Honoring Alan Harler

The Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia had a lovely celebration in honor of its retiring music director Alan Harler last night – a big crowd, good food, a touching video presentation – and the announcement of a set of four commissions for next season. “Alleluias for Alan” will be a set of new pieces setting that word, or using that word prominently, to be premiered at next season’s Mendelssohn Club concerts, led by new music director Paul Rardin. I will be one of the four, along with Jennifer Higdon, Andrea Clearfield, and Robert Maggio. It’s a great way to honor a conductor who not only led superb performances of standard repertoire over the years, but gave 58 premieres in 27 seasons!

While there are certainly pieces that set the single word “alleluia”, such as this and this, I am wondering whether setting that single word or setting that word plus a few others – perhaps a few psalm verses – might be more practical for giving the piece a life after this performance.

Here are the four “Alleluia-ers” posed with Alan (L to R: Jennifer Higdon, myself, Alan Harler, Andre Clearfield, and Robert Maggio):

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Go here for a Mendelssohn Club cd of works by myself, Jennifer, and Andrea.

Fire-Memory/River-Memory in the chapel and in the studio

The column at right notes that I am working on mapping edits for the recordings the 21st Century Consort made of four of my vocal pieces, but recently I have been involved in another CD project as well. I just finished going through recordings from a performance of a piece I wrote for chorus and orchestra on a commission from the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, Fire-Memory/River-Memory. Here is my program note on the piece:

Fire-Memory/River-Memory, commissioned by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, is my fourth and largest composition on the poetry of Denise Levertov.  The two poems I have selected contrast in tone, but are unified, as my title suggests, through their shared concern with memory.

The first poem not only memorializes the victims of war, and laments the loss of their traces, but speaks of acts of memory rendered impossible by war. In this sense, the line “maybe fathers told their sons old tales” becomes the emotional center of the text: for a moment, remembrance was possible. In my setting, I have mostly assigned the poet’s questions about the people of Vietnam to the men of the chorus, while the bitter and elegaic answers are principally sung by the women.  Levertov was writing at the height of the Vietnam War, but her powerful images transcend the historical moment of the poem’s origin.

The second poem reflects Levertov’s love of nature and concern with the spiritual realities. Here memory is a memory of the divine, as embodied in the creation. The poem’s opening words are repeated at the end of the piece, turning them into an imperative, challenging us all to acts of mindful remembrance.

This is the first time a live performance of one of my pieces will be used for a commercial CD release. The performance was in the cavernous chapel at Girard College, (see at left) and the highly resonant acoustic made for a grand, if not very clear or well-balanced sound. I will be working with Mendelssohn Club director Alan Harler and engineer Joe Hannigan to mix the multiply miked recording, hopefully bringing the various elements of the piece into better balance. A run-thru was recorded, but the performance was so good, I am not sure much patching will be necessary. I am grateful to Alan and the Mendelssohn Club for bringing the piece to life. It will be great to have a document of the work. More details on the CD will be coming.