The News from Poems
The concert reading in April at the National Opera Center was tremendous. Please see below for the fantastic participants and enjoy this four-minute video from the reading. Thanks hugely to all for their artistry and passion!
The News from Poems is my only opera undertaken without a commission. I have written it, libretto and music, over the past ten years around other work and the April reading has shown that it is whole and ripe and ready for the finish work that goes on in production.
- Currently scored for a quartet of instruments, orchestrations for chamber ensembles of 7 or 13, as well as for chamber orchestra are possible as well.
- The intense use of the chorus in Brechtian ensemble style, with all chorus members performing multiple solo cameo roles, makes the opera a good fit for vocal arts departments that wish to give their advanced students experience in both contemporary music and featured dramatic characters to develop. In this respect, a collaboration between an opera company and a conservatory might be one logical path towards a premier.
- The opera requires very little in the way of a set as it was conceived to use primarily lighting, costume pieces and props deployed by ensemble members to instantaneously convey different spaces and times.
- Perusal score available in pdf or hard copy.
- More audio excerpts at http://susankander.net/works/the-news-from-poems-2/
The News from Poems
Rehearsals are under way for the semi-staged reading at the American Opera Center April 10. The cast is extraordinary: Keith Phares, baritone, as William Carlos Williams; Katherine Pracht, mezzo, as his wife Floss; John Taylor Ward, bass-baritone, as Ezra Pound. A stellar ensemble of 8 singers and 4 musicians, fielded by ASCAP/CMA 2016 award winning ensemble Cantata Profana, led by artistic director Jacob Ashworth. Louisa Proske, fresh from yet another hit, Heartbeat Opera’s Lucia, is directing. Williams, Flossie and I are in fantastic hands!
She Never Lost a Passenger
I am tremendously excited that Lyric Opera of Kansas City is going to premier the new orchestration of my first commissioned opera. This story of Harriet Tubman has been produced around the country continuously over the past 22 years. The production will be the centerpiece of the Lyric’s renowned Opera Camp with soprano Roberta Gumbel and tenor Nathan Grannar reprising their roles from the original production as Harriet Tubman and Philadelphia abolitionist/historian William Grant Still.
I’m also pleased to report that Opera Kansas did a second round of performances this year of Passenger, touching a few thousand more children and teachers with her story in music. Again, hats off Paul Brodene Smith in Wichita!
Postcards from America
It’s always nice to hear from people who are performing pieces of mine. Ben Serna-Grey will be performing the oboe and piano work on his master’s recital at University of British Columbia on April 24.
She Never Lost a Passenger
Last February Opera Kansas, despite the miserable fiscal scene in that state, took this opera into 12 schools. Artistic director Paul Brodene Smith reported “about 300 kids sang with us on stage and we had an overall attendance number for all the performances of 3393.” This year there is strong demand that they revive their production. “In fact the program was so successful one of the principals suggested that we should offer it each year and return to participating schools on a three year rotation.” In addition, they are raising funds to produce a theatrical performance with the new ensemble orchestration. It’s so great to hear news like this from a state like that. Hats off big-time to Opera Kansas!
MSR Classics is producing an album of my violin-centric pieces with Hermestänze as the title work. Jacob Ashworth (commissioner), violin, and Lee Dionne, piano, will be playing it, and it will be accompanied by A Garden’s Time Piece, with Jessica Petrus, soprano, and Solo Sonata, with Jacob playing both violin and viola. Release is targeted for second half of 2016.
The News from Poems
This 2-hour ensemble opera now has its own works page. Please visit this new page to hear arias and excerpts and read program notes.
Since Center for Contemporary Opera’s staged reading of the first portion of the opera in November 2013, I have finished composing and am preparing a concert reading of the whole score in an arrangement for 4 players in early April at the American Opera Center. I have terrific principal singers lined up: Keith Phares, baritone, as William Carlos Williams; Katherine Pracht, mezzo, as Flossie Williams; and Joshua Jeremiah, baritone, as Ezra Pound. The director is Louisa Proske, co-director of Heartbeat Opera, (fresh from a major hit at the Berkshire Theater Festival) and members of Cantata Profana will be playing the arrangement for clarinet, violin, double bass and piano. Jacob Ashworth, artistic director of Cantata Profana and co-music director of Heartbeat Opera, will conduct.
This 2-hour ensemble opera now has its own works page.
