Here’s the Manhattan Choral Ensemble’s press release. I wish I could be there in person, but I can’t…we’re performing two more concerts (in LiepÄja and RÄ«ga) on the 17th and 18th respectively. If anyone out there can go, I’d be be happy to hear your reactions. There were a few things I tried in this piece that I haven’t tried before, so I would love to know if you think it hangs together or not. They will be premiering my setting for soprano and tenor solo, off-stage solo quartet and choir of the Carl Sandburg anti-war poem Jaws, as part of their New Music for New York commissioning project.
Manhattan Choral Ensemble, Tom Cunningham, Director.
New Music and Old Favorites
Friday, June 8th, 2007 at 8:00pm
Earl Hall, Columbia University
117th and Broadway, New York City
Admission: $15, $12 (students and seniors)
Please join us for our third annual installment of our New Music for New York commissioning project, featuring four newly commissioned works by New York-area composers, including a new work for choir and cello by Patrick Castillo, composer of A Piece of Coffee as premiered by the Manhattan Choral Ensemble in June 2006. Other composers featured include Charles Griffin, Karen Siegel, and Davide Zannoni.
The performance will end with madrigals of Monteverdi and familiar settings of favorite folksongs.
Please join us for a wine and cheese reception after the concert. We hope to see you there!
Directions: The Earl Hall Center is located on the Columbia University Morningside campus. The campus covers a six-block area between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue from 114th Street to 120th Street. The main entrances of the campus are located at 116th and Broadway and 116th and Amsterdam. These entrances are open 24 hours a day. The Earl Hall entrance is located at 117th and Amsterdam and is only open during normal business hours.
By subway, take the #1 IRT Broadway Local to 116th Street. The Earl Hall Center is located at 117th and Broadway.
Here is the poster that was displayed in LiepÄja and CÄ“sis advertising our concerts.
This past week, between Sunday and Saturday, we gave three performances, one each in Durbe, LiepÄja and CÄ“sis. As one might expect, the week brought both problems and successes.
The performance in Durbe was sort of a trial run, a very necessary one, as it shone a spotlight on things I hadn’t thought enough about. It wasn’t a bad concert, but it was nervous, rushed, and bumpy in many senses. I had to emcee, stage-manage, turn pages for one piece and perform too. Speaking in Latvian is not my strong suit, and I wrongly figured I would stage-manage and introduce each piece simultaneously. This meant once or twice giving my back to the audience as I spoke and moved chairs and music stands at the same time. Nothing that seemed deliberately rude, but just trying to hurry, hurry, hurry, as if apologizing for taking people’s time, something that I afterwards remedied.
In fact, the whole week was illuminating on several fronts: about my own writing, the musicians’ experience of my music and their own attitudes about performing (with sub-differences related to gender and/or culture), the details of which I may go into at a later time.
But suffice it to say that over-preparation, under-preparation, nervous energy or self-esteem issues almost invariably led to faster tempos taken in the first concert. (And the concomitant problems of faster tempi, namely that the musical ideas don’t really get a chance to breathe or be properly heard).
So, I wasn’t the only one trying to hurry, hurry, hurry, as if apologizing for taking people’s time. In fact it was only the clarinetist, Uldis, who seemed completely immune to any problem. In between the first and second concert, I wound up talking to the string quartet musicians about body language and tempo and expressivity and such, and generally playing the good cop, as their problem was that they were essentially over-prepared (and also, I think, a little intimidated by Uldis’ confidence and reputation when they played the quintet with him). Alternately, with the pianists, I wound up sort of playing the bad cop, as one of them was less prepared and they so rarely agreed with each other about interpretation and tone.
