“Songs and Dances” at the Cathedral

I had never expected to hear the piece again in this instrumentation. I am speaking of my work for soprano, baritone and early instruments called Songs and Dances from ‘The Tempest’. It was premiered by the Folger Consort in 1998, with Ellen Hargis and William Sharp as the soloists, and subsequently recorded by them for Bard Records. But the idea of another early music group taking on the piece seemed to me rather unlikely. Nor did I expect the Folger to revive it. Yet there we were this past weekend, in Washington’s National Cathedral, with the Folger, William Sharp, and a different soprano, Rosa Lamoreaux. 

I was very happy with the performances. Bill has lost nothing in the sheer beauty of his voice and his skill at charming characterization. Rosa’s voice was new to me, and proved to be a real find: lovely in timbre, smoothly flexible throughout her range, and finely nuanced. The core members of the Folger – Robert Eisenstein and Christopher Kendall – were joined by several musicians from Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia’s baroque orchestra, the guest ensemble for the program. Gwyn Robert’s lyrical recorder playing – from haunting bass to brilliant sopranino – taught me how much recorder playing involves an essentially voice-like conception. Lisa Terry and and Robert Eisenstein provided the foundation for the ensemble with their viols and Fran Berge enriched the palette of timbres with her kemenje and vielle (the latter two being fiddle-like instruments). Christopher Kendall’s lute filled out the harmonic texture as well as adding touches of delicate melodic tracery. Danny Villanueva’s percussion offered tasty color and rhythmic verve. Anna Marsh helped out with atmospheric psaltery in one movement and served as a third recorder player in another. All the early instrument performers were good sports about dealing with my writing for instruments with which I was not very familiar.

The Folger and Tempesta attracted big audiences, with perhaps 800 on Saturday night and somewhat less on Friday. I was touched to see a big portion of the audience stand when I took my bow Saturday night.

The whole ensemble is shown here, except for Danny, who is in the next picture, and Anna – sorry, didn’t get a shot of you, Anna! L to R: Lisa Terry, Robert Eisenstein, Rosa Lamoureux, Bill Sharp, Christopher Kendall, Gwyn Roberts, and Fran Berge. IMG_3763

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The soloists in action, with Christopher Kendall on lute:

IMG_3698Last minute adjustment of a viol chord – I didn’t know Robert would be playing a seven string viol capable of a low d-flat:

IMG_3726Rosa and I after the show:

IMG_3844The composer ponders the score. With a performance this fine, I really had no reason to look so concerned:

IMG_3758 - Version 2Many thanks to my dear friend Peter Hoyt for coming up from South Carolina for the concerts and for taking these pictures.

More pictures from the National Cathedral here.

Out to Lunch

I have been busy trying to get stuff done before going to DC on Friday for the National Cathedral piece. I’m not sure what internet access I will have while there, so this might be the last post for a bit.

Despite this week’s busyness, I have been doing some reading, including dipping into David Schiff’s fascinating The Ellington Century, which features a few pages on Eric Dolphy’s tribute to Monk, “Hat and Beard”. Schiff writes:

There is not a single moment in “Hat and Beard” where the rhythmic patterns suggest the expected patterns of bebop, let alone swing. Yet it swings. The rhythmic layering and the vocabulary of rhythmic gestures in play all stem from the jazz tradition, and the exquisite timing and phrasing of the five performers sum up generations of rhythmic experiment by musicians predating even Bechet and Armstrong. The loss of pop tune harmonic progressions seems no loss at all; on the contrary, they feel like an unneccessary encumbrance, mere scaffolding. The rhythmic and harmonic implications of the ostinato theme seem more rigorous and apt in their demands on the players. There’s life after rhythm changes.

(For the uninitiated, “rhythm changes” refers to the chord changes of Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”, a perennial choice of harmonic underpinning for jazz tunes.) The personnel: Eric Dolphy, bass clarinet; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Bobby Hutcherson, vibes; Richard Davis, bass; and an eighteen year old Tony Williams on drums.

The Parts are in the Mail

I finally got the parts in the mail today for the piece being done at the National Cathedral in July by the combined forces of the 21st Century Consort and the Folger Consort, with soprano Mary Mackenzie. I hope now to get back to more regular blogging. As a start, here is a link a scholarly colleague sent me – you don’t have to be a musicologist to find the site amusing.