned by a consortium of twelve pianists, including Ryan McCullough. Read more about the piece here. The score is published by the Theodore Presser Company.)

Harbison:
Simple Daylight (this is a cycle of six songs on texts by Michael Fried)
Piano Sonata No. 2

The songs of mine will be new to Philadelphia; in fact, the performance at Bard yesterday was the first time out for the Francis, Williams, and Stewart settings. Ryan and Lucy will be recording all this material for eventual CD release.

 

 

Robert Capanna In Memoriam

I join with the rest of the Philadelphia musical community in mourning the passing of Robert Capanna. The Philadelphia Inquirer obituary is here. Certainly Bob’s astonishingly successful work in leading and expanding the Settlement Music School is his major legacy, but I want to recall a particular way in which he nurtured our community: for a time, he led a new music ensemble at Settlement.  As if he didn’t have enough to do as executive director! Settlement faculty performed, and Bob conducted. I recall the programming as widely varied, and it included works that you would not otherwise hear, including music by local composers. Making music himself – as both a composer and performer – was one of the reasons Bob was such an important presence in Philadelphia. We should all be grateful for that presence in our lives.

From the Reading Journal, #30

“The poem carries love and terror, or it carries nothing.”

– from the poem “Like an Ant Carrying Her Bits of Leaf and Sand” in the volume Given Sugar, Given Salt by Jane Hirshfield.

I first came across Hirshfield’s work in the anthology she devised called Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women. Both that anthology and the present book of Hirshfield’s own poems are marvelous. I find myself reading and re-reading her poems, savoring the balance of direct and mysterious discourse. This particular copy of Given Sugar, Given Salt, purchased used, is made more precious by it being signed by the author, with the note:

“For Sara,

The only secret is to write the poem.”

We persist in thinking there is some other secret, and go in search of it, but there is no need to find anything else.