Report from Boston and Tallahassee

I’m grateful for two recent performances that I traveled to hear: Matins was done by Peggy Pearson, oboe, and the Cantata Singers, conducted by David Hoose, in Boston’s Jordan Hall; A Sibyl was performed at the opening concert of the Florida State University Festival of New Music.

The Cantata Singers rehearsed in a hall in a suburb called Melrose:

which did not come close to the gorgeous acoustic of Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory:

Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture with Peggy, but here I am with David Hoose and an oddly glowing stage behind us:

I had time to do a few other things while in Boston, including my first visit to the Gardner Museum in many years:

 

 

 

 

May I say that the food at the cafe was excellent:

On Friday I heard my first Boston Symphony concert in Symphony Hall (having previously only heard them at Tanglewood):

 

 

The orchestra sounded fabulous as did pianist Martin Helmchen. The Saariaho was consistent with my impressions of much of her work – very beautiful and a little too static for my taste. The Sibelius symphonies continue to baffle me and doing two in a row didn’t help much. The famous acoustics of Symphony Hall actually seemed to me to be a little too rich – good for the Saariaho and Sibelius, but a little blurry for the Mozart.

I lingered in Boston to attend an Emmanuel Music celebration of John Harbison’s 80th birthday. It was good to have another chance to hear his Sixth Quartet, and the evening also included a set of John’s pop songs, with the composer at the piano.

In Florida, the featured guest composer was Georg Friedrich Haas, and I heard a number of his pieces throughout the festival. The music struck me as uneven, severe at times and sensuous at others, a strange mix of fascinating and dull.

My own work, the song cycle A Sibyl was performed by soprano Marcía Porter, and and ensemble of faculty and grad students, with Alexander Jiménez conducting. One festival highlight was a concert by the Meitar Ensemble – guests visiting from Israel – who offered a blazing performance of Grisey’s Talea among other works.

I’m grateful to all who made these performances of my music possible. Next on the schedule is a premiere with the Imani Winds, on February 15 in Philadelphia.

Matins in Boston, A Sibyl in Tallahassee

Two significant performances of my vocal music are coming up in the next several weeks:

  • The Cantata Singers are reviving my Matins later this month, a piece for oboe, strings and chorus that they co-commissioned along with Winsor Music 15 years ago. (This is just the second performance of the piece; here’s hoping somebody takes up the piece for its third performance sooner than 2033.) The fabulous Peggy Pearson, who has been a wonderful champion of my music, commissioning and performing my Oboe Quartet and Oboe Quintet, will be the soloist. I first got to know Peggy and her playing through her work with Emmanuel Music, with whom she masterfully plays the prominent oboe parts in the Bach cantatas performed at Emmanuel Church. Matins, which sets poems of Hopkins and Mary Oliver, will be heard at the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, with David Hoose conducting, January 25 at 8 pm. I will give a pre-concert lecture on the whole program, which includes the Bartók Divertimento and the Pärt Te Deum, at 7 pm.
  • A Sibyl, my song cycle on texts written expressly for the project by Susan Stewart, will be on the first concert of the 2019 Florida State University Festival of New Music on January 31. Among the splendid musicians performing my piece are soprano soloist Marcia Porter, conductor Alexander Jiménez, Deborah Bish, clarinet; Nina Kim, violin; Evan Jones, cello;  Justin Ball, percussion; a flutist whose name I don’t yet know; and pianist Heidi Louise Williams, who is at the keyboard for the recent Albany cd featuring my music, Vocalisms, with Mary Mackenzie, soprano. It was Mary who was soloist in the premiere of A Sibyl, performed by Collage New Music and conducted by David Hoose – funny how threads of connection weave together in this business.

