Ways of Listening

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.

In the Shadow of a Premiere

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.

Rehearsing Shadow Memory

lisa-homeSongFest has gifted me with a couple of splendid young musicians to give the first performance of my new Susan Orlean song, Shadow Memory. I rehearsed with soprano Lisa Williamson (at left – photo by Brian Hatton) and pianist Rami Sarieddine on Wednesday up at Bard College, and it was immediately clear that they had the piece well in hand. We were able to work on relatively subtle details, little nuances of tempo and dynamics. It’s a simple song, but I think it will be affecting, especially with its beautiful text. Go here to read the essay where I found the text – I used just the last paragraph.

You always learn a few things about a piece and about your notation when you finally hear it tried out. For example, Rami took my notation (see below) to mean that he shouldn’t change the pedal in the first bar. The combination of my request for generous pedaling and the high C sustained in the upper register across the chord change suggested a single pedal for the whole measure. I asked him to change the pedal when the left hand chord changed, otherwise it was too blurry. I think I need to re-write this so that the high C terminates when the harmony changes, that will help make it clear that the pedal should change.

Go here for a page at the SongFest website on the June 3 concert that includes the Shadow Memory premiere. While you are there, look around at some of the other events – there is an astonishing array of talent on the faculty, and with a faculty like that the program attracts very gifted young performers.

Here are a couple of snapshots from my visit to Bard.  The Bitó Music Conservatory Building where we rehearsed:

IMG_0697

There is a suite of John Cage drawings in the lobby:

IMG_0698

as well as a Joel Shapiro, elegant and playful in its balance of forms:

IMG_0699

Funding for Songfest

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 Premiere

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 Memoryfor 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.

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.

Shadow Memory

UnknownIt’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 TinThe 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.

Summer Reading List

Recent reading:

Bel CantoAnn 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.

In progress:

Thinking in JazzPaul 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.