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.

Mendelssohnian Metamorphosis

I’m delighted to report that the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia’s new CD Metamorphosis has been released on Innova. The album includes choral pieces by Jennifer Higdon, Andrea Clearfield, and my own Fire-Memory/River-Memory. I wrote about the project and the piece here and here. (Innova is having trouble with its website at the moment, will pass along an update when I can.) Photo borrowed from the Mendelssohn Club Facebook page.

Setting Records

Not a lot of posts lately, as I have been occupied with recording related work. I recently met with Alan Harler, director of Philadelphia’s Mendelssohn Club, at the studio of Joe Hannigan to go over a live recording of my Mendelssohn Club commission Fire-Memory/River-Memory (more about the piece here.) A run-through of the piece had been recorded as well, and the idea was to touch up the performance recording with patches from the run-through as need be. However, what we ended up doing was more about adjusting the performance recording rather than splicing in bits from the run-through. Joe was able to work a good deal of digital magic to clean up and improve the live recording. This was no small challenge, given that the recording was made in the cavernous chapel at Girard College, with a long decay that may be desirable for the organ that is based there, but not for choir and orchestra. While Joe couldn’t dry out the sound, he was able to improve the balance of the orchestra. He also adjusted the pitch at a moment when the women of the choir and a horn entry are juxtaposed – I don’t know if the women were low or the horn was high, but it got fixed. Especially impressive was the way Joe could excise bits of noise from the recording. A cough during the soft chime note that ends the first movement of my piece was removed not by splicing, but by filtering. Joe used a piece of software that provided a graphic image of the overtone content of the sound. You could then select a portion of the signal and attenuate or remove it. Joe was able to remove the high frequencies of the cough while leaving the sound of the chime intact. The software served as a sort of pinpoint band reject filter. All of this wizardry is old news, I suppose, but the relative ease with which such things are done remains impressive for those of us old enough to know how to use a splicing block.

Along with F-M/R-M, the Mendelssohn Club disc will include Jennifer Higdon‘s On the Death of the Righteous and Andrea Clearfield‘s The Golem Psalms, so I am in good company. The album will be released later this year.

I have also continued to work on mapping edits for a disc of vocal music with the 21st Century Consort. I must say I find it a challenging task. How to pick between two great takes? What to do when Take A has problem X, but Take B (of the same passage) has problem Y – and you’re not sure where a practical edit point might be? Some of my colleagues say they love to do this kind of thing because of the control it gives them over the final result. Me, I find it paralyzingly difficult to make the necessary decisions.

It helps that the raw material is so good, what with the splendid players in the Consort, Christopher Kendall’s conducting, and singers Susan Narucki and Bill Sharp. And it also helps to be working with some real pros in the studio. George Blood is helping with editing the Consort recordings, while the man who did the recordings themselves, Curt Wittig, will do the mixing, cleanup, and so forth. (Go here to read about Curt as well as the members of the Consort.) Curt and I go back a long ways, including his work on the record I made with Lambert Orkis of George Crumb’s Celestial Mechanics (reissued not so long ago on Innova). I can’t say exactly when this vocal disc will come out, but progress is definitely being made.

The planned disc will include four pieces. Holy the Firm, on texts of Denise Levertov, Susan Stewart, Annie Dillard, and John Climacus was originally written for Dawn Upshaw and Gil Kalish who premiered it back in 1999. I made the chamber ensemble version for the Consort, and did the same with From a Book of Hours, a Rilke cycle. In this case, instead of expanding the instrumentation, it was a matter of reducing it, since the original version was an orchestral commission from the Chicago Symphony, who premiered it with Lisa Saffer in 2002. Four Sacred Songs, arrangements of old Latin hymns, was made for Voices of Change, and was based on a set of Three Sacred Songs originally written for voice and piano in 1989 and premiered by Christine Schadeberg and Christopher Oldfather. (I added a fourth song for the ensemble version since the set of three seemed too short to make it worth getting a group together.) Rounding out the album is Dark the Star, a baritone cycle that sets Rilke and Susan Stewart, plus a verse from the Psalms. This set was written specifically for the Consort and Bill Sharp and dates from 2008.

It’s remarkable that though I have been fortunate enough to have a bunch of CDs out there, only one has any vocal music, even though I have done a good deal of music for voice in recent years. So it will be especially good to have recorded documents of this side of my work, both for chorus and for solo voice.

All this comes on top of the recent release of the Prism CD Dedication, which includes my Straight Up. Read more here.