Last night at Westminster Choir College, Lyric Fest presented a reprise of the program they first offered in Bryn Mawr and Philly this past spring, featuring settings of poetry by American women, and including my “Waltzing the Spheres”, on a text by Susan Scott Thompson. Kelly Ann Bixby, soprano, and Laura Ward, piano, gave a beautifully shaped and deeply touching performance of the piece – indeed, the performances were at a very high level throughout the evening. Thanks also to the CoOPERAtive program for hosting the event, and to the warmly appreciative audience. I am told there will eventually be a video of the concert available online for streaming – will let you know when I hear the details.
A reminder that Lyric Fest will be presenting a program at Westminster Choir College next week, a reprise of this past spring’s concert that included the premiere of my “Waltzing the Spheres”. The concert will be Tuesday, July 15 at 7:30 in Bristol Chapel on the Westminster campus and is part of the CoOPERAtive program – read more here. Kelly Ann Bixby will be singing my song, with Laura Ward at the piano. Here’s a glimpse of the piece’s opening:
I was very moved by Kiera Duffy’s intense and beautiful performances of my new song Waltzing the Spheres at Lyric Fest’s concerts featuring settings of poetry by women this weekend. While Friday’s performance at Bryn Mawr College was very fine, today’s at the Academy of Vocal Arts was even more powerful and emotionally potent. Laura Ward’s piano accompaniment – for my song, and for the entire program – was varied in color, sensitive in timing and nuance. Laura and her Lyric fest colleagues, Randi Marazzo and Suzanne DuPlantis, are experts at devising satisfying programs, and there was a good bit of material with which I was unfamiliar, including songs by Paul Bowles (setting Gertrud Stein), Florence B. Price, and, of all people, Irving Berlin. Baritone Randall Scarlata offered Berlin’s setting of lines from Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” (Give me your tired, your poor…”), this from a 1949 show called “Miss Liberty”. I loved Randy’s interpretation of Ives’ “The Greatest Man”, funny and touching in quick succession. The other very fine singers were tenor Joseph Gaines (his “Visit to St. Elizabeth’s”, text by Elizabeth Bishop, setting by Ned Rorem, was memorably harrowing), mezzo Elizabeth Shammash (charming in both another Bishop setting, this one by Lee Hoiby, and the Bowles mentioned above) and Suzanne herself, touching in a Jake Heggie duet with Elizabeth. There were also premieres by Benjamin Boyle, Douglas Cuomo, Michael Djupstrom, Daron Hagen, and Maurice Wright, and I thought every piece had something to commend it. I shouldn’t overlook the contribution of actress Michelle Eugene, who, for some of the songs, read the poetry before the setting was performed. I was a little skeptical about this idea beforehand, but after hearing it I think it was a good experiment that helped call attention to the poems. Certainly she read beautifully, with thoughtfully considered shadings of the texts.
UPDATE: David Patrick Stearns’s review of the program is here.
Here I am with Kiera:
and with Laura:
and here’s a rogue’s gallery of composers (L to R: Maurice Wright, myself, Douglas Cuomo, Michael Djustrom, and Ben Boyle):
I haven’t been posting for a bit because I have been trying to make progress on my new piece for The Crossing, to be premiered this June here in Philadelphia. But I am lifting up my head from the drafting table to point out that I have a couple of premieres coming up, one with Lyric Fest, the other with Network for New Music. (I’ll write about the Network piece in a future post.) Kiera Duffy, soprano (pictured at left), and Laura Ward, piano, will give the first performances of my Waltzing the Spheres at Lyric Fest concerts Friday, March 28, at Bryn Mawr College’s Goodhart Hall (7:30 pm) and at the Academy of Vocal Arts, 1920 Spruce Street in Philadelphia (3:00 pm).
At a moment when the voice and piano recital is said to be something of a tough sell, Lyric Fest, like the New York Festival of Song, SongFusion, and SongFest, is an organization finding a good deal of success in its commitment to the medium. Founders Laura Ward, Suzanne DuPlantis, and Randi Marazzo are expert at devising intriguing programs. The upcoming concerts are devoted to settings of American women poets, with some familiar pieces, some little known, and some brand new – besides myself, Abbie Betinis, Benjamin Boyle, Douglas Cuomo, Michael Djupstrom, Daron Hagen and Maurice Wright will have new pieces done.
My text is by Susan Scott Thompson. I first came across the poem when I heard it recited on a Bill Moyers program very shortly after 9/11. I found the text terrifically touching, and immediately knew that I wanted to set it. It took a little while to track down the poem and the author, but I did eventually get a letter from Susan granting permission to set the poem. Sadly, she died a few years ago, and never got to hear this setting. You can read an article by Susan that includes the poem and discusses the PBS use of “Waltzing” here.
It isn’t entirely about picking up a pencil and staring at a blank sheet of manuscript paper, this composing thing. As a way of letting you know about some things that are happening soon, here is a list of stuff I have to do in the next 6 weeks or so:
– I have a considerable backlog of scores that are not in as nice shape, graphically speaking, as I would like, and I haven’t yet supplied the master copies of them (well, these days, PDF files) to Theodore Presser Co., my publisher. However, I am slowly addressing the issue with the help of master editor/engraver Ken Godel. Ken has recently sent me files of both the piano/vocal and chamber ensemble versions of my song cycle Holy the Firm, and I am proofing them one more time. I hope to finish this in the next few days.
