INSIDE Composers & the Voice – December 16th

January 16, 2014
C&V composer banner FinbergComposers & the Voice 2013-2014, Composer Fellow, Avner Finberg

For us, the C&V composers, each night of performances is an exciting event. Not just because of the anticipation of hearing our own work, but because we know our fellow composers and performers will give us exciting performances that we can use to further understand the possibilities of writing for the voices. The workshop on December 16th was one of those nights, featuring six different arias, each with it’s own unique text, character and technical challenges.

The first aria was Bedroom, by Guy Barash. Baritone Jorell Williams performed the complex score admirably well, with a great deal of accuracy and virtuosity. The leaps into the very bottom of the vocal range, along with restless rhythm, present a restless image of a man who is brought to the brink of madness when he is locked out of his house.


Bass-Baritone Matthew Burns sang my piece. The text for the aria “I don’t mind” is a personal view of a pedestrian of the gentrification of a neighbourhood in NYC, taken from the book Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton. Matthew captured the irony of the text in his offbeat, informal performance.

The third piece of the evening was Jeremy Gill’s lyrical rendering of the poem Darest Thou O Soul by Walt Whitman. Jeremy’s neo-romantic score was sung by Soprano Deborah Lifton, who gave a splendid performance that brought out the beauty of the text with a clear and beautiful tone.

After a short break the evening continued with Andreia Pinto-Correia’s This Time. Andreia’s aria is a study of the character of Alia, one of the characters in her opera project. Mezzo-Soprano Rachel Calloway sang the aria with a beautiful, majestic tone. The next piece was Gity Razaz’s Kale Chips. This light-hearted piece utilizes text from a cooking blog, which comically praises the wonders of Kale Chips. Both Gity’s text and mine are in the category of “Found Text”, taken from everyday sources that are not poetic or dramatic, such as newspapers, interviews or assembly instructions. Bass-Baritone, Matthew Burns, sang this song as well.

The final aria of the evening was by our composer-librettist team, Joseph Rubinstein and Jason Kim. Soprano Deborah Lifton sang the aria, A Letter to my Stepson in his Time of Grief. The text is adapted from Racine’s play Phedre, “A letter to my stepson in his time of grief”, in Jason’s words,  portrays a woman who confesses her love for her stepson after discovering that her husband has died. Joe’s music compliments the text with a virtuosic vocal line, and steady chords in the piano, that are well fitting for the text and it’s epic proportions.

The singers were accompanied by our wonderful pianists: Mila Henry for A Letter to my Stepson in his Time of Grief, Kelly Horsted for Bedroom, Darest Thou O Soul and Study on Alia, and Charity Wicks for I Don’t Mind and Kale Chips.

As always, we had an evening of exciting new vocal works in the C&V workshop, and I am already waiting in anticipation to hear the pieces in our next workshop on January 13th 2014.

-Avner Finberg

Composers & the Voice – Session 5, Nov. 7, 2011

November 28, 2011

Zach Redler, Guest Blogger
Composers & the Voice Composer Fellow, 2011-12

Hey all!

Here is the LONG overdue post from our session three weeks ago, at which our first compositions were brilliantly performed!  It is such a great honor and opportunity for us to have such a safe environment to present pieces that are fresh off the presses.  To be in the company of such a diverse and interesting group of voices (compositionally, lyrically and vocally) really made the night for me.  Slight disclaimer: I do not wish to act as critic or musicologist, but I do have that in my background, so that person will probably be present.  Please correct me or call me out on anything I get wrong.  Also, I hope everyone will add their own feelings about their performances.

