- April 28, 2019
- 3:00 pm
- Bailey Performance Center
America, Vol. 5: A New America, is a continuation of the GSO's American Series. This performance by the GSO Chorus presents works of Berstein, Larsen, and Lauridsen, creating vignettes of a cross section of our country.
America, Volume 5
Sunday, April 28, 2019, 3:00 pm
Bailey Performance Center
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was one of the most consummate artists of our time, one who tirelessly promoted American music in America. As a charismatic performer, conductor, composer, educator, and author, he was mentored by noted conductor Serge Koussevitsky, in 1958 became the first American-born music director of the New York Philharmonic, and was the first American to lead regular opera performances at La Scala. An enthusiastic communicator, he became popular through his televised series of “Young People’s Concerts.” Bernstein resigned from the New York Philharmonic in 1969 order to devote more time to composition and other projects. His works include ballets (Fancy Free and On the Town), stage musicals and operettas (West Side Story, Candide, Trouble in Tahiti), film scores (On the Waterfront), and serious works in more traditional forms.
While on sabbatical from the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein planned to write a musical version of Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of our Teeth. Though never completed, his sketches ultimately became the basis of Chichester Psalms (1965), commissioned by the Very Rev. Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester Cathedral, Sussex, for its 1965 Festival. With its eclectic musical elements – jazz, Hebrew liturgical music, Broadway melody, pop-song harmonies and scat-singing delivery – Chichester Psalms has become one of Bernstein’s most popular works. And well it should be, as the ecumenical nature of these well-known Psalm texts, sung in Hebrew and premiered in a Christian church, imply, as Ethan Nash says, “the peaceful coexistence of all peoples and cultures and the acceptance of all faiths.”
The blaring semi-tone which begins Chichester Psalms remains prominent through the entire work, as does the disjointed chorale melody which accompanies Psalm 108, v. 2. In Movement 2, Psalm 23 is set with a stunningly beautiful melody originally intended for The Skin of our Teeth. Dissonant half-steps and angular melodies impart a jazzy tranquility, ultimately dispelled by an angry Allegro feroce on the words “Lamah rag’shu?,” or “Why do the nations rage?” Against this violent temper is juxtaposed the tranquil opening melody, to be sung, instructs Bernstein, “Blissfully unaware of threat.” Movement 2 ends “in unresolved fashion, with both elements, faith and fear, interlocked.” In the orchestral prelude to Movement 3, “Assertive harmonies have now turned to painful ones. There is a crisis…” The second section begins with a peaceful melody sung by the chorus on the words of Psalm 131. The final section of this movement is another harmonization of the opening chorale, this time a setting of the “Hinah Mah Tov,” a solemn celebration of the unity encompassing all humanity. “Behold how good, and how pleasant it is, for brothers to dwell together.”
The music of Libby Larsen (b. 1950) spans virtually every genre, from intimate vocal and chamber music to massive orchestral works and operas. Winner of a Grammy Award, her works have been commissioned and premiered by artists and ensembles world-wide. A vigorous advocate for music and musicians, Larsen co-founded the Minnesota Composers Forum, now the American Composer’s Forum, and has held residencies with the Minnesota Orchestra, the Charlotte Symphony and the Colorado Symphony.
“Music exists in an infinity of sound,” says Larsen. “I think of all music as existing in the substance of the air itself. It is the composer’s task to order and make sense of sound, in time and space, to communicate something about being alive through music.” Of The Settling Years (1988) she writes: “This piece is a three-part collection based on poetry by American pioneers. The texts are full of a kind of raw energy, swashbuckling attitude and profundity of heart and commitment characteristic of those settlers west of the Hudson. I had also looked at the more erudite essays of Coleridge-Taylor, Thoreau and Emerson, but chose the rougher stanzas because the primitive voices, the pioneers, were profound simply in the way they expressed the nature of their experiences. The first piece, Comin’ to Town, is about cowboys after a month on the range – bawdy, rowdy and raucous. The second, Beneath These Alien Stars, is about the bonding of the human spirit to the land. The third piece, A Hoopla, depicts a barn dance and vocalists circle ‘round the instruments, stomp, clap, and generally perform with abandon, vigor and boisterousness.”
Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943), born in Colifax, Washington, and raised in Portland, Oregon, has been a professor of composition at the University of Southern California for over forty years, and was Composer-in-Residence of the Los Angeles Master Chorale from 1994 to 2001. He is well-known for his series of a cappella motets, and for his seven vocal cycles which include Les Chansons des Roses (1993), settings of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. Of this cycle, Lauridsen writes: “In addition to his vast output of German poetry, Rilke (1875-1926) wrote nearly 400 poems in French. His French poems on roses struck me as especially charming, filled with gorgeous lyricism, deftly crafted and elegant in their imagery. These exquisite poems are primarily light, joyous and playful, and the musical settings are designed to enhance these characteristics and capture their delicate beauty and sensuousness. Distinct melodic and harmonic materials recur throughout the cycle, especially between Rilke’s ‘Contre Qui, Rose’ (set as a wistful nocturne) and his moving ‘La Rose Complète.’ The final piece, ‘Dirait-On,’ is composed as a tuneful chanson populaire, or folksong, that weaves together two melodic ideas first heard in fragmentary form in preceding movements.”