Election Eve Miscellany

  • First things first: I hope you are either planning to go vote tomorrow, or are perhaps reading this while waiting in line to do so.
  • Thank you to The Crossing and their conductor Donald Nally for the beautiful first performance they gave of my Marilynne Robinson setting, Carthage. In a ten minute piece, I asked a lot of the group in terms not only of vocal virtuosity, but in variety of expression. They certainly delivered, as they always seem to do. I am very grateful. Unfortunately, no review from the Philadelphia Inquirer.
  • I am struggling hard to make progress on my new piece for the Imani Winds, set for a February premiere in Philly, but to be rehearsed for the first time in December, so there is much to do on the piece this month. At the same time I have been polishing the performance materials for Matins, the work for oboe, strings and chorus that Peggy Pearson and the Cantata Singers will perform in January. Conductor David Hoose has helped me improve the notation – there are a lot more cautionary accidentals in the score than there used to be, for example – and some re-spellings that I am not sure I always agree with. But I have accepted 98% of David’s suggestions and corrections, and am happy to do what I can to make sure the performers can give their best.
  • Suzanne DuPlantis and Laura Ward will perform two of my songs on upcoming Lyric Fest concerts: “Cinder” from Holy the Firm sets a Susan Stewart poem and is my most performed piece; and Bedtime, a Denise Levertov song from nearly 30 years ago, which was later memorably sung by Dawn Upshaw at her Carnegie Hall recital debut. Check the Performances page for more info on all the concerts I am mentioning.
  • Recent and not so recent listening has included:
    • some old George Shearing sides from the 1940s from a Proper box set. I’m afraid this was disappointing, with saccharine ballads and frantic bop solos, though he sometimes hits a sweet spot somewhere in the middle.
    • A 1982 DG disc of Bernstein conducting the Israel Philharmonic in his Divertimento (forgettable), Halil with Rampal (colleagues I respect speak well of this piece, but it didn’t hold me), the Dance Episodes from “On the Town” (delightful) and Rostropovich playing the Three Meditations from “Mass” (it’s not really a cello and orchestra piece. However, like Anne Midgette who wrote about Mass in the Washington Post, I had the piece from which this cello work is extracted memorized before I knew any better, so I find it hard to judge the music now. (I wonder if she was raised Catholic as was I?))
    • A Recital of Intimate Works, which is an album of varied keyboard pieces performed by pianist Andrew Rangell on a 1996 Dorian disc. I am not sure that these pieces all qualify as intimate – not all the movements of Beethoven’s Op. 126 Bagatelles, for example – but it is very freshly programmed. A piano album that includes Froberger, Sweelinck, Messiaen, and Enescu, plus Mozart (the sublime Rondo in A minor) and transcriptions of Bach and Beethoven certainly gets my attention. Beautifully played and recorded.
  • I’ve been greatly enjoying The Library Book by Susan Orlean – it’s great reporting, it’s great writing, it’s great fun, and, perhaps unexpectedly, it’s greatly touching. But this is the writer whose work gave me the text for a moving song, Shadow Memory:

The video is with Mary Mackenzie, soprano and Heidi Louise Williams, piano, who are the fabulous performers on Vocalisms, the new disc from Albany that includes Shadow Memory plus nine more of my songs.

Oboe Quartet in Philly, “Come Brothers All…” in Boston

Brilliant musicians who had previously played my music in other contexts separately came together to play my Oboe Quartet at Penn last Friday. Oboist Peggy Pearson, who commissioned the piece, collaborated with members of the Daedalus Quartet, the quartet-in-residence at Penn. The result was superb, richly shaded, strongly shaped. The premiere of an oboe quintet by my Penn colleague Anna Weesner, the intensely strange Janáček first quartet, and a Haydn quartet arranged with oboe substituting for one of the violins rounded out the program. Anna’s piece was wonderfully varied and imaginative. She conjures memorable musical images that sound the way life feels. Peggy’s playing here, as throughout the evening, was extraordinary for her ability to subtly blend with the strings.

I traveled on to Boston the next day and attended the Cantata Singers benefit that evening:

This was held at the Liberty Hotel, which served as a jail until surprisingly recently.