Please visit this new page to hear arias and excerpts and read program notes.
I’m really looking forward to my first trip to Tulsa for their production of The Giver, January 10 and 11. While there, I’ll be doing a Composer Forum and giving a master class to composition students at bART Center for Music. That should be a lot of fun.
She Never Lost a Passenger
This opera, my first commission twenty years ago, is having two productions coming up in the new year. Opera Kansas, in Wichita, is bringing this story about Harriet Tubman to twelve schools in February. Children in those schools will learn the hefty chorus part with their music teachers (I am thrilled to hear there still are music teachers in schools) and get to perform with professional singers for their schools and their parents. In writing this opera, I was determined to use a lot of traditional music that recent generations of kids don’t seem to hear any more: Go Down Moses, Simple Gifts, Follow the Drinking Gourd are all woven into the narrative. Thanks to Dr. Paul Brodene Smith, artistic director of Opera Kansas, for carrying this torch and bringing Harriet’s story – and the experience of singing, hearing and seeing opera – to so many people.
And I’m super excited to be commissioned to orchestrate Passenger for a chamber ensemble of eight players, something I have wanted to do for a long time. Erie Opera Theater, in Erie, Pa., will be doing it in May with a brand new scoring for oboe/eng.horn, clarinet/b.clar, horn, percussion, 2 violins, cello and piano. Passenger was commissioned in 1994 for piano only, and has had over a dozen productions since then. I think having a chamber ensemble might now make it viable as a proper main stage show in tandem with another piece or simply on its own as an offering for families with children 5 and all the way up. Thanks so much, Brent Weber, artistic director of Erie Opera Theater!
Having had such a good experience with the excerpts of Miranda’s Waltz performed by Ravel Virtual Studios, I asked them to create three short instrumental excerpts of music from The Giver. These are three of the bits that underscore projections showing the transfer of memories from the Giver to Jonas. Once again, I’m very pleased with what Ron Artinian at Ravel produced. You can hear them on the works page for The Giver: susankander.net/works/the-giver/
Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to spending three days withTulsa Opera in January for their production!
Tulsa Opera will be producing The Giver January 10-11, 2015. This is the opera’s first “second production”, following its premiers in commissioning cities Kansas City and Minneapolis in 2012. The production will be directed by Stanley M. Garner, conducted by Aaron Beck and feature the young professionals of Tulsa Opera’s Young Artist Program alongside Tulsa Youth Opera, their training program for children in grades 3-12.
I am proud to finally post excerpts from this 2009 National Symphony Orchestra commission for Narrator and orchestra. Since recording live performances of orchestras is completely illegal, I never had any means of allowing people to hear any of the 27-minute score. (This is the big Catch 22 all composers live with.) After a hearty push from my friend and colleague, Australian composer Kevin Purcell, and a terrific recommendation from composer Roberto Sierra, I had 7 excerpts, about 12 minutes, “virtually performed” by Ravel Virtual Studios. Ron Artinian, head of the studio, was a delight to work with and he and his colleagues delivered a marvelous performance. Now, five years later, I finally have a demo of this piece for artistic directors, conductors and concert programmers to listen to that truly delivers the music and finally puts Miranda’s Waltz in the “known quantity” column. The story piece is aimed at families with children age 7 and up. Please listen to the excerpts on the Miranda’s Waltz works page!
I am so pleased to post this response from Ani Kavafian, one of the leading violinists of our day, Artist Member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Professor of Violin at Yale.
“Susan Kander’s cycle for violin and piano, Hermestanze, is a wonderful work on many levels. The 14 short movement titles takes one through the life of Hermes, naming his parents, Zeus and Maia. the Lyre, an instrument folklore claims he invented, the river Styx, as well as his brother Apollo, the god of music. These references give the listener Ms. Kander’s perception of a musical journey through a part of Greek Mythology, but more importantly, we become aware of her virtuosic compositional ability to use the range and abilities of the violin and piano. As Hermes was a many faceted character, Ms. Kander uses this work to explore a variety of instrumental sounds (most especially striking in the Lyre movement). Throughout the 30 minute work, my interest never wavered. There is a vital energy to the writing and as each movement came to a close, I looked forward to hearing the next.”
Thank you, Ani!
The News from Poems
The staged reading of The News from Poems came off terrifically on November 2 at The Cell in New York. The producer, Center for Contemporary Opera, is interested in developing the opera further and I will get composing under way for the last 50 minutes of the opera at the end of this month. A huge Thank You to everyone involved at CCO!
