Notes Aligned in Boston

It’s a little ways off, and I don’t have all the details, but I want to let you know about a happy coincidence has taken shape on my schedule of performances. On the afternoon of October 15, Collage New Music with soprano Mary Mackenzie, will premiere my current project, a song cycle called A Sibyl on Susan Stewart poems, at the the Longy School of Bard College in Cambridge, MA. David Hoose will conduct. And that evening, Winsor Music will present the second performance of my Quintet for oboe, violin, viola, cello, and piano, this at St. Paul’s in Brookline, MA.

Mary Mackenzie, who has done a fabulous job with my music on several occassions, including this CD, will be the soloist for A Sibyl.

I’ve put in a request with Ryan Turner of Emmanuel Music to do one of my motets at Emmanuel Church that morning – maybe there will be three performances of my music in Boston that day!

UPDATE: Ryan has confirmed that he will include my music at Emmanuel’s 10 am service that day – it’s a Primosch festival in Boston!

“Nobody is Meant to Clap”

“Nobody is meant to clap, and the music is not presented to an audience for approval; rather, it is meant to guide the mind out of the building into unseen heights and depths”

– from Nico Muhly’s piece in the NY Times on choral music.

This is a big part of why I so love the Emmanuel Music performances of my motets in the context of the liturgy at Emmanuel Church.

There’s a second performance of the St. Matthew Passion at Emmanuel tomorrow, 4/2 at 3 pm. (Probably OK to clap.) Check out this preview video:

Jamie Jordan at Penn, “Alleluia” at Emmanuel

I am a bit frantic as I work to finish a quintet for oboe + piano quartet (requested by Peggy Pearson, to be premiered at the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival on June 9), so there is only time for a brief post to say thank you for some recent performances. Jamie Jordan and Steven Beck gave a splendid recital at Penn last week, including excerpts from my Holy the Firm (read more about the program here). Here they are with George Crumb, whose Apparition was a concert highlight. (How it is that Steve read the oversize score for the Crumb off what appeared to be an iPad mini remains a mystery.)

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Holy the Firm was heard in its entirety later last week, as Katie O’Mara, Sarah Cooper, and Rebecca Achtenberg, all students from Westminster Choir College, collaborated with pianist J. J. Penna in a performance as part of the 2017 Art Song Festival at the College. I wasn’t able to attend, but J. J. is such a splendid pianist and admired coach that I am sure the performances were excellent.

On Sunday, Emmanuel Music did my Alleluia on a Ground as part of the weekly Eucharist at Emmanuel Church in Boston. I count myself very lucky to have an ongoing relationship (23 years!) with Emmanuel, with virtuosic performances of my motets in the context of a deeply welcoming community that knows how to listen thoughtfully thanks to decades of Bach cantata performances as an integral part of worship. Thank you to conductor Ryan Turner and all the singers, especially Lorraine Hunt Lieberson Fellow Sarah Yanovitch who was angelic in the little solo near the end of my piece, and spectacular in BWV 51 later in the service.

Rehearsing in the Emmanuel sanctuary:

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Emmanuel Music warming up before the service:

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And the cantata in full flight:

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Tuesday Miscellany

– the Prism Quartet plays with guests Chris Potter and Ravi Coltrane on June 9th at the Painted Bride in Philadelphia and June 10th at Symphony Space in New York. It’s the next installment of Heritage/Evolution, a project featuring new work by top jazz saxophonists, created for Prism.

– I was walking up Fifth Avenue a week ago Sunday, early for a Mass I was going to attend in celebration of the anniversary of a friend’s ordination as a priest. I decided to stop in at St. Patrick’s for a few minutes before continuing on my way to that anniversary celebration. It was shortly before the main Mass of the day at the cathedral, and the following little incident says something about the role of the arts in the liturgy of my denomination. An organ prelude begins: a Bach trio sonata. Pretty classy, no? Then – while the Bach is still going – someone steps up the microphone with a cheery “Good morning and welcome…” The trio sonata became a more or less pleasant, vaguely “church-y” background noise, or, rather, it became clear that it had been understood by those shaping the liturgy as background noise all along. There’s a rather different experience of Bach and of music in general at Emmanuel Church, which I have often written about here. It’s a place where my motets and Bach cantatas and organ works are understood to be an integral part of the service, not just atmosphere. My music takes on a pastoral role in that context.

– try taking this test to see if you can tell the difference between compressed and uncompressed audio files. I’ve been in situations where I felt a musical recording didn’t sound well, with a squished dynamic range, and it turned out to be a compressed file, but I was horrified to see how badly I did on the test, even with decent headphones.

Three Performances in New England

I’m back now from hearing two performances of my Oboe Quartet as well as one of a choral piece at locations in Boston and New Hampshire.

Spring is finally evident at Boston’s Public Garden:

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That shot was taken on Saturday morning before I strolled over to Emmanuel Church:

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where I attended a rehearsal of my motet One With the Darkness, One With the Light. Ryan Turner conducted this short piece, scored for treble voices only. (Sorry, I don’t have everyone’s name!)

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Later that day I was in Peterborough, New Hampshire to hear Peggy Pearson, oboe, and the Apple Hill String Quartet (Elisa Kuder and Colleen Jennings, violins; Michael Kelley, viola; and Rupert Thompson, cello) play Haydn, Brahms, and my new Oboe Quartet, a Winsor Music commission. The performance was in Bass Hall, a handsome room in the Monadnock Center for History and Culture. (More about their playing below, in connection with their Brookline performance.) I visited a park a short walk from the center while waiting for my takeout dinner from the Peterborough Diner (I recommend the onion rings).

