Modern Masters

                              the concert

 

Pied Beauty

   
Contre Qui, Rose
   

Four Valentines:

A Lover's Journey

       In the Still Garden  
       St. Valentine's Day  
       Will You, Nill You  
       Shall I Compare Thee  
   

On Green Mountains

winner Octarium Composition Competition

 
Intermission
 
Set Me as a Seal
Lo, How a Rose
   
Double Shot
   

Eyesight

   
i carry your heart with me
   
A Boy and a Girl
 

                              Program Notes
I rarely listen to music. This tends to surprise people, but my world is remarkably silent. I drive in silence. I take walks in silence. My iPod is seldom in use. Silence gives me room to think. But, of course, when I think, I think about music.

 

One day, I was musing about music during a glorious silence and wandered into the subject of what makes choral music choral music. This led me to what makes famous choral music famous. This, in turn, led me to what makes famous choral composers famous. This, in turn, led me to a violent shrug of the shoulders and a vigorous shaking of the head.

 

But I failed to shake the questions. And I failed to find clear answers. What I did discover during my silent musings was the supposition that well-known choral works became famous because they are sung and performed. Because they are sung and performed, they are known. Because they are known, they are loved. Think Handel’s Messiah. Think Mozart’s Requiem. On a smaller scale, think Palestrina’s “Sicut Cervus.” Or Bruckner’s “Os Justi.” By some accident of chance or some design of marketing, specific choral pieces rise like cream and never leave the top.

 

But what about all the great choral works that never made it into the canon? Some fantastic mythical “lost” works are found in an attic somewhere or are rediscovered only after a musicologist dedicates years of research to a piece that, performed once to bad reviews, was never performed again. But some pieces are not lost because they are hidden. Some works are lost simply because, for some reason, they are never performed. They languish in purgatory. Never heard. Never known. Never loved.

 

What would the composers think of this? If I could have dinner with Bach and Palestrina and Monteverdi and Mozart and Handel, what would they tell me was their greatest composition? Would it be the same composition that history has declared great?

 

Obviously, none of the above composers could be made available for questioning, so I began to ponder our living composers. Which of their works would they want to be remembered by history? If they were given the chance to have any of their choral compositions recorded and performed on a regular basis, which one would they select? On a lark, I contacted a couple of composers and asked. I was surprised by the quick and passionate responses. So I contacted a couple more. More responses. I began to look at the responses less as an academic and rhetorical exercise and more as a possible programming theme. Before long, it morphed from a programming theme into a recording project.

 

And here we are today with the result; Modern Masters - music of living composers, chosen for Octarium by the composers themselves. Though it’s a pretentious ambition, it is my hope that this album will help these wonderful pieces find their way into the choral music lexicon. Find their way into history.

                                       Dr. Krista Lang Blackwood, Artistic Director

 

Pied Beauty
"Pied Beauty" was the first text I ever set that wasn't intended for the theatre. I set it in college, not because I was sharing the untrammeled joy of the text but because I needed reminding of it. Such free, imaginative language, less limited than energized by its carefully symmetrical form! I've never known a better example of Rilke's observation, "A poet chooses his subjects: that is his way of praising.
                                                                       Mark Adamo - August 2009


Praise him!
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

 

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889)


Contre Qui, Rose
"Contre Qui, Rose" is the second movement of my choral cycle, Les Chansons des Roses, on poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, a poet whose texts were also used for my Nocturnes and Chanson Éloignée. Rilke’s poetry is often multi-layered and frequently ambiguous, forcing his reader to use his or her own imagination to grasp the text. This wonderful little poem poses a series of questions and the corresponding musical phrases all end with unresolved harmonies as the questions remain unanswered. We have all been in situations where we have given affection and not had it returned, where attempts at communication have been unsuccessful, met by resistance or defenses of some kind. A sense of quiet resignation begins the setting as the stark harmony and melodic line, filled with unresolved suspensions and appoggiaturas, gradually build to a nine-part chord on “au contraire” and then the music folds back on itself, ending on a cluster that simply fades away as does the hope of understanding the reasons for the rose’s thorny protection.


