I recently completed a draft of a new chamber opera, which runs about an hour and 45 minutes. It is a kind of 'book of the dead' of an opera singer, Melina, who (after her death) finds herself in the house that she grew up in, with her grandmother. She moves through the rooms of the house, encountering situations and people from her past life, and demons who mock and impede her. By the end, she has made it to the beach in front of Cliff House, and there is a final reckoning.
We are packing up the house in preparation to selling it, because we plan to move to Italy some time this year. We needed to downsize anyway, because we don't want to saddle other family members with the detritus of our lives, and I really needed to organize my hundreds of compositions and digitize everything. That is mostly done, at least.
I just finished a new piece for woodwind quartet (flute, oboe, Bb clarinet, bassoon), called 'Pastoral Dances'. It is relatively short (4' 20") and sounds a lot like a gentle imitation of the later, serial Stravinsky; music that I have always admired. There are four sections played continuously, slow, fast, slow, fast.
The Cherry Hill Chamber Orchestra, Marshunda Smith conducting, will perform my piece 'Danvers Harmony' on October 23, 2021 at 3:00 PM at Beverly Second Congregational Church in North Beverly, MA.
Here are some program notes that I wrote for the occasion:
At the behest of conductor Marshunda Smith, I composed Danvers Harmonies in 2019 as part of a group of six pieces for chamber orchestra, collectively titled Sinfonietta. Three of the pieces are based on British and American folk tunes. One of the other pieces is written in the form and style of ragtime, an American genre that I am fond of. Marshunda Smith and her orchestra performed a selection of the pieces in 2019, including Danvers Harmonies.
I recently arranged the piece for strings; that is what you will hear tonight.
Danvers Harmonies is made up of melodies and variations of melodies, some related, and some contrasting. Many of the melodies begin the same way (with a skip and then a step), but then they branch out in different ways. Perhaps I was thinking of John Dunstable, a medieval English composer who used a similar pattern (or ‘head-motif’) in several of his works. The form of the piece is episodic and intuitive, a fantasia. I think you will hear a variety of moods and ‘tones of voice’ in the music; tentative, lyrical, and humorous. There is even a little bit of burlesque.
Why the title? On one hand, I was thinking about some of the early American music books, like Southern Harmony, Kentucky Harmony, and others. On the other hand, I thought it might be appropriate to name a piece after the town where I have lived for over 30 years. Let there be music FOR Danvers FROM Danvers!
My choral piece 'Sing Child' will be performed by Triad: Boston's Choral Collective on June 3 at Church on the Hill, 140 Bowdoin Street, Boston, at 8:00 PM. The program includes pieces by Karl Henning, Thomas Stumpf, Jeremy Faust, Bruce Sled, Harry Einhorn, Oznat Netzer, and Julian Bryson.
'Sing Child' was written for a concert whose theme was 'birth-to-death', and its text begins "birth brightness hunger warmth", and continues with a list of sensations, objects (books, dogs), and activities (running, falling, swimming) that would occupy the mind of a child.
The music is written in a synthetic mode throughout, using melodic cells (like Terry Riley's 'In C') and canons at the unison or octave. The piece has a hazy, dream-like quality, which feels like my hazy memories of childhood.
The pdf contains a list of pieces that I completed in 2015.
Below is a link to the performance by Triad:Boston's Choral Collective, with me conducting.
The Triad choir is a collective, which means that all of the members do a variety of jobs and most decisions are made by consensus. There are composers, conductors, instrumentalists, and singers in the group. This is among the best group that I have worked with as a conductor; responsive, experienced singers all. It was a pleasure to work with them.
We performed our concert in Cambridge, Massachusetts on November 21, and in Quincy on November 23. I sang and conducted one piece, the beautiful How She Went to Ireland by Joseph Rubinstein. When the recording becomes available, I will post a link to it here.
The group Triad: Boston's Choral Collective performed my piece back in May. The link below gets you to a recording of their lovely performance.
Last night the Boston Choral Collective, led by Thomas Stumpf, began to rehearse my choral work 'O Miei Dolci Animali,' a setting (in Italian) of the Salvatore Quasimodo poem. They did quite well with the chromatic, rather lush harmonies, and it was wonderful to hear the piece begin to come to life.
Here is a literal translation of 'O miei dolci animali'
from The Penguin Book of Italian Verse, 1958
Now autumn spoils the green of hills, o my sweet animals.
We shall hear again, before nightfall,
the final lament of the birds, the call of the grey plain
that goes towards that high noise of the sea.
And the smell of the wood in the rain,
the smell of the burrows, how keen it is
here between the houses, among men,
o my sweet animals.
This face that slowly turns its eyes about,
this hand that marks the heavens
where a peal of thunder resounds, are yours,
o my wolves, my foxes burnt with blood.
Every hand, every face is yours.
You tell me everything has been in vain,
life, the days worn away by a steady flow of water,
while from the garden rises a singing of children.
Perhaps far from us now?
But they yield in the air like shadows, if as much.
But perhaps I know everything has not been.
What does it mean? People ask me, and I find it difficult to put an answer into words.
The music of my setting is my answer.