Hermestänze World Premier
On a different plain altogether, a piece I wrote this fall will have its world premier on January 31 at Yale School of Music. My son, Jacob Ashworth, commissioned “a song cycle for violin and piano” for his MMA degree recital because he was jealous of pianists and singers who have plenty of cycles written for them (think Schumann, for starters.) But violinists have nothing comparable, no series of thematically linked, short evocative pieces. Ergo, Hermestänze: 14 movements one way or another about the god Hermes. Also on the program will be a world premier commissioned by Jacob to fill another gap in the violin repertoire: Sonata para violine solo, variations for solo violin by Mexican composer Francisco Ladron de Guevara. Lee Dionne is Jacob’s fantastic pianist, also an MMA candidate at Yale. This concert will be streamed live, January 31 at 8 pm, at http://music.yale.edu/livestream. Tune in!
A Garden’s Time Piece
Jessica Petrus, soprano, and Jacob Ashworth, violin, gave a gorgeous performance at the recent concert by Cantata Profana in New Haven on December 15. Cantata Profana is a new ensemble for vocal and instrumental chamber music. Visit their website at www.cantataprofana.com.
One False Move
This opera about girl bullying was produced in Guanzhou, China this September at the Utahloy International School. Madeline du Toit, the faculty member who directed and spearheaded the production, reported that it was extremely successful and led to very helpful – and in some cases critical – discussion among the students and faculty. I’m so pleased that this short anatomy of how bullying can happen under the radar continues to be so useful.
The Lunch Counter
David Sogg, bassoonist, played the quietly ecstatic movement “Jennifer” at Compline at Heinz Memorial Chapel in Pittsburgh on September 23. Very cool.
November 2 at 8 pm: Center for Cotemporary Opera is producing the first half of The News from Poems in a gently staged reading at The Cell Theater, 338 w. 23rd street. Sara Jobin, music director for CCO, is conducting; Laura Alley Dietrich is the stage director. The reading is part of National Opera Week. For tickets (it will sell out, buy ahead) http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/489486
A word about the opera:
William Carlos Williams (1883-1963): modernist poet/dedicated physician to the largely unwashed. Florence Williams: doctor’s wife and poet’s wife — an epic double whammy. Ezra Pound, mentor and friend to Williams, leader of the great migration of arts and letters to Europe in the early 1920’s. Williams wants to grab poetry around the neck and fling it into the 20th century here, in America, the land his immigrant parents gave him. Ezra wants Williams to move to Europe where art and poetry actually matter. Floss wants to find a way to matter to her husband, to live with and stay with this mercurial, philandering, shy, passionate man.
Also, under the heading: Serendipity!, check out this blog, written by poet Daniel Nester and posted on the Best American Poetry site Oct. 25.
Principal singers for this reading are:
William Carlos Williams: Joshua Jeremiah, baritone
Florence (Flossie) Williams: Kara Cornell, mezzo
Ezra Pound: Aaron Theno, bass-baritone
Multi-role tenor: David Gordon
Plus an ensemble of 9. Peter Fancovic is the fantastic pianist. Yana Tiefbenkel, from Moscow, the administrative assistant and extra pair of hands on the keyboard.
The News from Poems, a large-scale opera about American doctor/poet William Carlos Williams, will have a staged reading of the first half of the opera by Center for Contemporary Opera in 2013. I had started this opera many years ago, first researching Williams and then, at the MacDowell Colony in 2008, starting the libretto. Work was interrupted to write The Giver and I resumed composing the score in June 2012. I am very pleased to have won a spot in the CCO 2013 readings festival here in New York, not least because it provided me with a real dead-line: The News from Poems is the first opera I’ve undertake without a commission, ergo without any deadlines. Thank you, Center for Contemporary Opera!
Why Dr. Williams?
I began to read Williams’ poetry in 2004 when I was commissioned by the Grammy-award-winning Kansas City Chorale to compose a choral cycle for them. I chose six short imagist poems for the cycle and found I loved setting Williams’ language. For my song cycle Five Movements for my Father, I went back to Williams again for three of the five movements. Along the way I learned more about the man (difficult, passionate and many-sided, to say the least) and his moment. The three principal roles are Williams, his wife Flossie and Ezra Pound (another difficult character.) Here is my introduction to the libretto:
“William Carlos Williams, though a divisive character in American letters, is generally acknowledged to be the father of twentieth century American poetry. He was also, starting in 1905 and for over fifty years, a family doctor eventually specializing in pediatrics and obstetrics.
