It was about this time of year in 1999 that I completed a set of songs for Dawn Upshaw called Holy the Firm. The best song from the cycle, one that she and others have often performed, is “Cinder”, and it sets a poem by my friend Susan Stewart. I just got a message from Dawn that she has programmed that song on concerts to be given this week by herself and some of her students from Bard College. Here are the dates and locations:
Feb. 19 at Bard, in the new Bito Performance Space at 8pm
Student Kameryn Lueng will sing “Cinder” – I don’t have her pianist’s name yet. The program will include a number of new songs written specifically for the students, three songs from John Harbison’s Simple Daylight, a song by Laura Schwendinger, as well as a new song by George Tsontakis performed by Dawn herself with pianist Kayo Iwama. (picture: Dawn Upshaw)
Update: Kameryn’s excellent accompanist is Christina Giuca.
Yes, it’s pretty chilly here in Philly. Blogging has been sparse lately as I have been finishing the third in a set of six songs I am writing on texts of Susan Stewart. The cycle is called “A Sibyl”, and this latest song is one where the Cumean Sibyl is telling Aeneas about his trip to the underworld. My next task will be to complete a revision of the score and parts for my Chamber Concerto, a piece for clarinet and six players that will be done by Network for New Music here in Philadelphia on April 5. Here are a few links to keep you amused while I get back to work.
- my fellow Columbia alum Paul Moravec has a new album of orchestral music performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project that was selected as WQXR’s album of the week. I had been looking forward to the upcoming New York premiere of Paul’s opera The Letter, but this has been delayed until next season. UPDATE: a nice piece on Paul at Deceptive Cadence.
- you can hear performances from Yellow Barn at their website. Current offerings include Eight Songs for a Mad King of Peter Maxwell Davies. An excerpt from the Davies performed by ICE here.
- Lots of electronic music at Penn this spring. Benjamin Fingland, Steve Gosling, and Jessica Meyer present a program including my Icons for clarinet, piano and tape (tape? well, OK, a CD, actually. “Fixed media” is the fashionable term.) on February 13 at 8:00, Rose Recital Hall in Fisher-Bennett Hall. Two days later, Network for New Music will screen videos of interviews with electronic music pioneers, more info here. Soprano Stacey Mastrian offers a program at Penn including a Nono work with electronics on March 13, and the Network performance mentioned above is part of their season of electronic music.
- The most inconvenient USB here.
I just found out that Lyric Fest, an organization here in Philly devoted to, as their website puts it, “connecting people through song”, will include my “Cinder” from the cycle Holy the Firm on their upcoming October 14th concert. The program is at 3:00 pm and will be held at the Academy of Vocal Arts here in Philadelphia. Under the title “Old City ~ New Song”, Laura Ward, Randi Marrazzo, and Suzanne DuPlantis, the artistic directors of Lyric Fest, have put together an array of songs by Philadelphia composers, including premieres by Allen Krantz and Thomas Lloyd.
“Cinder” is probably my most popular song. Dawn Upshaw, who premiered Holy the Firm, extracted the song from that set and toured with it. The piece has been sung at memorial services, at Songfest, and was featured at a presentation by the Joseph Campbell Foundation at an event called the Parliament of the World’s Religions several years ago. When I told Susan Stewart (the author of the text for “Cinder”) about the Parliament, she remarked “I thought that’s what happens when we die.”
My friend and collaborator Susan Stewart speaks about poetry as a “slow” art form. Susan wrote the poems for my Songs for Adam, and I have also set her poetry in two other pieces. I’m currently working on a cycle of songs for soprano and orchestra for which she has written a new set of poems.
I very much enjoyed the reading the other night at the 92nd Street Y in New York, given by my friend and collaborator Susan Stewart and by Mark Strand. Both are marvelous and wise poets, and they shared good, new, strong stuff.
I could tell you more about their work, but for this (mostly) music blog, let me comment that after the reading, I started mentally comparing the event with a new music concert. Neither type of gathering attracts a huge crowd, and there often seem to be a fair number of insiders in the audience. Compared with a concert, a reading is more informal in certain ways – poets (at least last night) don’t take bows. Could musicians learn something from the way the readings last night were made of numerous short pieces rather than a few lengthy ones? or from the way the evening was leavened with a good bit of humor?
The way a poet reads is a curious balance of artless and artful. Poets are not actors, they don’t use their voices’s full range of intonation and inflection. Yet poetry is generally not read in an everyday voice – there is that curious chant-like way poets have of intoning their texts. There were a few moments at last night’s reading when I lost my way in the meaning of the words (my fault, not theirs) and gave myself over to the sound of the poet’s voice, to the contour of the not quite pitched intonation, to the lengths of the phrases and sentences, to the rhythm, to accent, grouping, duration, to the tone and timbre at once intimate and public – to the music of poets reading.
Poet Susan Stewart, my collaborator on Songs for Adam (see David Patrick Stearns on the piece in the column at right) will be reading at the 92nd Street Y in New York on Monday, January 30. She shares the bill with Mark Strand. In addition to Adam, I’ve used texts by Susan in Holy the Firm and Dark the Star, two pieces that will be on the 21st Century Consort cd that is in the editing stage. The disc features Susan Narucki, soprano, and Bill Sharp, baritone. Susan has written another set of texts for me, this time having to do with a Sibyl – I hope to get to work on that setting soon.
My Songs for Adam, a song cycle on poetry of Susan Stewart, was premiered last fall by baritone Brian Mulligan and the Chicago Symphony with Sir Andrew Davis conducting. Now the cycle is being included on the Chicago Symphony radio broadcast schedule. Beginning February 12 for 7 days, the concert that included Adam will be broadcast on various radio stations throughout the country. Individual stations set their own times for offering the CSO broadcasts. You can find a list of stations and broadcast times here. Beginning February 15, and continuing for six weeks, the concert will be available for online streaming at the CSO website. You can find an excerpt from the score of Adam at my website. I hope you will have a chance to hear what was a superb performance of the piece.
Frontiers, an online magazine about research, scholarship, and other forms of creative work being done in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, has posted a very nice article by Peter Nichols about the premiere of Songs for Adam. Thanks to Susan Stewart and Augusta Read Thomas for their kind contributions to the piece.
I had a fine talk on Friday with Brian Mulligan, soloist for Songs for Adam. He likes the piece, which is no small matter; a professional will always do his best, but enjoying what you are doing makes giving your best easier. Brian had smart questions about the poetry for the cycle, and after I talked with him about the issues he raised, I encouraged him to contact the poet herself, Susan Stewart. (You can read the poetry for Songs for Adam in her newest book, Red Rover.) Susan later sent a note to both Brian and me, with a link to the image seen at left of the Expulsion from Eden by Masaccio. You can hear my setting of Susan’s poem about the Expulsion at the audio samples page of jamesprimosch.com.
So the word from Donald Nally – chorus master at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and director of the superb choir The Crossing – is that Brian Mulligan (pictured at left), the soloist for my new cycle “Songs for Adam” later this month, has a “TRULY BEAUTIFUL” voice. As Susan Stewart, poet for the cycle, remarked on hearing this, “It is hard to beat ‘truly beautiful’ in all caps.” There are plenty of good quotes about Brian at his IMG page, but hearing this description from a colleague means more.