The concert in LiepÄja was GREAT. I was calm, and so were the musicians. The hall was nearly full, we all played well, and the audience was enthusiastic enough to demand an encore. There was good energy all around. As a bonus, one representative from each of the two funding bodies that supported these concerts attended, and both were happy. One of the winners at that performance was Dina PuÄ·ite, the cellist. She is a lovely, mild-mannered woman. And my duet for cello and clarinet requires a certain rock-inflected attitude, which I had to several times coax from her though it was clearly there. Many of her colleagues in the LiepÄja Symphony were in the audience, and went nuts for her performance. You can see it here:
To be continued…
A few things to report as I surface to breathe. First, as an update to my entry of a few months back, I was accepted into the European American Musical Alliance summer program in Paris. I will go there for the month of July to study conducting with Mark Shapiro (from Mannes in New York). Should be great fun, and from what I understand, a fairly intensive experience. And an expensive one too, as I discovered after sifting through the available apartments for the month of July via craigslist.
Second, on a whim, I threw my hat in the ring to be considered for a commission from the Manhattan Choral Ensemble, directed by Tom Cunningham. They run a small commissioning program that echoes the Dale Warland Singers’ model. They commission three or four composers to write short works, give them a performance, and then select one of those composers to receive a larger commission for the next season. To my happy surprise, I was chosen, along with composers Patrick Castillo, Karen Siegel, and Davide Zannoni. Six degrees of separation / Small world spoiler alert: I’ve known Davide for years. The only hitch was I had less than a month to write the thing.
No matter. I had it in the back of my mind to set some of Carl Sandburg’s poetry. A former composition student back in New York kept bringing in these amazing Sandburg poems, and I resolved to get around to setting Sandburg at some point, and this seemed a good a time as any. I dug through a batch, and settled on the anti-war poem Jaws:
SEVEN nations stood with their hands on the jaws of death.
It was the first week in August, Nineteen Hundred Fourteen.
I was listening, you were listening, the whole world was listening,
And all of us heard a Voice murmuring:
“I am the way and the light,
He that believeth in me
Shall not perish
But shall have everlasting life.”
Seven nations listening heard the Voice and answered:
The jaws of death began clicking and they go on clicking.
For obvious reasons, one usually just uses the title of the poem as the title of the piece, but in this case, for equally obvious reasons, I’m not calling it Jaws, but rather The Whole World was Listening. I set it for soprano solo, tenor solo, off-stage quartet and divisi choir, and for the first time, included some aleatoric elements as well as specific movements the choir must make. They will perform it on June 8 in New York. The concert is not announced on their web site yet, but I trust it will be soon enough.
In the meantime, I interrupted a piece I was working on for Putni, a setting of a Federico Garcia Lorca poem, called El Paso de la Seguiriya:
Entre mariposas negras,”¨
va una muchacha morena ”¨junto
a una blanca serpiente”¨ de niebla.
Tierra de luz,”¨
cielo de tierra.
Va encadenada al temblor
”¨de un ritmo que nunca llega;
”¨tiene el corazÃ³n de plata
”¨y un puÃ±al en la diestra.
Â¿A dÃ³nde vas, siguiriya”¨
con un ritmo sin cabeza?
”¨Â¿Qué luna recogerÃ¡”¨
tu dolor de cal y adelfa?
Tierra de luz,”¨
cielo de tierra.
I was attracted to the possibilities inherent in the lines, Tierra de luz, cielo de tierra (Earth of light, Sky of Earth). Spring-boarding off the Flamenco workshop I gave them in February, I’m trying to engage with (yet not limit myself to) Flamenco rhythms and harmonies, and this piece also includes palmas and contrapalmas parts for the singers to clap. I hope to finish it soon.
Also in the meantime, preparations for my All Griffin concert are proceeding as we make our mad dash for the finish line. We’ve got about 75 minutes of my music in rehearsals, which have been going essentially smoothly. I gave an interview for the city’s main daily, Kurzemes Vards, yesterday, and the posters are coming tomorrow. We will give four or five performances over the next six weeks in LiepÄja (2), Durbe, Cesis, and possibly RÄ«ga. I did arrange for a recording engineer, and will enlist the daughter of one of the pianists to video record it. So, I’ll post some stuff on YouTube and/or make a podcast of it for anyone who wants to hear it.