We started with a pairing of pieces by Rachel Peters, performed by Justin Hopkins.  She was so smart and creative to take two completely different texts, one by Oskar Pastior and one by Walt Whitman, and unite them in such a comedic and dramatic way.  The former, “Dominotaurus,” is a setting of, basically, one extremely long word in which each subsequent syllable creates a new word.  So it was Rachel’s choice as to which syllable to stress where, which created a very compelling piece that kept our attention.  Her harmonic language is also clever and, though tonal, it uses a good deal of polytonality or harmonic independence, quoting different “styles” as she goes along to enhance the drama of the piece.  For example, setting a falsetto coloratura section in a simple, almost baroque fashion.  Her second piece, “To A Certain Civilian,” is set with a gentle swing, and cleverly comments on the first with lines like “Did you find what I sang erewhile so hard to follow?”  All in all, a great start to the evening.

Baritone Justin Hopkins sings at the Nov 7 C&V workshop session.

Second on the docket was my and Sara Cooper’s monodrama “Count To Ten.”  Now, normally asking a singer to prepare an eight-minute operatic monodrama when they are only supposed to prepare a three to five minute aria or art song may seem daunting, but Amy Shoremount-Obra really stepped up to the plate.  She took command of the character that Sara and I had created, a 39 year-old prostitute, and really embodied her as she sang about her daily life and her hopes and dreams of one day being alone with just her pimp boyfriend Joe, after he “takes care” of all of the Johns who now think she’s too old, of course.  I am happy to say that I learned a lot about what may work for one singer vs. another and how to be flexible in really chiseling a piece to a certain performer’s strengths.  Luckily, Amy has so many that it wasn’t difficult.

Next, I believe, was Ronnie Reshef’s moving arioso “Transport” from The Waiting Woman, performed by Andrea Arias Martin.  So gorgeous.  It begins with a lovely ostinato (almost a passacaglia) with a pedal C over which Andrea’s voice just hovers, describing being “transported” in a cargo train for eight days and night climaxing on a glorious Bb!  We talked, as we did with everyone, about the possible strengths of small tweaks here and there, such as possibly altering a few pitches and/or tempi to optimize Andrea’s power for the piece.  But, in my opinion, it was a really great arc of an aria that used an entirely syllabic setting in a very lyrical and dramatic way.

Penultimately (I like that word), we heard from Mikael Karlsson.  I really, really enjoy Mikael’s music…and I’m not necessarily one for what I would call “out-there tonal music”.  It doesn’t seem to be atonal because there is definite “line” and “harmonic” direction, but rarely is there much homophony to establish any kind of solid tonal structure.  Though, I may be pulling this out of my butt…maybe Mikael can describe his style a little better. “Internal” from Decoration, performed by Rebecca Ringle is a bit of a tour-de-force.  Though the text is set on pitches, it seems to serve a bit more aliatorically in that certain phrases and sentences are separated in order to create specific word emphasis, rather than complete sentence understanding, which works very well.  Mikael used some “extended” techniques like Sprechstimme and some almost “growling” type sounds, along with directions to “spit it out” or use straight tone (no vibrato).  However, when all is said and done, we come away from the piece feeling connected to this character he’s created and that Rebecca has well developed.

Finally, we ended the night with a piece by Sidney Marquez Boquiren and Daniel Neer called “Washington Square Park,” performed by Brandon Snook.  In what seems to be Sidney and Daniel’s voice, this piece seems to be all about the text.  Sidney does a wonderful job of keeping a musical momentum while allowing ample room for the text to speak in the hall.  I have not yet seen a piece of Sidney’s that uses barlines, which is so interesting to me.  He instead generously gives the performers space to interpret their aria in the most powerful way.  We discussed a little bit of the use of sitting in a tenor’s passaggio on a FF phrase.  And again, like any good collaboration, they came out with a slightly altered tempo that helped the piece come to life as both Sidney and Daniel had envisioned.

Thus ended a great night of new music.  I apologize again for anything I either forgot or got COMPLETELY wrong.  These are just my observations, and please feel free to comment, clarify or just scold me for my stupidity.

Yay new work.  Yay American Opera Projects!

