At the moment I am focussed on completing my new motet for The Crossing (about which more soon), but I want to take a minute to report on my recent visit to John and Rose Mary Harbison’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival. This year’s edition was a set of three programs, the first of which included four of my songs, juxtaposed with vocal and instrumental music of Bach. I covered the piano parts, and the excellent young singers were soprano Sarah Yanovitch and baritone Ryne Cherry. Sarah did two of the five songs that make up my cycle Holy the Firm; It gives one pause to realize that she was probably about 7 when Dawn Upshaw and Gil Kalish premiered the piece. Ryne did one old song, From Psalm 116, which predates even H the F, and a quite recent piece, the Melville setting called A Catskill Eagle that I wrote in honor of John Harbison’s 80th birthday, and premiered at SongFest in late spring of this year. There were two Bach cantatas, some cantata excerpts, string arrangements of three chorale preludes for organ, and Contrapunctus VII from The Art of Fugue, played by John himself on the portative that he used for the continuo in the cantatas. The fine string players were Rose Mary Harbison and Laura Burns, violin; Jen Paulson, viola; Mark Bridges, cello; and Ross Gilliland, bass.
The Festival’s concerts take place in a handsomely renovated barn, not too far from Madison, Wisconsin. There was an exceptional Steinway at hand, a pleasure to play for its beguiling beauty of sound but also (for this composer/pianist) ease of control. Here are a few pictures taken in and around the barn. First, the string players working on a chorale prelude, with John listening:
Ryne, Sarah, and the ensemble:
The Harbison’s dog Rudi is very much present at all times. You can see him in the rehearsal pictures where he rests on the stage, apparently enjoying the vibrations as he stretches out behind Rose Mary’s chair, but here is a better view, with one of his toys that looks a little like him:
There’s a verdant garden on the grounds:
I was enjoying the very kind hospitality of the Festival’s Managing Director, Sarah Schaffer, and her husband John while I was there. They are in Middleton, not far from Madison or from the Festival grounds. I walked around a little bit and went to Mass at the local parish, which had a remarkable stained glass window:
And I enjoyed the straightforward approach to listing hours of operation taken by a Middleton shop:
Here I am with Ryne and Sarah after the show:
And there was time later that evening for a little jazz, with the Harbisons (John doing his best to emulate Jimmy Smith on the portative) and John Schaffer on bass:
I’m deeply grateful to the Harbisons for the invitation to participate in the Festival; to my young colleagues who sang my songs so sensitively; and to the Schaffers for making all the practical aspects of the trip smooth and easy.