My quiet setting, which Stereophile Magazine critic John Marks termed “one of the most singularly beautiful pieces of vocal music in the history of Western Civilization,” remains a personal favorite of mine and I am delighted that Krista Blackwood and her splendid Octarium have included it on this recording.
                                                             Morten Lauridsen - August 2009


Contre Qui, Rose,
Against whom, rose,
avez-vous adopté ces épines?
Have you assumed these thorns?
Votre joie trop fine vous a-t-elle forcée
Is it your too fragile joy that forced you
de devenir cette chose armée?
to become this armed thing?

 

Mais de qui vous protège cette arme exagérée?
But from whom does it protect you, this exaggerated defense?
Combien d'ennemis vous ai-je enlevés
How many enemies have I lifted from you
qui ne la craignaient point?
who did not fear it at all?
Au contraire, d'été en automne,
On the contrary, from summer to autumn
vous blessez les soins qu'on vous donne.
you wound the affection that is given you.
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) from Les Roses
English translation by Barbara and Erica Muhl

 

Four Valentines: A Lover’s Journey
Four Valentines: A Lover’s Journey is my Valentine to the King's Singers; friends, collaborators and gentlemen all. The commission was for a work set for premiere on February 14, 2001, and so I was delighted with the idea of composing a little story of love told in four short pieces. I chose three texts by William Shakespeare and one text by James Joyce (which impishly enough was published by William Shakespeare and Company in 1915).

 

The story begins with the poem “Simples” by James Joyce. Set in a moonlit garden, the lover is bedazzled and love struck with the object of affection, the “bella bionda.” Like Tony’s chant “Maria” in West Side Story, our lover sings “bella bionda” to himself over and over again, silently summoning her. This is followed by  the second, more quiet, piece, which takes place at sunrise. Its text is Ophelia's song from Hamlet “Good morrow! `Tis St. Valentine's Day.” When I researched Shakespeare’s text I came upon a curious custom that used to be practiced in some parts of Great Britain and Italy (and perhaps still is...) whereby before sunrise on St. Valentine’s Day, unmarried women stand by their window, sometimes for hours, watching for a man to pass by. It’s said that the first man they see (or more wisely someone who looks like him) will marry them within a year. Now that the lovers have gotten together, the third piece is a brief, insistent rhythmic outcry, setting words from the Taming of the Shrew “Will you, nill you, I will marry you.” And finally, “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day” completes the lover’s journey.
                                                         Libby Larsen - August, 2009

 

 

i. In The Still Garden

O bella bionda,
Sei come l’ onda!

Of a cool sweet dew and radiance mild
The moon a web of silence weaves
In the still garden where a child
Gathers the simple salad leaves.

 

A moondew stars her hanging hair
And moonlight kisses her brow
And, gathering, she sings an air:
Fair as the wave is, fair art thou!

 

Be mine, I pray, a waxen ear
To shield me from her childish croon
And mine a shielded heart for her
Who gathers simples of the moon.
Simples,1915, James Joyce (1882-1941)

ii. St. Valentine’s Day

 

Good morning, it is St. Valentine’s Day,
So early before sunshine.
I, young maid at the window,
Will be your Valentine.

 

The young man put trousers on,
Opened the chamber door,
Let in the maid who as a maid
Departed nevermore.


By St. Nicholas and Charity,
A shameless breed!
A young man does it when he can,
For truth, that is not right.
She said: Before you trifled with me,
You promised me to wed.
I’d not by sunlight break my word
If you had not come in.
Hamlet Act V, Scene V - William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

 


iii. Will you, nill You

 

Will you, nill you, I will marry you.
The Taming of the Shrew, Act II, Scene I - William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

 

iv. Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?

 

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed:
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st;

 

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long loves this, and this gives life to thee.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)


On Green Mountains

winner of the 2009 Octarium Composition Competition
"On Green Mountains" is my second collaboration with poet Ashley Garofalo. Her evocative poem "Green Mountains" describes a picturesque autumn day in Vermont, inspired by time we spent in the Green Mountain State in early October 2008. The music was written in early 2009 and the work was premiered in May 2009 by the Orlando Chorale under the direction of Gregory Ruffer.