Dr. Williams was sure about two things – both new and questionable ideas in his time:
–A poet could be a poet in and about America
–American needs its poets desperately, as he wrote:
“It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.”
It is this last certitude, which WCW’s whole writing life embodies, that casts its resonance over the opera.”
A Garden’s Time Piece
I was treated to a magical performance of this piece for violin and soprano at a concert in Scarsdale, N.Y. in March. Jacob Ashworth (full disclosure: my son) and sparkling soprano Jessica Petrus performed it just the way it wants to be done: like two people being one people. The nicest thing a composer can hear after a concert is “I wish I could hear that again.” You can hear excerpts on the piece’s work page. Thank you both, Jacob and Jessica!
She Never Lost a Passenger
This short opera about Harriet Tubman had its debut as a mainstage offering at Amarillo Opera in February. It was a decided success, according to David O’Dell, artistic director; in addition to its regular performances, its two day-time performances were attended by 2700 schoolchildren. I was especially happy to hear that tenor Nathan Grannar, who in 1996 originated the dual role of William Still, black abolitionist/John, the runaway slave, sang the same role in Amarillo. Over the years, this opera has been done all over the country, usually by members of a company’s young artists program. I am proud to relate that another very exciting veteran of this role is the magnificent Russell Thomas, Metropolitan Opera regular and rising international star, who, as a young artist, sang the role for Shreveport Opera.
One False Move
Having been produced in opera companies, universities, schools and choruses all over this country and by Capetown Opera, S. A., (it was so successful they did it again six months later,) this short opera about bullying has just been granted grand rights for a production in Guangzhou, China at the Utahloy International School next fall.
Friday May 18 at 7 pm EST and May 24 at 1 pm EST (for classrooms)
Evidently they put in some of the pre-show talk Lois and I did from the stage, at least they told me they were going to. The mostly-youth and the all-young-people cast did a really swell job with a “complex and challenging score”, and when they sold out and had a lengthy waiting list for tickets, they decided to do the webcast. Bravo MinnOp!
There has been a great deal of activity in the media since Minnesota Opera’s sold out performances at the end of April. The first article to appear was Olivia Giovetti’s Operavore blog on WQXR on April 27 prior to the performances:
Young Adult Fiction Goes Dystopian, Opera Follows Suit
“It’s in this sense that The Giver may be one of those “perfect” operas in theory, and could signify an interesting course for contemporary opera. The drama and conflict are there, with some scenes begging to be sung for their cathartic depth and emotional peaks. But, more importantly, it’s one of those stories that transcends region and time. It’s still taught in schools and lapped up by students in a way where classic dystopian literature like Brave New World and Animal Farm occasionally fall flat. It is, for a young generation, the type of work that resonates as firmly and profoundly in the 21st century as Greek legend and drama did for denizens of the 17th century. And, really, is there all that much separating young Jonas from Orpheus?”
A “remarkable new work… Kander’s adaptation ably tackles the philosophical complexities of Lowry’s Newbery Award-winning dystopian story set in the not-too-distant future. In a particularly clever stroke, Kander briskly handles the novel’s expository details and narrative movement by means of a Greek-style chorus; her instrumental scoring is atmospheric and unobtrusive, and the production’s chamber orchestra performed them sensitively. But the vocals take priority. … this isn’t really an opera driven by grand arias or scenery-chewing relationship melodrama – the ensemble is primary, as fits a tale centered on “the Community.” This adaptation is a sophisticated and subtle work, in terms of both music and story. Like Lowry’s novel, it never panders.”
