Chamber Ensemble with Voice

Ferryman (2022)

for soprano and piano

Premiered March 22, 2022, by Lily Arbisser and Thomas Sauer, United Asbury Methodist Church, Bettendorf, IA

Ferryman was commissioned by Chamber Music Quad Cities.

The Conversation of Prayers (2012)

for soprano, flute/alto flute, cello, piano, and percussion

Premiered November 4, 2012, by Ensemble 61 (Carrie Henneman Shaw, soprano; Linda Chatterton, flute; Joel Salvo, cello; Erik Barsness, percussion; Matthew McCright, piano), The Music Room at the SPCO Center, St. Paul, MN

The Conversation of Prayers was commissioned by Ensemble 61.

Composer's Note
Setting text to music is a tricky proposition. Particularly as a onetime choral singer, I used to do it a lot. The frequency with which I once composed for voice, in solo, chamber, and choral settings, afforded me repeat opportunities to experiment with different approaches, succeeding here, offending there. In a choral setting of an excerpt from Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons (“A Piece of Coffee.”), the words—whose literal meaning is far from the point—serve as an engine for the music to do its thing. A treatment of Yeats’s “Leda and the Swan” (since withdrawn) aimed, misguidedly, to reflect the violence of the plot over the piercing elegance of the poem. Text invites creative crisis: the composer wants to do one thing; the text may not oblige. What to do. (More recent vocal pieces have avoided the problem altogether, opting for vocalise.)

The Conversation of Prayers represents my first return to text in some years. The task I set on here was to stay, as much as possible, out of the way of Dylan Thomas’s naturally musical cadence. Perhaps it should always be so. The vocal writing is straightforward: no words are repeated; rarely does the soprano romance any given syllable. The ensemble writing aims less towards narrative than for atmosphere.

Thomas’s text is haunting, evocative, transcendent. It doesn’t need much. It demands delicacy from the foolhardy composer, not the subjectivity that comes instinctively to us. The cool metallic sheen of the flute, vibraphone, crotales, cymbals; the warmth of the piano, cello, marimba; the harmonic hints at, and subsequent rejection of, Romantic excess: these components of the music aim to honor the text as it deserves.

Set me as a seal upon thine heart (2010)

for voice, violin, and electronics

The Quality of Mercy (2009)

for mezzo-soprano, flute/alto flute, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, cello, percussion, and electronics

Premiered May 5, 2009, by Sarah Kerman, mezzo-soprano; Andrea Fisher, flute; Boris Shpitalnik, clarinet; Yuri Namkung, violin; Dmitri Atapine, cello; Michael McCurdy, percussion; and Patrick Castillo, electronics, St. Bartholomew's Church, New York, NY

Moran Katz, bass clarinet; Karen Kim, violin; Hiro Matsuo, cello; Ian David Rosenbaum, percussion

The Quality of Mercy (Innova 926):

Composer's Note
The Quality of Mercy is a meditation on reconciliation. Thematic content derives from two primary sources: melodic material recalls medieval plainchant (in particular, the Kyrie from the Mass for Pentecost); and the overall structure and sonic environment represent a response to Portia's speech from Act IV of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. The work moreover explores the concept of reconciliation by integrating conflicting methods and materials. Live instruments cooperate directly with electronic media: much of the work's soundscape is organically constructed via live audio processing of acoustic events. Other dichotomies explored include indeterminate and aleatoric methods/through-composition; text/vocalise; abstraction/representation; et al. The Quality of Mercy consciously incorporates revised fragments of previous (and withdrawn) compositions and new explorations of old ideas. In this way, the work ultimately represents a personal statement of the creative artist's act of self-forgiveness.

This is the hour of lead (2007, rev. 2014)

for mezzo-soprano, flute/alto flute, string quartet, piano, and percussion

Premiered November 20, 2007, by Phillip Cheah, baritone/countertenor; Andrea Fisher, flute; Yuri Namkung & Arianna Warsaw-Fan, violins; William Hakim, viola; Adiel Shmit, cello; Craig Woodward, piano; Levy Lorenzo, percussion; and Christopher Baum, conductor, St. Bartholomew's Church, New York, NY

Abigail Fischer, mezzo-soprano; Jill Heinke, flute; Kristin Lee, Karen Kim, violins; Jessica Meyer, viola; Hiro Matsuo, cello; Lucille Chung, piano; Ian David Rosenbaum, percussion

The Quality of Mercy (Innova 926):