 

Both my mother's and father's families hail from Vermont and I spent a good amount of time visiting the area when I was growing up. It has always been a very special place to me and a source of great inspiration. Vermonters typically refer to those from Connecticut as "flat landers" but I hope that I may be exempt from this title because of all the time I spent there, all the family who live there, and this music, which is dedicated to the Green Mountain State.
                                                                Steve Danyew - August 2009


Green mountains.
Air fresh and fragrant,
colors - a sight to behold.
October's autumn.


American town:
Covered bridges and gardens,
music on the green,
down the street...


Morning - chilled and grey,
above, the sun shone.
View visible and clear;
imagine it in winter's white
Ashley Garofalo

Set Me As a Seal
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death.
Many waters cannot quench love;
neither can the floods drown it.
Song of Solomon


Lo, How a Rose
Writing this arrangement of the well known "Lo, How a Rose" melody and text offered me the interesting challenge of preserving a feeling of great antiquity even while cloaking the tune in clearly modern harmonies. Though I normally try, for purely practical reasons, to restrain myself from extensive use of divisi, in this instance I risked the use of an extremely rich palette, just to see whether the sumptuous textures could be made to serve the text without lapsing into unjustifiable indulgence. Listeners will have to judge for themselves whether I have succeeded, but I've not yet received any complaints.
                                                            Daniel Gawthrop - August 2009

 


Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as seers of old have sung.
It came, a blossom bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.


Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to us a Savior,
When half spent was the night.


O Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispel with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death now save us,
And lighten every load.
anonymous German carol circa 1580

Double Shot (Honey in the Rock)
“Double Shot”, a plea for peace expressed in images of slow-motion violence, is a sleep-deprived gospel-blues built around the traditional refrain, “Sweet honey in the rock.” Insomnia is a recurring subject in my music, something I didn’t realize until I’d written several pieces on the theme, including this one. There is a weird, drowned, oddly-lit alternate universe, known only to the person who cannot sleep, where the physical and the spiritual trade their housecoats and do a good impersonation of each other. I’ve built the text around the “rock of ages” tradition where the rock that gushes life-saving water in response to Moses’ staff becomes a prophetic parallel to Christ’s heart that gushes life-saving blood and water in response to the soldier’s spear. The central image of the “double shot” is left deliberately ambiguous, but in the hopes that it does not limit the listener’s own response to the phrase, I can tell you that for me “double shot” brings together the language of grace and addiction, of Milton’s “two-fisted engine” and the hands of the clock at midnight, closed in prayer. I remember one overcast morning drinking two full pots of espresso and playing the first Leonard Cohen album; the experience has become a personal template for a certain anxious euphoria.
                                                             Stephen Hatfield - August 2009


Tell me what chu want
(Sweet honey in the rock)
Come on an' tell me what chu want
(Sweet honey in the rock)
Tell me, what chu gonna need?
(Sweet honey in the rock)
Tell me how you gonna plead now.
(Sweet honey in the rock)
How will you know?
(Because it tastes like-uh honey.)
Honey in the rock.

Now when Moses struck the burnin' desert,
what chu think he got?
(Sweet honey in the rock)
It was a holy, it was healin'
an' when the midnight devils come stealin'
you need a double shot.
(Sweet honey in the rock)

When the soldier struck the dyin' Jesus,
what chu think he got?
(Sweet honey in the rock)

Come the Master strikin' at your hard heart,
show him what chu got.
(Sweet honey in the rock)

 

Eyesight
This piece has an odd history. A few years ago, I agreed to be one of the “prizes” in an auction to benefit Chorus America: the highest bidder would get a new piece from me, while their money went to the organization. The winning bid came from a collection of several professional choruses and directors. But I was always a little vague about the details, and, hearing nothing more about it for a few years, forgot the whole thing.


One day I had a message from Thomas Edward Morgan, director of the Ars Nova Chamber Singers in Boulder: they had scheduled the premiere of my new piece for a few weeks later, and could they have the music, please? I needed a text, quickly, and (as usual) I was in an LA hotel room, not at home with my books. So I turned to the Internet and soon tracked down my favorite poet, A.R. Ammons (1926-2001). Once I stumbled on “Eyesight” online, I remembered having loved the poem years before. Archie must have loved it, too, because he included it both in his Collected Poems 1951-1971 and in the later Selected Poems. It has everything you want in an Archie Ammons poem: what Edward Hirsch called his “offbeat, sideways, unpredictable radiance,” his “homespun glory.” It has one of his trademark conversations with a mountain (perhaps from his native North Carolina), it has the fluid motion from one line to the next (enjambment, if you want to get technical) that won’t let him or his reader rest till the very last word of the very last line, and it has in that last line one of those sudden insights that leave us breathless: “some things that go are gone.”