Minnesota Opera invited several young journalists to the final dress rehearsal with the proviso that they could blog about the show, but not write a proper review. Here are excerpts:
Twin Cities Daily Planet
April 30, 2012
“Just about 20 years ago when Lois Lowry’s The Giver was published, there was no “dystopian rage.” Today, when The Hunger Games trilogy is taking today’s youth by storm and the movie is grossing a gross amount of money in the box office, I still stand by The Giver. …” MORGAN HALASKA
“My English teacher in 7th grade read The Giver out loud to us and I remember being enraptured in the story. Middle school was, as I’m sure it is for almost everyone, a tumultuous time. The Giver reflects the angst of Jonas, who doesn’t know his place in the world. And, in all honesty, I feel like I can still relate; I’m still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. The tale is not a feel-good by any means, but for some reason that’s exactly how it made me feel. Knowing that what you’re going through isn’t unique is comforting, and that the alternative to “sameness” is preferable; even if it means experiencing pain….The production made me feel excited about the book again like I did in 7th grade.” LAUREN VAN SCHEPEN
A Journal of Creative Things
The Giver was already completely sold out by the time we saw the dress rehearsal. If that weren’t the case, I’d be urging everyone to go see it … I’m confident that this opera will keep playing…. because it’s good enough to last. Keep your eyes peeled for it in the future.
Gimme Gimme Gimme
Minnesota Daily – U. of Minneapolis/St. Paul
By Griffin Fillipitch
It is odd that, instead of film or comic, opera is the medium that an adaptation of “The Giver” would take. But that is what happened last weekend at the Minnesota Opera, thanks to composer Susan Kander and a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $20,000.
“It’s one of the first stories that children encounter that doesn’t talk down to them. It talks up to them,” Kander said. “It really is not kid fare.”
She approached the music with that in mind and subsequently produced a modern and complex soundtrack to the story of Jonas.… [T]he music was not just challenging for the sake of being challenging. At times, the dissonant and choppy [music] was truly fascinating and always matched the eerie and intense emotion of the source material.
A Garden’s Time Piece
On May 4, two marvelous musicians, Lauren Rausch, violin and Danielle Buoniauto, soprano, gave a shimmering performance of this new piece at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. The 12 minute work had premiered in St. Louis but I had never been in a room with it before. I don’t think I’ve ever sat through a performance of one of my own pieces with such a helpless grin on my face from beginning to end. I am grateful to Lauren and Danielle for treating me to such an exquisite experience.
Postcards from America
The CD on which this piece for oboe and piano appears, Overheard by Michele Fiala, has received a number of very nice reviews:
Fanfare Magazine, May/June 2012
Susan Kander is a composer who likes to tell a story. Here, she has a narrator read a few lines before each movement of her Postcards from America: “Greetings from the Empire State Building,” “Greetings from the Statue of Liberty,” and “Greetings from the Brooklyn Bridge.” The postcards are from a man who has left his family to find work in the United States. Although he tries to hide his loneliness and desperation with his words, Michele Fiala’s oboe and Donald Speer’s piano tell the whole tale in a most effective manner.
BBC Music Magazine
Susan Kander’s piece for oboe and piano is “a poignant narration of the immigrant experience.”
The Giver (chamber opera)
I am thrilled to report that the opera played to 5 sold out houses (900 seat theater) in Kansas City. Lois Lowry joined me there for the entire production week, a very special treat for me and for everyone. Four daytime performances were for “riveted” audiences of middle and upperschoolers, and the Saturday general public audience was likewise wonderful. A special and deeply felt thank-you to Paula Winans, Director of Education and music director of The Giver, her 10 extremely dedicated orchestra musicians, her 4 marvelous professional singers, her 27 incredible LyriKids, ages 8-18 and one exceptionally talented 8-month old baby boy. Not to mention director Linda Ade Brand. You can see excerpts on The Giver page here on my site.
And here’s a useful link to my publisher’s page about it:
Next stop for the opera is Minnesota Opera, with 7 performances at the end of April. I’ve just been out to Minneapolis where rehearsals are under way under the music direction of Dale Kruse and stage direction of Octavio Cardenas. Subito’s article on this production is at:
And here’s a very cool thing:
Minnesota Opera is using Kickstarter to raise extra funds for their production. It’s a very neat site, only for cultural projects. Each week they’ll post a new video featuring music from the opera as well as myself and lots of others talking about the project. There are several updated posts on this page, so be sure to click on “updates” just above the screen after the first video.
Postcards from America (oboe and piano)
The CD, by commissioner Michele Fiala, has had a lovely review in the online magazine Audiophile Audition.
“Postcards from America by Susan Kander is a very clever work that also seeks its inspiration from feelings…. [It is] a most interesting work, is quite effective and to Kander’s credit, does avoid any traps of clichéd writing.”
