– my Shadow Memory, a voice and piano song on a text by Susan Orlean, will be performed at 7:30 pm this coming Saturday, June 24, 2017 at SongFest. The concert takes place in Zipper Hall at The Colburn School. Soprano Bahareh Poureslami and pianist Nathan Cheung will perform. You can read more about the piece here and here.
– I went to see the National Orchestral Institute’s concert at the University of Maryland last Saturday. This is a training orchestra, in existence for 30 years now, and the playing is at a very high level. It has to be at that level to take on a program like last Saturday’s: Sun-Treader of Carl Ruggles, Steven Stucky’s Second Concerto for Orchestra, and the John Harbison 4th Symphony. David Alan Miller, director of the Albany symphony, conducted. This was a program of pieces that I never expected to hear in person. (I’m afraid there is an awfully long list of very good pieces that fall into that category.) Sun-Treader – not exactly a light-hearted concert opener – sounded rather like a Second Viennese School work in its expressionist grandeur, probably not what Ruggles had in mind, except for the grandeur part. The Stucky Concerto is full of the orchestral brilliance one associates with that composer, but there is emotional heat as well, notably in the big variations set that forms the second movement. John Harbison’s 4th Symphony is in five movements, ranging widely over a varied expressive terrain. It thinks, it’s playful, and in the remarkable Threnody that constitutes the fourth movement, it looks into an abyss. Throughout the piece there is an overarching intelligence, expressed in the unexpected but logical formal shapes.
It was terrifically impressive to hear the young players tackle this challenging program. You will be able to hear for yourself, as the program was recorded for eventual release on Naxos. All praise to David Alan Miller, who continues to be an extraordinary champion of American music – at one point on Saturday, John Harbison referred to him as the Koussevitzky of our time.
Here is John, along with Will Robin, at a pre-concert chat:
– It wasn’t on my summer reading list (that was only a partial list anyway), but I picked up Mat Johnson’s Loving Day at the recommendation of my friend Guthrie Ramsey, and am enjoying it greatly. This is partly for the familiarity of it Philadelphia setting, but more importantly for being touching and funny and thought-provoking. The NY Times review puts it well: “cerebral comedy with pathos.”
You may have noticed the link at the end of the recent NY Times review of the Tanglewood performance of my Dark the Star – it takes you to a YouTube posting of a track from the Bridge recording of the piece. The recording is by William Sharp, baritone, the 21st Century Consort, and Christopher Kendall, conductor. You really should pick up a copy of the disc (there are links to do that at the Bridge website), but if you disdain physical media (and paying artists for their work!) and want to hear the piece from the beginning, go here. Dark the Star consists of nine movements played without pause, which means the separate videos for each track of the piece interrupt the flow in disconcerting ways, sometimes in mid-phrase – another reason to spring for the physical disc. The pieces from the Sacred Songs cd featuring soprano Susan Narucki are also on YouTube – here’s the first track from the cycle Holy the Firm.
Another way of listening to my work is to visit the audio excerpts link above. I’ve just posted two items:
– under solo voice, you can find the recent premiere of Shadow Memory, with soprano Lisa Williamson and pianist Rami Sarieddine, recorded at SongFest this past June. The piece is on a text by Susan Orlean.
– under instrumental, you’ll find the Oboe Quartet I wrote for Peggy Pearson and the Apple Hill Quartet, this taken from their performance at St. Paul’s in Brookline, MA this past spring.
And, yes, I was thinking of this title when I titled this post, though not of the book’s content.
I heard from soprano Lisa Williamson that her premiere of my new song Shadow Memory (with pianist Rami Sarieddine) at SongFest went well this past Wednesday, and that it was well-received. I also heard from Susan Orlean, whose beautiful words I set in this new song. She was able to attend the performance, and was impressed by both the song (“gorgeous”) and by Lisa (“divine”). Here’s hoping Lisa gets more chances to do my music, and that the young artists and faculty who heard the new piece at SongFest also take an interest! SongFest continues through June, if you are in LA, do check out the remarkable array of events they have planned.
