Poetry and Music: A Conversation With Poet Elisabeth T. Eliassen

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.

Categories: Choral Music, Composing, FriendsTags: ,

New Choral Work to be Premiered in February

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 FriendsWaiting…, 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.

The smaller poems are set as little diversions from the narrative drive, forming a kind of sub-plot and bringing about a sense of contrast and commentary.

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
and music.

—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.

Categories: Announcements, Choral Music, FriendsTags: ,

New Mark Adamo Opera Commission Announced

San Francisco Opera has announced plans to commission a new work by Mark Adamo for a scheduled premiere in 2013. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, in Mark’s words, “draws on the Gnostic gospels, the canonical gospels and fifty years of new Biblical scholarship to reimagine the loves and conflicts of the New Testament through the eyes of its leading female character.”Read this post

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Upcoming London Performance

My clarinet/piano piece American Standard will be performed in London next week…

Peter Furniss (clarinet) and David Leiher Jones (piano) will be holding a recital to celebrate the recent Clarinet Classics CD release, Time Pieces, 60 years of American music for clarinet and piano. The recital will take place on Wednesday, 24th October at 7:30pm. The Warehouse, 13 Theed Street, London, SE1 8ST.

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Bay Area Announcement #2: S.F. Open Studios

Sculptor Georgianna Krieger (ahem, my wife) is among the many San Francisco artists presenting their work throughout October as part of ArtSpan’s annual San Francisco Open Studios. The city is divided into four sections and artists in each section are open over four weekends in October.

Georgianna’s work is on display this weekend, Saturday and Sunday 11am-6pm at Fort Mason Building C, room 375.

Here’s more information, including a downloadable map to artist exhibits.

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Bay Area Announcement #1: D'Arc, Woman on Fire

It will be worth your while to see writer/performer Amanda Moody’s latest music theater piece D’Arc, Woman on Fire, music by Jay Cloidt, at Footloose & Shotwell Studios.

D’Arc offers a surreal inquiry into the costs of dreams, lived and unlived. Weaving the threads of the Dark Ages with our own dark times, D’Arc depicts a present-day intercession by Saint Joan of Arc. We meet Joanne. Home alone, she fixates on letters from her daughter who vanished while working abroad in a war-torn region. Raging against loss, Joanne begins to receive bizarre visions through the cold flame of her television set. It is Saint Joan, burning through the TV twilight to answer her grief. Relating tales of her own battles and trials, Joan teases and admonishes Joanne, disrupts her obsessions and challenges her to listen anew to the call of her own life.

Jay Cloidt’s haunting music drives this D’Arc night of the soul. Integrating Moody’s mercurial vocalizations with acoustic and processed cello, the composition features original songs, underscoring, and sound design. His composition spans 14th century hymns, post-Romanticism, aggressive electronic music and heart-thumping gospel to evoke the strange dream of Joanne and Joan’s collision-course.

I haven’t seen it yet, but I can vouch for Amanda as a really interesting dramatic writer, and a powerful performer.

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A New Book on American Opera

Sometime last year I struck up an email correspondence via this blog with poet/librettist Karren Alenier, whose opera with composer William Banfield Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On was premiered in 2005 in New York by Encompass New Opera Theatre. Karren has written a very entertaining book about what it takes to see an opera project through from concept to production.Read this post

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