For the whole review of this cd full of nifty new music for various double reeds:
January 14, 2012 Lyric Opera of Kansas City (world premier)
April 27-29, 2012, Minnesota Opera
After nearly two years of living inside the fascinating and troubling universe created by Lois Lowry, I completed orchestrations for the opera in September. Now, in December, Jonas and his family and his friends, as well as the Giver himself and little baby Gabriel are all coming into musical and theatrical life as both commissioning companies create and rehearse their productions. I loved writing the opera, finding the musical voice of each character, writing the music I hear when I read Lowry’s descriptions of the memories Jonas receives, going inside Jonas’ thought processes and awakenings, tracing the growing relationship between Jonas and the Giver, and especially musicalizing the great escape at the end.
The commissioners tell me the music is “very challenging, especially rhythmically, but so beautiful.” It is being performed in Kansas City by three adult professionals and trained young people, principally high schoolers. The Minneapolis production is being performed entirely by trained high school singers. The opera is musically challenging, as the novel is challenging, and not just for young readers. The show runs roughly 80 minutes, with a chamber orchestra of 10 players (2 vln, vc, harp, pno, fl (picc. Alto), clar. (Eb, bass), trb, 2 perc.) For story reasons, it is recommended for audiences age 10 and up.
It is my hope that opera companies seeking a main stage family offering will find it appropriate and challenging for an adult cast as well (young people’s roles aside) or mixed adult/trained young people forces. (As The Giver is about a whole community, all ages should be represented on stage.) College and university vocal arts departments as well will hopefully find it useful.
I think my program note will tell you much more:
Ask anyone under age 28 about The Giver and you’ll get a strong response. For many young people, The Giver is the first book they read that truly talks up to them. It demands a level of both outward observation and inward reflection that is new and, judging from the passion so many feel for the book, thrilling. Why was it so clear to me the book wanted to be an opera? First and last, it is filled with musical moments. Every time the Giver transmits a memory to Jonas there is an outpouring of descriptive text crying out to be turned into orchestral music. There is no stage action: only music. Every time Jonas has a moment of reflection or realization, this is the expression of the inner voice that is the very stuff of opera. The characters each have utterly distinct voices – including Mother, Father, Lily, Fiona, Asher – who sang to me in distinct rhythms and styles. The vagaries of the story itself, its largeness and opacity, the fact that much about The Community is not articulated, the continuous thread of question marks for both Jonas and the audience, all these are made to order for dramatic music theater.
What the Giver does not have that I needed for this adaptation was a large role for Chorus. So I invented one. Or rather, I went back in time to create a piece of theater that the ancient Greeks would find completely familiar. When we read the novel, we assume – though Lois Lowry never explicitly states – that the story is set in the nebulous future. But this is just an assumption. So I have chosen to set the story in the nebulous past. Today is the one day each year that this cautionary story is retold “to our children, to our children’s children.” The Telling, as it is called in the opera, is done by a Greek-style Chorus. Just as in Euripides, the Chorus frames the narrative we are about to witness; it reveals the thoughts of the characters to us; it discusses events and characters amongst itself, even to the point of squabbling; it entertains us; it carries the action forward, sometimes even physically; it sets the stage and creates theatrical effects; it provides the actor/singers for all but the principal roles.
One last little note: Ms. Lowry planted a little throw-away bit in the story that was a sparkling gift to a composer. During his training, Jonas asks the Giver, When you were my age, “did you see beyond like me?” And the Giver says, very simply, “No. I heard beyond,” and they move on to other things. Well, the fact that the Giver retains musical memories was just too compelling to pass up. I had a lot of fun with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (keep your ear on the Community’s ‘Patriotic Hymn’.) Listen also for Mozart’s Voi ché sapete, a bit of Schumann’s Märchenbilder, a little Brahms Symphony #2, and a beautiful American folk song. Some are obvious, some not so much. Thank you, Ms. Lowry, for agreeing with me that music is part of what makes us human.
Loose Cans Music – my own music publishing company
I am very pleased to announce that as of April 1, 2011, my opera catalogue, including the upcoming The Giver, is available from Loose Cans Music, with distribution through Subito Music. Now all my music will be available in one place. My experience with Subito makes me confident that programmers will now find it much easier to locate the operas online, order them, and receive timely information, materials and invoicing. In addition, there is now a link for email@example.com for inquiries about pretty much anything. Progress!
