“I fixed my eyes on something out there firm…”

Many musicians are offering their performances and compositions online during this time of isolation, so I want to make my small contribution.

Here is a setting of a poem by Susan Scott Thompson called “Waltzing the Spheres”. I first encountered it when I heard it read on a PBS broadcast at the time of 9/11. I knew immediately I wanted to set it, but never got around to it until years later when I set it on a commission from Philadelphia’s Lyric Fest. You can read Lyric Fest artistic director Suzanne DuPlantis’s blog post about the piece here, and the entire poem is posted here.

The crisis we are in feels somewhat like 9/11, so it seems like the right piece to offer now.

I’ve been fortunate to have some wonderful singers do the piece. Kiera Duffy (famous for her performance in Missy Mazzoli’s “Breaking the Waves”) gave the premiere with pianist Laura Ward; Kelly Ann Bixby has performed it; Meredith Lustig sang it on a New York Festival of Song program; and Mary Mackenzie recorded it for her album Vocalisms. Here Mary sings it with pianist Heidi Williams:

It may be at this challenging moment that the best way we can “hold each other closer in the turn” is by keeping our physical distance from one another – at the same time we cling to one another with our hearts.

New York Festival of Song at the DiMenna Center

Thank you to pianist Michael Barrett and baritone Mario Diaz-Moresco for their eloquent performance of my From Psalm 116 as part of the New York Festival of Song “NYFOS Next” program at the DiMenna Center last week. There’s a thoughtful review of the program from Brin Solomon here on the National Sawdust Log. A review of an NYC performance is a rare thing, (not that it is common anywhere these days) and I am grateful to have a reflection in print about a concert in which I was involved.

From Psalm 116 is published by Theodore Presser and you can find it at their website here. The piece works well for mezzos as well as baritones – I had the privilege of performing it with Janice Felty a number of years ago.

I made a version of the song for baritone and chamber ensemble as part of the cycle Dark the Star, which includes settings of Rilke and Susan Stewart in addition to the psalm text. The song’s text is a psalm verse, sung in Latin, that may be translated as “Precious in the eyes of God is the death of his beloved.” Here’s a recording of the ensemble version of From Psalm 116, with William Sharp and the 21st Century Consort, conducted by Christopher Kendall. It comes from an album with four of my vocal cycles on the Bridge label.

P.S. – there was also a review by Sherri Rase  in Q on Stage.

Thursday Miscellany

— I got word that my Waltzing the Spheres has been selected for the New York Festival of Song program I wrote about earlier. Although I wrote about hoping for the premiere of my new Susan Orlean setting, Waltzing will be a NYC premiere, and there is another possibility developing for the premiere of the Orlean piece – so it is working out nicely.

— You can hear this past September’s Jordan Hall memorial concert for Lee Hyla on Instant Encore. Read David Rakowski’s post on Lee here.

— wonderful program by the Gamut Ensemble presented by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society Wednesday night. Two Bach cantatas, plus some arias, with Sarah Shafer, soprano, and Thomas Meglioranza, baritone, both sounding superb.

Here is Julia Neumann, soprano, with the J. S. Bach Foundation of St. Gallen, directed by Rudolf Lutz, doing one of the arias from BWV 57, heard at the Gamut concert.

NYFOS in February

Happy to see the NY Times mention my participation in the February 10 concert by New York Festival of Song. The program will feature excerpts from Paul Moravec’s opera-in-progress on Stephen King’s novel “The Shining”, along with music by Chris Theofanidis and Paola Prestini. Not sure what they are planning to include of mine; I’m hoping it will include the little song I did on a Susan Orlean text, which would be a premiere. But I’ll be grateful for whatever they program – NYFOS concerts are consistently fine.

Performance Update

I’ve recently updated the performances page. Some new items:

–  New York Festival of Song plans to include something of mine on its February 10 program.

– the “invention” that I am writing for Dolce Suono Ensemble to premiere in January has become a playful fantasy on the well-known Badinerie from the Bach 2nd Suite – the working title for this flute duet is now Badinerie Squared.

images– The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society has commissioned a new work for violin and piano. This will be a big piece, sonata-like in dimensions, if not actually called a sonata. The performers will be Tai Murray and Anton Nel. These are formidable artists, and I count myself lucky to be writing for them. The premiere has been set for February 3, 2016, at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. The image at left is the cover from Ms. Murray’s disc surveying American works.