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The motet went very well the next morning at Emmanuel. The performances there are consistently strong, but in this case the brevity of the piece and the use of just the treble voices yielded an exceptionally focussed and detailed performance. By a curious bit of synchronicity, the sermon preached by Rt. Rev. J. Clark Grew made mention of Wendell Berry, a reference Rev. Grew told me later was written in without him knowing that my motet setting a Berry text would be heard that morning. (photo: Elizabeth Richardson)

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Spring – and the Easter season –  was making itself felt inside Emmanuel, in the form of huge paper or maybe fabric flowers suspended over the nave:

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It was nice to see John Harbison at the service (photo: Elizabeth Richardson):

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There was a full house at St. Paul’s in Brookline for a reprise of the previous night’s concert, the last in the Winsor Music Chamber Series for the season. The Haydn was a transcription of Symphony No. 97 that included oboe with the quartet. I thought the arrangement worked well, and especially enjoyed the warm, fluent bass playing of Lawrence Wolfe, who was not at the NH performance. This was now the third time out for these players in my new quartet, and though they sounded great at the premiere, now they had even greater command of the piece. It was a passionate performance, well-received by an audience that filled the church. After intermission there was one of Winsor Music’s “Song for the Spirit” commissions, a brief hymn-like setting of Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers” composed by Eric Nathan, and intended for audience participation, though mezzo Katie Hoyer’s demonstration of the tune was so lovely that it might have made a few of the listeners hesitate to add their voices on the second go-around. The Brahms Quartet in A minor closed the program, in a performance memorable for its long sweeping lines and elegantly shaped details. Here’s a picture from the reception after the concert (L to R: Mike Kelley, Elise Kuder, myself, Peggy Pearson, Rupert Thompson, Colleen Jennings):

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The next morning there was a cardinal outside my window, waiting to say goodbye:

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I’ll be hearing Peggy do the quartet again on June 18, this time with a different group of string players, at the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival.

Darkness and Light at Emmanuel

Definite word of this didn’t come in before I sent out my recent e-newsletter (what? you aren’t signed up? go to the home page, scroll down to the lower right and click), but I am happy to report that Emmanuel Music will do my motet One With the Darkness, One with the Light at Emmanuel Church’s 10 AM Eucharist on April 26. Emmanuel is at 15 Newbury Street in Boston, MA. This is a happy coincidence as I will be in town to attend the performance of my Oboe Quartet in Brookline that evening.

The motet is based on a lovely text extracted from Wendell Berry‘s sequence “Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer“, found in his Collected Poems, 1957-1982, a poem I first came across in the anthology Upholding Mystery, edited by David Impastato.

Candlemas in Boston

I just got word of this upcoming performance, unfortunately a little too late for my most recent e-newsletter: Emmanuel Music will do my motet Meditation for Candlemas as part of the 10:00 am Sunday Eucharist at Emmanuel Church in Boston on February 1. Emmanuel Music’s Artistic Director Ryan Turner will conduct.

This piece sets a text by Denise Levertov, and is the first of the eight motets I have written for Emmanuel Church so far, dating back to 1994. Check out the complete list of my choral music here, and listen to recorded excerpts here.

The Call at Emmanuel

Emmanuel Music will premiere my George Herbert setting The Call at this Sunday’s 10 am Emmanuel Church liturgy in Boston. You can read the text here; below is my brief program note on the piece:

Thirty years after setting George Herbert’s The Call in a folk style for use by the Catholic Campus Ministry at Columbia University, I have returned to the text with a setting for Emmanuel Church that retains some melodic elements of the first version.

While I usually treat a text in a linear manner from beginning to end, in this piece I have broken open Herbert’s tightly bound form by freely repeating and fragmenting the poem in two contrapuntal Fantasias based on musical motifs from the Chorales that frame the motet.

As was the case with seven previous motets, I gratefully offer The Call as a gift to the Emmanuel community. But this piece is dedicated to a particular member of that community, to John Harbison on his 75th birthday: admired composer, generous advocate, dear friend.

The Call

I am writing this as a break from working on a new motet for Emmanuel Church, the latest in a series of pieces I have made over the last two decades for that remarkable community and its remarkable musical traditions. The text is a George Herbert poem, the same one that Vaughan Williams used in the Five Mystical Songs:

The Call

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joyes in love.

I believe my colleague Carson Cooman has set the text as well. I am sure there must be other composers who have been attracted to the lapidary quality of this poem.

I am working a little differently from my customary process of keeping one eye on the text while composing and taking the form of the poem as a compositional constraint. Here I find myself – at least in portions of the piece – working out the musical shapes first, then fitting text to those shapes. Of course, the musical motifs were first suggested by the rhythms and inflections of the poem, but I am letting musical considerations determine how long a section goes or what dramatic contour it projects, rather than the piece being fundamentally text-driven. I wouldn’t call it a deconstruction; what I am doing is rather more mild-mannered than that. But I can’t recall when I have treated a poem in quite such a non-linear manner. It’s a way of breaking free of a tightly circumscribed poetic form, I suppose.

If I finish this soon enough, it will be heard at the Sunday Eucharist of Emmanuel Church, Boston, on January 26. Time to get back to work.