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.
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
—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.