A Garden’s Time Piece for soprano and violin
I took one week off this summer between finishing the piano/vocal score of The Giver and starting the orchestrations to write this 8-movement, 10-minute piece. The texts are by artist Leslie Laskey. Using just the two voices, I really enjoyed a streamlined, elemental approach to setting these simple but evocative lines. The piece enjoyed a very nice performance in St. Louis in September. The score is available from Subito and a demo recording will hopefully be made this spring.
Postcards from America
This work has just been released on a lovely recording by commissioner Michele Fiala entitled Overheard: new music for oboe and english horn. It is an MSR/Albany recording and is available from MSR, http://www.msrcd.com/catalog/cd/MS1403 or all the usual internet sites.
P.S. That’s me doing the readings before each of the three movements. (For more about this piece, go to the work’s page.)
The Lunch Counter
Bassoonist David Sogg sent me the following link to a business web page that features his performance of this piece. Scroll down the page to the guy in a tux in front of the WAFFLES sign. Cool!
Bassoonist Christin Schillinger, professor at Ohio University (Miami), performed this piece in a series of concerts across Texas prior to including it in her lecture/recital at the 2011 Double Reed Society International Conference in Arizona. Back in her home turf her performance of the piece, subtitled “A character study in seven movements,” included two improvisational actors. I love that! (For more on this work, go to the work’s page)
The Giver , by Lois Lowry – soon to be an opera near you.
Minnesota Opera and Lyric Opera of Kansas City have commissioned me to write libretto and score for a 75 minute opera adaptation of this blockbuster children’s/young adult book. There is already terrific excitement in both cities for the premiers in 2012, and interest from other opera companies for further productions. The Giver, Ms. Lowry’s first Newbury Medal novel, is read by nearly every middle schooler in the country and tells the story of a utopian community that turns out not to be so utopian. Ask any kid 26 or younger about The Giver and you’ll get a strong response. The opera will have a chamber orchestra of 10 players and feature video projections. Both companies hope to have the funding to do workshops prior to its premier, which would be really wonderful and very unusual in the opera world.
The News from Poems – an opera about William Carlos Williams
I have had to interrupt work on this project to write The Giver, but the libretto is complete (with thanks to the MacDowell Colony) and I have begun work on the score. The wonderful director Leon Major has been helpful and encouraging, and as soon as time permits I will be back to work on the music. The fiftieth anniversary of WCW’s death will be in 2013; I don’t think I’ll be finished by then, but it’s a good target and something to hang my hat on. The work has three principals, an ensemble that sings chorus as well as lots of small roles and cameos, and a medium-size orchestra.
Double Reed Double-Fun
David Sogg, co-principal Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, premiered “his” piece The Lunch Counter in February 2010 at the Warhol Museum which his usual wit and graceful, character-ful bassoon playing. His delightful “warm-up” performance at Pittsburgh’s famous Waffle Shop was streamed live and you can see a heavily condensed version at http://waffleshop.org, click on “PSO Bassoonist.” Postcards from America for oboe and piano has now been performed in England, France and America by commissioners Michele Fiala and Donald Speer. I’m very happy to report Postcards will be the title work on the duo’s new compact disc; recording will take place in December. It’s due out next summer. Stay tuned.
Five Movements for my Father at Wolf Trap
I am extremely pleased to tell you that Keith Phares’ performance in January 2009 at The Barns at Wolf Trap, with Kim Witman and ensemble, was featured by radio host Bill Mclaughlin on his “Live from Wolf Trap” syndicated broadcast series. Very cool!!
One False Move
This opera that deconstructs bullying by girls continues to be programmed around the country. Very often the producing organization, whether an opera company or a school, has a professional psych-or-social worker lead and manage discussion with the audience after each performance. In the current toxic world of bullying both on and off the internet, I am proud to have contributed a useful tool in bringing the mechanics of girls’ aggression into the light. This winter Lyric Opera of Kansas City will produce it for the 7th time, and Fargo-Moorhead Opera will do its second production.
LIVE STREAMED PERFORMANCE 11/29:
I’m happy to invite you all – no matter where in the world you are – to the performance of a brand new piece of mine: “The Lunch Counter” for solo bassoon, will be video streamed live this coming Sunday at www.waffleshop.org. This is a neighborhood joint in Pittsburgh that does regular live streams of events in their waffle house. The performance starts Sunday 11/29 at 11:00 a.m. EST. Go to the website and click on “Live Feed.”
