“Blue Hills Over the North Wall” is an excerpt from my 1996 piece Cycle of Friends for soprano, chorus and chamber orchestra, commissioned by the Music Group of Philadelphia, and premiered by them in conjunction with Orchestra 2001. I was in my twenties when I wrote this piece, but it remains possibly my best work
Cycle of Friends consists of five movements, with settings of texts from various parts of the world and moments in history, each using various combinations of chorus, soprano solo and orchestra. This movement is only for soprano and orchestra without chorus. Here it is superbly performed by soprano Janice Fiore and Orchestra 2001, conducted by Music Group Artistic Director Seán Deibler. The text is a poem by Li Po (701-762), translated by Innes Herdan.
You may also wish to view a similar video of the one a cappella movement, “Are Friends Delight or Pain?“
This setting of Emily Dickinson’s short poem is an excerpt from my 1996 piece Cycle of Friends for soprano solo, chorus and chamber orchestra. This video perusal score features the premiere performance by the Music Group of Philadelphia, conducted by Seán Deibler in May, 1996.
“Are Friends Delight or Pain” is now available as a stand-alone piece in octavo format from Swirly Music.
This off-beat little a cappella piece was written many, many years ago (1991, to be exact). It is an earnest and faithful setting of a very silly poem by my friend Will T. Laughlin. It happens to be very difficult to learn and perform, with a lot of meter changes, asymmetrical rhythms and odd, modal harmony, so over the years I’ve stopped thinking of it as a piece I ought to be promoting among choruses, and it has never been performed until now.
Among the people I did send it to, all those years ago, was Magen Solomon, conductor of the award-winning and extremely capable San Francisco Choral Artists. This year, out of the blue, the piece was added to their “Poetry on Musical Wings” program. Delighted by this unlikely stroke of luck, I quickly revised the piece to make it more suitable for performance, and they gave this wonderful, nuanced premiere performance.
My approach to this surreal and brilliantly goofy poem was to treat it as if it were Shakespeare and treat the musical setting with utmost, deadpan seriousness. I hope you enjoy hearing the piece with the appropriately silly video montage below!
“Roll the Tide” is a short, a cappella quasi-spiritual excerpted from the larger work Waiting…, based on poems by Elisabeth T. Eliassen.
In the “video perusal score” below, you can follow the score as you hear its premiere performance by the 2011 Kodály Summer Institute Chorus at Holy Names University, conducted by László Matos.
“Roll the Tide” is available in octavo format from Swirly Music.
June 9, 10 and 16 - San Francisco Choral Artists
July 27 – Kodály Summer Institute, Holy Names University, Oakland
The chorus of the Kodály Summer Institute Chorus, conducted by visiting professor Judit Hartyányi, will give the premiere of a new, commissioned work. The a cappella piece is based on John Milton’s poem “Surge, age surge“. (Did you know he’d written in Latin? I didn’t.)
August 5 – HellHot Festival, Hong Kong
What is so wonderful about for me about my poetic “thought music” is that while it can have specific meaning for me, it doesn’t have to have a specific meaning for anyone else.
— poet Elisabeth T. Eliassen
My new choral work Waiting… is built around a hand-picked group of poems by Bay Area poet Elisabeth T. Eliassen, who is not only singing in the upcoming premiere, but has been very supportive and accessible during my process of composing the piece.
Owing to the unique aspects of this particular collaboration, we thought it would be interesting and edifying, to say nothing of fun, to share a bit of our ongoing email discussion about the creative process as it relates to music and poetry.
You can read the piece here, on Elisabeth’s blog Songs of a Soul Journey, where a great deal more of her work can also be read.
The Sanford Dole Ensemble will give the premiere performance Waiting…, for chorus, string quartet and piano, at the San Francisco Conservatory on February 4th at 8:00pm. Tickets will be available at the door or directly from the Sanford Dole Ensemble for $30.
Update: (1/31/12) Elisabeth has posted an additional installment of our conversation. You can read that here.
The Sanford Dole Ensemble will give the premiere performance of my new choral work Waiting…, for chorus, string quartet and piano, at the San Francisco Conservatory on February 4th at 8:00pm.
This “All New, All Local” program also includes new works by San Francisco composers David Conte and Peter Scott Lewis, as well as Sanford Dole himself. All of the pieces use various combinations of chorus, strings, piano and percussion.
Like my earlier large choral work Cycle of Friends, Waiting…, is imagined in the tradition of my favorite non-liturgical choral masterpieces, ranging from Brahms to Vaughan-Williams to John Adams. The text is chosen from among the beautiful works of Bay Area poet Elisabeth Eliassen.
Unlike most such choral works and song cycles, where the work is organized around a sequence of poems, Waiting… is cast in one movement, and is based on one large poem with a few smaller poems nested among the stanzas. The work is dominated by Elisabeth’s masterful poem, “Come again”, whose relentless use of the word “waiting” in stanza after stanza provides something like a dramatic framework, taking us from urgency to desperation to resolution.
The stanzas of “Come again” are set in a fast-paced, narrative style, occasionally exposing my musical theater roots, whereas the other poems are treated in more relaxed settings. Here’s an excerpt from “Come again”.
beyond waiting, there is nothing waiting,
and no one shall come down from on high, waiting,
as one might be, for a sign that we are ready and waiting,
for, lacking such an offer, still for some reply we are waiting
for something, from what we suppose to be a heavenly realm, waiting
for a new and familiar face to appear, waiting
to be acknowledged, to be loved, to be led.
Hear an Excerpt
One of these smaller poems, “Roll the Tide”, is set as a kind of a cappella spiritual. It was performed as an excerpt last year at the Kodály Summer Institute at Holy Names University, conducted by László Matos, and that performance can be heard below.
—Roll the tide,
o roll the tide over,
roll the tide over me,
and so hide my tears
in folds of your timelessly flowing,
salty blanket of turbulence
—Roll the tide
and rock me to a watery sleep,
rock and roll me
until my cares
have worn to sand,
and lay me bare and free
in the bosom of your shore.
The poetry excerpts “Roll the tide” and “Come again”, the latter from the book Songs of a Soul Journey (2002), are by Elisabeth T. Eliassen, and appear here with the poet’s permission. More of her work can be found on her blog, also called Songs of a Soul Journey.
My self-publishing empire Swirly Music has just launched an online store where certain pieces will be available for purchase. At the moment only my clarinet/piano piece American Standard and a short choral work are available. I will be adding my other choral pieces and my string quartet as soon as I can.Read More...
Last year the New York chorus Schola Cantorum on Hudson initiated their Project Encore initiative, an effort to promote second performances of choral works that have received premiere performances and nothing since. It is a great and much needed idea: a juried central repository complete with instrumentation, text, program notes and even audio excerpts that choral decision makers can resort to for new works to consider.Read More...
This month the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia, my choral alma mater, will present a concert that epitomizes the kind of music making that went on in Philadelphia when I was a student there in the 1980′s. The occasion is the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Joseph Castaldo’s extraordinary work for narrator, chorus and orchestra Ancient Liturgy, which was originally commissioned and premiered by the Music Group of Philadelphia under Seán Deibler, who also happened to be Choral Arts’ founding Artistic Director.Read More...