I miss Archie, but he’s not gone. I’m grateful for the wonderful poems he left us, and I’m grateful that he was always generous and kind when I had the chutzpah to add my music to his.

                                                                       Steven Stucky, August 2009


It was May before my
attention came
to spring and


my word I said
to the southern slopes
I've


missed it, it
came and went before
I got right to see:


don't worry, said the mountain,
try the later northern slopes
or if


you can climb, climb
into spring: but
said the mountain


it's not that way
with all things, some
that go are gone
A.R. Ammons (1926-2001)

 



i carry your heart with me
“i carry your heart with me” was written on commission from Beth and Jay Althof in honor of their daughter Kristin and for the Mariners of White Bear Lake High School (MN) and their conductor, Marie Spar Dymit. The poem was chosen by Kristin Althof. This talented Minnesota High School choir and their conductor premiered the work in March of 2009 at Bethel College in St. Paul, MN. It is the first poem by e.e. cummings that I have ever set. I love the touching simplicity and the directness with which the poet conveys his meaning. It is a tender love poem which communicates immediately.
                                                          Stephen Paulus - August 2009


i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you


here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart


i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
ee cummings (1894-1962)

 


A Boy and a Girl
"A Boy and a Girl" is such a tender, delicate, exquisite poem; I simply tried to quiet myself as much as possible and find the music hidden within the words.
                                                                                           Eric Whitacre


Stretched out on the grass,
a boy and a girl.
Savoring their oranges,
giving their kisses like waves exchanging foam.


Stretched out on the beach,
a boy and a girl.
Savoring their limes,
giving their kisses like clouds exchanging foam.


Stretched out underground,
a boy and a girl.
Saying nothing, never kissing,
giving silence for silence.
Octavio Paz (1914-1998)

 

             

What the Composers are Saying about Modern Masters, the recording project  ...

 

This is unquestionably the finest, most sensitive and thoughtful rendering of this piece that I have ever heard and is among the top three or four performances of anything of mine that I've yet encountered. Balance, blend and intonation are absolute perfection, your recording venue is magical and I can't wait to hear the whole disc!
Daniel Gawthrop, Lo How a Rose


Octarium has a very, very beautiful, cultivated, musicianly sound, which is lovingly recorded here. The choir overall has a wonderfully mixed, organ-like blend--the men in particular---and they make the silences as absorbing as the phrases.
Mark Adamo, Pied Beauty


Listening to your recording, I realize that other performances I’ve heard of the piece create a kind of generalized brown aura when some of those changes come, as opposed to actually striking the chord. It is a great satisfaction to hear Leah on the solo, with the personality in the tone carried with such quiet strength through the different registers of the voice. As someone who works mostly with young singers I have never heard this solo sung by a voice whose berries and tannins have balanced, a voice that has ripened into itself, so there is much deep pleasure in hearing the phrasing and poise and control of both soloist and choir.
Stephen Hatfield, Double Shot

 

 

Lauridsen, Contre Qui, Rose, Danyew, On Green Mountains, 

 Larsen, In the Still Garden and Whitacre, A Boy and a Girl

 

                             

 

1 Contre Qui, Rose Morten Lauridsen 3:43
2 Set Me as a Seal René Clausen 2:59
  Four Valentines: A Lover's Journey Libby Larsen  
3        In the Still Garden   3:05
4        St. Valentine's Day   4:49
5        Will You, Nill You   1:06
6        Shall I Compare Thee   3:25
7 A Boy and a Girl   4:41
8

On Green Mountains

Steve Danyew 6:43
 

world premiere recording

winner Octarium Composition Competition

   
9 Lo, How a Rose arr. Daniel Gawthrop 4:08
10 Double Shot Stephen Hatfield 3:53
11

Eyesight

Steven Stucky 4:06
  world premiere recording    
12

i carry your heart with me

Stephen Paulus 5:33
  world premiere recording    
13

Pied Beauty

Mark Adamo 3:41
  world premiere recording