The Lunch Counter is 25 minutes long and was commissioned by Joyce Sogg for her son, David Sogg, associate principal bassoon of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, to celebrate a big round birthday. It is subtitled “A musical play in seven movements.” It takes place at – yes – a lunch counter, and the movements portray the varied customers – from age 3 to no-one- knows – sitting at the lunch counter; the seventh movement portrays the waitress, Lorraine, who “hears everything, both spoken and unspoken.” The player speaks a sentence or two about each character just before playing that movement, bringing us into their specific moment. Two of the movements are dialogues between two characters. Maybe I should call it Dramatical Chamber Music or something like that. The best part is that David is going to be sitting at the counter at the Waffle Shop in Pittsburgh, playing these characterizations while brunching people are eating their waffles in the Waffle Shop. (Well, the actual best part is David is a magnificent musician and it isn’t every day that you get a good close-up dose of solo bassoon doing pretty much everything a bassoon CAN do played by the likes of him.)
David calls this performance a “workshop” of the piece, which he will officially premier on February 15 in a concert at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. The Waffle Shop does regular live streams, so I imagine the feed will be fine and clear. You can get an idea of the piece and hear excerpts played by David Sogg on here on the site by clicking on “Works” and then “The Lunch Counter”. Should be fun!
On May 31, 2009, Miranda’s Waltz, for orchestra and narrator/actor, commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra, premiered at the Kennedy Center. The two concerts in the big, beautiful concert all were well attended and very, very well-received. With an original story and text by youth theater expert Mary Hall Surface, Miranda’s Waltz tells the story of a little girl whose mind is opened to the music around her by a very special little mouse. I call it a “symphonic adventure.” We already have several works that introduce the instruments of the orchestra to young listeners. In composing this piece, I have chosen to emphasize the orchestra as a whole in a celebration of specifically American music of the last century or so. I want to introduce children to the wide array of American styles and composers that they will encounter throughout their lives and which I believe are in themselves enduring contributions to the world. These include Charles Ives, Duke Ellington, John Adams, Loony Tunes, jazz, contemporary big band, folk song and American musical theater. What a blast to write! The NSO’s express intent is to commission a work that will be useful to orchestras across the country in their Family and Outreach concerts where new repertoire is sorely needed. I am very pleased to have been invited to make a contribution. Score and parts for Miranda’s Waltz will be available from Subito Music in the fall.
Keith Phares sings Five Movements for my Father at Wolf Trap
Keith is doing a recital as part of the Discovery Series at The Barns January 16, sharing the program with his fabulous wife, mezzo-soprano Patricia Risley. Kim Witman, artistic director of the series, will lead the instrumental ensemble from the piano.
One False Move in Capetown
I’m happy to report that the performances, described below, were so successful that Capetown Opera is programming the opera again, for several more performances this coming April, 2009.
One False Move in Capetown
I am extremely pleased to report that Cape Town Opera, in South Africa, will be presenting several performances in August (their winter) of my opera One False Move. This will mark “CTO’s first venture in tackling through the medium of opera, the controversial and relevant problem of bullying in schools. Not only will it address the situation through discussions prior to the performance with a psychologist on this hot topic, but it will also serve as an introduction to the performers on how to create an opera performance….Our production of One False Move will be the pilot programme which will tour several schools [including the Zolani Centre in Nyanga in the heart of the townships] and will be the first of many operas dealing with social issues of the day.”
The concert at Weill Hall to introduce my new CD was a great success, and received a lovely review from Anthony Aibel. Read it here.
The album is finished and available. Visit the RECORDINGS page to hear excerpts, read liner notes and to purchase it. Thanks again to the marvelous musicians, engineers and aiders and abetters who made it happen.
In Other News…
I can now reveal the secret commission that was delivered as a surprise birthday present to its recipient, David Sogg, co-principal bassoonist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra: The Lunch Counter, a musical play in seven movements for solo bassoon. The piece presents a tableau of character studies of the customers at a diner, presided over by Lorraine, the waitress. It was a blast to write. As I noted before, a musical commission makes a fabulous and personal present.
I am very excited about my newest commission, a twenty minute work for full orchestra from the National Symphony Orchestra, collaborating with youth theater expert Mary Hall Surface. The premiere will be June 2009 at the Kennedy Center. The NSO’s express intent is to commission a work that will be useful to orchestras across the country in their Family and Outreach concerts where new repertoire is sorely needed. I am very pleased to be invited to make a contribution.