Now some touristy pictures taken while walking from the subway to the benefit. Beacon Hill does look a little like some of the smaller streets in Philadelphia, though the buildings are typically three stories in Philly, not four: IMG_1912

 

The St. Gaudens memorial to Colonel Shaw and his African-American Civil War regiment:

IMG_1910(“Their monument sticks like a fishbone/in the city’s throat…” – from “For the Union Dead”, Robert Lowell) which is right across from the State House:

The next morning I went to Emmanuel Church, looking in on John Harbison before the service as he rehearsed a Victoria motet and a movement from his own And Mary Stood.

I visited the Museum of Fine Arts Sunday afternoon – this 11th century corpus was a favorite piece:

 

Then Sunday evening was the first performance of my little contribution to Winsor Music’s “Songs for the Spirit” project, Come Brothers, All; Come Sisters, Too on a text by Georgia Douglas Johnson. Kendra Colton demonstrated the tune, then the audience joined in a reprise, with satisfying energy. Just before the performance:

It was great to have another chance to hear Anna’s quintet, plus the Haydn from Friday. The Winsor program closed with the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, with clarinetist Rane Moore joining the Daedalus in a powerful rendition of this profoundly melancholy piece.

Thank you to all these musicians for your beautiful performances! I look forward to coming back to Boston for a Winsor Music concert next season that will feature a performance of my recently completed Quintet for oboe, violin, viola, cello and piano.

Mid-Hiatus Miscellany

– Two of the projected five movements of my piano consortium piece are now complete. I showed you a bit of one movement here, and here is an excerpt from the other movement:

As with the previous fragment, this still needs some editing of the notation, but it will give you a little taste of the piece. Will comment on it in another post. I want to replace the tired name “Scherzo”, but no idea yet what it might eventually get called.

– If you like words (hey, you’re reading something, so I guess that might include you), you might find these as interesting as I do.

-regarding some Boston friends:  Cantata Singers is offering Bach, Brahms, Zelenka, Marjorie Merryman, and James MacMillan, among others during the coming season. In addition to the usual Bach Cantatas, Emmanuel Music is doing the Bach Christmas Oratorio, and the Boston premiere of Harbison’s The Great Gatsby. I assume this will be done in the recent “pocket version” that Jacques Desjardins re-orchestrated, rather than the original version done at the Met.

-Here in Philly, Orchestra 2001 is offering an all-Cage program and a collaboration with Pifarro, the Renaissance Wind Band this coming season.

Second Performance Syndrome

I have written elsewhere about the problem of the second performance – the difficulty of getting a piece performed more than once. Now there is an article on the Chorus America website about the issue, with a few intriguing observations, most notably Libby Larsen‘s comments about how repeat performances seem to come more easily in the realm of choral music than instrumental. My own experience doesn’t quite bear that out. I have been lucky to get my choral music performed by fine groups, and my Denise Levertov cantata, Fire-Memory/River-Memory, has been done twice by its commissioning organization, Philadelphia’s Mendelssohn Club – in fact, a recording of their second performance of the piece has recently come out. But only one of my half dozen or so motets has been done by a group other than the one it was written for. (All but one were composed for Emmanuel Music, with the exception being performed at St. Jean Baptiste Church in NYC.) Matins, my Cantata Singers commission, awaits a second performance. Yes, I’ve been lucky, but I’d like a little more luck, please. What to do?

Well, for a start, a listing of my choral music, with score samples and audio clips, is here.

Upcoming In New York, Philly, Boston

– Lots happening for Stacy Garrop this month, including premiere performances by the SUNY Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players at Stony Brook (Nov. 10) and in NYC at Symphony Space (Nov. 11).

Michael Gordon‘s remarkable Timber (written about previously here, with a link to video) will be played by Mantra Percussion at the Crane Arts Center in Philadelphia on Friday November 11 at 8:00. The evening-length work is scored for 6 2X4s – talk about Music for Pieces of Wood!

– Music of Stephen Hartke is featured on the next Cantata Singers concert, Friday. November 4. in Boston’s Jordan Hall. The sublime oboist Peggy Pearson is soloist.