– Bridge Records has sent me the first draft of the booklet for the CD of my vocal music they will be releasing soon. I need to proof this, not only for the content (texts of the songs, bio notes, etc.) but to offer suggestions on the graphic appearance and layout. This needs to be done by this coming Monday.
– The Folger Consort will be performing my Songs and Dances from “The Tempest” in January, and I need to get the score and parts to them by the middle of this month. The varied instrumentation of the piece (it is scored for a wide array of early instruments) will be handled by a different, larger array of performers than was the case at the premiere some 15 years ago, and parts have to be devised to reflect this division of labor.
– In January I will be playing the slow movement, a set of variations on “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”, from my Piano Quintet, with the Daedalus Quartet on a program at Penn. Again, that score needs to be cleaned up graphically – my Finale chops have improved a bit since 1996, as has the program itself, of course. The Daedalus wants to see the parts by the beginning of December. (By the way, the Daedalus gave a wonderful concert yesterday at Penn, with works by Schulhoff, Korngold and a rare performance of the Schoenberg Ode to Napoleon, with pianist Charles Abramovic and baritone Randall Scarlatta as narrator. It’s a remarkable piece. Charlie described it to me afterwards as being “as crowd-pleasing as Schoenberg from that period gets.” I had only heard the piece live once before, a performance at Columbia University, with, of all people, Wallace Shawn as narrator.)
– My new song for Lyric Fest on a text by Susan Scott Thompson is also due in December; I want to look it over one more time before sending it in – for once I finished something far enough in advance that I have time to make final adjustments after letting the piece rest for a bit. It’s amazing what you see when you come back to a score after even a few weeks.
Not much posting happening lately as I am pushing to finish up the piano consortium commission. Three movements are complete; two remain – the first and last in the set. The opening movement is nearly done: a harsh, dark chorale, dark in register, bitter in affect, with ornaments that mutter or sweep upward. There will be fanfares and a toccata for the finale.
A few items before I go back to work:
– my colleague Guthrie Ramsey has been writing a series of very substantial posts springing from his course on African-American music – the first one is here. He also has a guest post by Penn grad composer Erica Ball, writing about a recent visit to Penn by Brett Sroka and his group Ergo.
– Minnesota Public Radio offers a conversation with Maria Schneider here.
-the fine composer Hayes Biggs (a friend of mine from Columbia U days) has redone his website – there’s audio and more to explore.
I’ll be back after the piano piece is done…
Lyric Fest took an inclusive view of who counts as a Philadelphia composer in preparing this past Sunday’s survey of the city’s contributions to song repertoire – natives, residents, those who studied here, even those who summered near here as a child (Sondheim). Barber and Rorem were represented, but also Rorem’s students, down to the second generation. There was a exquisite very early song by George Crumb, an intriguing multi-part setting of Stevens by Persichetti, a charming song by Kile Smith on a 17th century text, and much more (the full list of composers is here). I was there to hear my “Cinder” from the cycle Holy the Firm, and I was delighted by a powerful performance from soprano Randi Marrazzo and pianist Laura Ward. Their reading was a bit slower than some others I have heard, and the song seemed to thereby gain in expressive intensity. I think they connected strongly with the audience – there was that extra moment of silence after the piece ended.
I posted earlier about how Lyric Fest’s October 14th program at the AVA in Philly will include my “Cinder”. But what I didn’t know is how many composers are represented in this survey of music by people associated in one way or another with the Philadelphia area. Here’s the list:
Bernstein, Danielpour, Rorem, Blitzstein, Rochberg, Crumb, Menotti, Barber, Hoiby, Weisgall, Djupstrom, Boyle, Primosch, Seyfried, Clearfield, Hagen, K. Smith, Cacioppo, Lloyd, Krantz and Sondheim.
This is a fairly wide range stylistically, and multiple generations are represented.
I just found out that Lyric Fest, an organization here in Philly devoted to, as their website puts it, “connecting people through song”, will include my “Cinder” from the cycle Holy the Firm on their upcoming October 14th concert. The program is at 3:00 pm and will be held at the Academy of Vocal Arts here in Philadelphia. Under the title “Old City ~ New Song”, Laura Ward, Randi Marrazzo, and Suzanne DuPlantis, the artistic directors of Lyric Fest, have put together an array of songs by Philadelphia composers, including premieres by Allen Krantz and Thomas Lloyd.
“Cinder” is probably my most popular song. Dawn Upshaw, who premiered Holy the Firm, extracted the song from that set and toured with it. The piece has been sung at memorial services, at Songfest, and was featured at a presentation by the Joseph Campbell Foundation at an event called the Parliament of the World’s Religions several years ago. When I told Susan Stewart (the author of the text for “Cinder”) about the Parliament, she remarked “I thought that’s what happens when we die.”