Check out two recent blog posts from Penn’s Annenberg Center relevant to the recent release of Carthage and Descent/Return – the first springs from a chat I did with Alexander Freeman of the Annenberg staff; the second is about The Crossing and Carthage specifically. Go here to visit the websites of the performers on Descent/Return: Lucy Fitz Gibbon and Ryan McCullough.
This afternoon I heard about two new videos posted on YouTube. The first is a trailer for Descent/Return, the new album on Albany with Ryan McCullough, piano, and Lucy Fitz Gibbon, soprano. Ryan put together a score follower video with excerpts from the record. I joked to Ryan that my first score follower video means I have now truly made it as a composer.
The other video was posted by Emmanuel Music as part of a series of postings sharing their performances during the pandemic. There’s a chat with Emmanuel’s artistic director Ryan Turner and myself (enjoy my lockdown beard), followed by three movements from my Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus. This happens to be the major work on Carthage, the new album by The Crossing that is coming out later this month.
To be clear, the new album is with The Crossing, not Emmanuel. It’s just a nice coincidence that Emmanuel chose to share this video during the same month The Crossing’s cd is coming out.
Carthage is a survey of my choral music by two-time Grammy-winners The Crossing, including three pieces written on commission from them, and three more composed for Emmanuel Music. There are settings here of texts by Meister Eckhart, Marilynne Robinson, E. E. Cummings, Thomas Merton, and Wendell Berry. The major work on the disc is the Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus, which interweaves a setting of the Latin Mass with poems by Denise Levertov reflecting on the Mass texts. Donald Nally conducts on a Navona disc. Find it online here.
Descent/Return features five of my songs with soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon and pianist Ryan MacEvoy McCullough as well as the piano preludes that make up the set Pure Contraption, Absolute Gift. The title track is extracted from my cycle for soprano and ensemble, A Sibyl, setting poems written specifically for the project by Susan Stewart. John Harbison’s song cycle Simple Daylight and his Piano Sonata No. 2 complete the album. (None of the songs on Vocalisms are duplicated on Descent/Return.) Go to the Albany Records website to order.
Vocalisms is a grand two-disc anthology of songs by four composers: Ned Rorem, John Harbison, Daniel Crozier, and myself. Mary Mackenzie sings 10 of my songs, including the Three Folk Hymns and the complete Holy the Firm, originally written for Dawn Upshaw. The pianist is Heidi Williams. Again, find it at Albany Records.
Sacred Songs offers four song cycles for voice and chamber ensemble, with Susan Narucki singing From a Book of Hours, Four Sacred Songs, and an orchestrated version of Holy the Firm while William Sharp sings Dark the Star. Christopher Kendall conducts the 21st Century Consort on a Bridge Records release.
Sometimes not much is happening, but suddenly when things do happen they come in clumps. I’ve seen it with performances that cluster together, with empty weeks before and after. And now I have two CDs coming out a week apart.
I wrote previously about Carthage, my album of choral music with The Crossing; here is another record with my vocal music – this time for solo voice and piano, and alongside solo piano music. On the Albany label, the release date is May 15. Order the album at the Albany website here. I am pleased to share the disc with my teacher, mentor, and friend, John Harbison. I first met John when I studied with him at Tanglewood, back in 1984, and we have been in close contact over the years. It was John who put me in touch with Lucy Fitz Gibbon and Ryan MacEvoy McCullough, the married couple who recorded this program about two years ago in Barnes Hall at Cornell University. Ryan himself edited the record, with the final touches applied by George Blood, with whom I have been fortunate to work on several of my projects.
The title piece is a pair of songs from my cycle A Sibyl, a Fromm commission for Collage New Music, which was premiered by them with Mary Mackenzie, soprano, in 2017. Susan Stewart wrote the poems specifically for this project. The descent and return in the title refers to Aeneas’s visit to the underworld, and the second song speaks of brambles and a sky mirrored in the water. Given those images, a photo that Lucy took some time ago, before this project, turned out to be the perfect cover picture.
We mixed vocal and piano solo pieces in ordering the program. The album opens with John’s cycle on Michael Fried poems, Simple Daylight. Originally written for Dawn Upshaw and recorded by her for a now out-of-print Nonesuch release with Alan Feinberg at the piano, our recording returns the piece to the active catalog. My set of five piano preludes follows, Pure Contraption, Absolute Gift. Ryan was one of the co-commissioners of the piece.* You can read about this set here, and find it in the Theodore Presser catalog here. After the title work, Ryan plays a major piece by John, his Piano Sonata No. 2, written for the brilliant Robert Levin. The album closes with three independent songs of mine: The Old Astronomer, The Pitcher, and Who Do You Say That I Am? These set texts by Sarah Wiliams, Robert Francis, and Kathleen Norris, respectively.
Lucy and Ryan meet all the varied challenges of this program with passion and precision, with beauty of sound, and with complete unanimity in the vocal works. I am very grateful to them and to all who worked on this project.
*) This is the second recording of the piece, there is also a fine performance by Youmee Kim on a Centaur disc.