Go here to help raise funds for a scholarship that will enable a young singer to attend Songfest, the advanced training program held at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. Songfest is doing the premiere of my Susan Orlean setting, Shadow Memory, at a June 3 program. (I anticipate being able to share with you the names of the performers soon.) Songfest has quite an extraordinary faculty; the starry names include pianists Margo Garrett, Graham Johnson, and Martin Katz, with singers including Susanne Mentzer, Lucy Shelton, Sanford Sylvan, and Dawn Upshaw, among many others.
SongFest, the art song festival and training program held each summer at The Colburn School in Los Angeles, has scheduled the premiere of my Susan Orlean setting, Shadow Memory, for June 3. The performers will be chosen from among the New Music Fellows participating in the program. I was at SongFest as a composer a number of years ago, and the quality of the performances was very high, so I anticipate an excellent debut for my new song. I’ll be posting more information about the premiere as it becomes available.
The faculty at SongFest this year is quite remarkable, an all-star array of practitioners and teachers. Check out the list of master classes here.
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.
It’s so typical: I’ve got a commission and a due date for an oboe quartet, to be premiered by the superb Peggy Pearson and Winsor Music next April 26. I’ve got a decent start on that piece. But instead of staying focused on the quartet, a different project has been commanding my attention lately, one without a commission or due date. This is a little song on a text by Susan Orlean, pictured at left. She is the best-selling author of Rin Tin Tin, The Orchid Thief, Saturday Night, and My Kind of Place, among other books, as well as being a staff writer for the New Yorker, and an avid Twitterer. Her short essay, “Shadow Memory”, anthologized in My Kind of Place, was originally a contribution to a book called Flowers in Shadow: A Photographer Discovers a Victorian Botanical Journal. I chose just the last paragraph of this piece. It is a beautifully crafted single sentence that speaks of “the little shadow each of us casts”. In my setting I’ve tried to capture the bittersweet flavor of the excerpt, which is carefully balanced between remembering and forgetting, between that which will “stay fresh forever, or forever slip away.”
No premiere has been set for the song yet, but I am in conversations about setting something up. The song just needs a little more polishing, and then it will be back to the oboe quartet, as well as a little piece for the Dolce Suono concert on January 18.
Bel Canto – Ann Patchett
I finally got around to this, more than 10 years after it came out; you’d think that, as a musician, I would have read it sooner, given one of its principal characters is an opera singer. On the surface, it’s about the terrorist takevover of a South American government residence, but the real themes are the intensities of the human heart and the potency of music. The Lyric Opera of Chicago will premiere Jimmy López’s opera based on the book in 2015-16.
My Kind of Place and Rin Tin Tin – both by Susan Orlean
I am becoming a big fan of Orlean’s writing, beautifully crafted journalism, often on offbeat topics, that transcends reporting to become literature. My Kind of Place is an anthology of short pieces, mostly travel-based, while Rin Tin Tin is a book length exploration of a dog – and the idea of a dog – that persisted through most of the 20th century. Orlean is sometimes a presence in her own writing, but always appropriately so, and that presence helps her achieve some of her most touching writing. She is also terrifically funny. Visit her entertaining Twitter feed here.
Thinking in Jazz – Paul F. Berliner
It is taking me quite a while to work through this tome, but it is worth it, for there are helpful insights everywhere, as well as many fascinating transcriptions. There are also passages of remarkable banality: “Typically, young learners cultivate their own performance skills with dedication and determination.” “The bass continues to develop within the jazz idiom in direct relationship to the skills and creativity of its master artists.” “One of the ways in which learners modify an initial mentor’s influence is by studying the styles of other artists…” There’s stuff like this on just about every other page. Some of the quotes from musicians are no better. I suppose Berliner is just trying to be thorough, but It’s as though he was trying to explain jazz to a Martian unfamiliar with Earth music. Nevertheless, I am learning a great deal about how musicians develop a vocabulary for improvisation and how they create and vary compositional structures – how they think in music, not just about music.