The studies of William Averitt (b. 1948), Professor Emeritus of Composition at the Shenandoah Conservatory of Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia, have taken him around the world. He has been honored for contributions to the arts in the Shenandoah Valley and Winchester area, his works have been performed world-wide, and he has received numerous fellowships, grants and commissions, including one from the Atlanta Chamber Players, who premiered his Partita for 8 Instruments in 1980.
In Afro-American Fragments (1991), Averitt sets poems by Langston Hughes (1902-1967), writer and thinker of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Hughes promoted equality, condemned racism and injustice, and celebrated African American culture, humor, and spirituality, through poetry, novels, plays, essays, children's books, and newspaper articles. Averitt composed Afro-American Fragments for Winchester Musica Viva, a chamber choir which he founded and directed, for the ensemble’s 10th Anniversary season, with a piano 4-hands accompaniment honoring the group’s keyboardists. Its six movements are organized into three pairs, the first of each pair providing a brief introduction to the second. In Fragments, Averitt alludes to a variety of African American musical styles, described in notes to a Temple University Concert Choir recording as follows. The “slow jazzy waltz” of “Wonder” gives way to the sinuous and driving ragtime of “When Sue Wears Red.” “Dream Dust,” featuring a pointillistic piano part, eases the listener into “Song for Billie Holiday,” a blues tribute to its namesake. A “slow spiritual,” the a cappella “Feet o’ Jesus” offers rich jazz harmonies and a poignant final cadence. In the rhythmically driving “Fire,” an up-tempo spiritual, the speaker grows desperate seeking absolution for past sins.
Eric Lane Barnes (b. 1960) is a “composer, writer, lyricist, pianist, director, conductor, performer and advocate for LGBTQ rights, who lives “to explore all the ways music can connect people with themselves, with one another, and with the world around them.” Until 2017, he was Associate Artistic Director of the Seattle Men’s Chorus and founder of the vocal comedy troupes Captain Smartypants and Sensible Shoes. While at a choral conference, Timothy Seelig, conductor of Dallas’s Turtle Creek Chorale, suggested that Barnes write a piece based on Kumbaya, but in different styles. Wrote the composer, “I liked the idea but thought that Kumbaya was too simplistic melodically and harmonically…. We sat in the back of the room while the speaker was talking, trading notes back and forth about the piece. I suggested using Mary Had a Little Lamb, and we were off and running.” The result was Lambscapes (2001), a “comedy piece that traces a musicological journey from Gregorian Chant through to contemporary gospel, using ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ as its framework.” In the course of this piece, the familiar tune is re-interpreted in various guises, as Gregorian chant, Handelian oratorio, Schubert art-song, Verdi opera aria, a “grand gesture” à la Orff’s Carmina Burana, cowboy song, and gospel.
Libby Larsen, Works and Store, The Settling Years, and FAQ, https://libbylarsen.com
Ethan Nash, “Understanding and Performing Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms,” Choral Journal, February, 2009, pgs 9-31.
Sean Hickey, liner notes to Bernstein Chichester Psalms, Naxos, 8.559177, 2003.
A letter from Leonard Bernstein to the Very Rev. Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester Cathedral, as cited by Jack Gottlieb in program notes for the New York Philharmonic, 10/18/1990.
Morten Lauridsen, Les Chansons des Roses, Southern Music Publishing Company, Inc., 1994
William Averitt, Composer, Compositions, http://www.su.edu/conservatory/faculty/w_averitt/index.htm
America’s Story from America’s Library, “Langston Hughes,” http://www.americaslibrary.gov/cgi-bin/page.cgi/aa/hughes
he Reader's Companion to American History, Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors, published by Houghton Mifflin Company, as found on Answers.com. “Langston Hughes,” http://www.answers.com/topic/langston-hughes-poet-writer
William Averitt: The Deepness of the Blue, University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory Singers CD, Editorial Review by Robert Bode, https://www.amazon.com/William-Averitt-Afro-American-Fragments-Recordings
Temple University Concert Choir - Waken the Dawn, noes uncredited, CDBaby CD 887516593581, 2013.
Cascadian Chorale, The Animal Kingdom, Program Notes by Gary D. Cannon, http://www.cascadianchorale.org/programs/0906%20The%20Animal%20Kingdom.pdf
Eric Lane Branes, https://www.ericlanebarnes.com/