Young Poets Inspire Opera, Opera Inspires Young Poets

August 6, 2010

On a hot summer morning, the Brooklyn Library’s Dweck Auditorium is filled with children (along with their parents and a few other adults) craning their necks to watch five of their fellow students, one by one, take the stage and recite poetry. Not just any poetry, but their own. Poetry that talked about loving Brooklyn, about hating Brooklyn, about being shy, about being ambitious, about looking good in a dress, about living large in a mansion. Moments after these five students, ranging in ages from 6 to 13, had finished reading – some shyly, some proudly, all bravely – they took their seats and all watched as  mezzo-soprano Nicole Mitchell and pianist Kelly Horsted walked on the stage. A few seconds later they heard the poetry again, this time expressed in powerful song.

IHAS at the Dweck Auditorium

I Hear America Singing at the Dweck Auditorium, July 19, 2010. (l. to r. The Walt Whitman Project Artistic Director Greg Trupiano, poet Tyler Forsythe, poetry mentor Angeli Rasbury, poet Tristan Regist, composer Gilda Lyons, poet Keanu Stowe, poet Alexis Cummings, AOP General Director Charles Jarden, mother Angeline Keller, poet Samori Covington, pianist Kelly Horsted, singer Nicole Mitchell)

This was I Hear America Singing, the initiative by American Opera Projects and the Walt Whitman Project to transform the words of ordinary Americans into opera, and its first two song cycles composed by Gilda Lyons – “Songs from the F Train,” premiered in June 2009, and “Songs from the A Train,” premiered on this summer morning July 19, 2010 at the Dweck Auditorium, with all but one of the six young poets in attendance.

Among the enraptured faces was Mr. Jim Vogel, Spokesperson for State Senator Velmanette Montgomery whose district covers a huge swath of Brooklyn from Ocean Hill to Fort Greene and down to Sunset Park.  Mr. Vogel was proud to tell everyone that these young poets were to going to be recognized by the NY State Legislature for their hard work and inspirational voices. The students smiled to learn how far their voices had traveled and how many people had been listening. (And to learn how politics work. They would have been officially presented with this recognition that morning in the form of a framed Proclamation… but Albany first had to complete their months-delayed budget.)

Later, their writing mentor Angeli Rasbury asked the students to express themselves yet again, but this time with a focus on what they felt when they heard Ms. Mitchell, a Brooklyn native herself, sing.

When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I hear a talented opera voice in my ears.
I feel very happy to hear her beautiful voice singing, letting all her emotions out.
I hear and see the birds flying high.
I hear the crickets singing and the butterfly flying joyfully through the sky.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell I look back in the days when black people were slaves singing and working hard to get their freedom.
I imagine Nicole back there in time singing to her freedom, singing when will she be free.
When I hear that song it makes me feel proud of black people, of how far we have come,  to this stage right now. When I hear people like Nicole Mitchell, my day keeps getting better and better.
–  Rood Dorestil, 13 years old

When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I feel happy and think I’m in heaven.
I hear trees whistling in the breeze.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell, I can imagine different colored flowers moving slowly from side to side.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I am joyful.
I feel like a red leaf.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I feel like I am in beautiful, lush Barbados.
I feel Nicole Mitchell is a beautiful singer.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, she sounds excited to be alive.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I feel free.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I feel like a pretty slave who has been freed.
–    Aliah Gilkes, 10 years old

master tell me i’m his slave
no i say i’m a flow of music
i’m not a slave
don’t believe such foolishness of your white community
i hear the the voices of opera
and feel the beat of opera
i hear the piano of the flat boards
that used to be teeth
the loud voices saying
you go girl
that my people is pure music!
–  Eva Taylor, 9 years old

This is only the beginning of I Hear America Singing. In the 2010-11 season AOP will branch out with new performances and new songs. There are many voices yet to be heard. Visit throughout the year to discover when and where to hear them.

Staniland goes “Blue” for Continuum

December 8, 2009
Andrew Staniland

Andrew Staniland

C&V alumnus Andrew Staniland will have his song  “Blue” (2008) presented as part of Continuum’s  first concert of  its 44th New York season – NORTHERN EXPOSURES: Canadian Music – The New Individualists.  The concert is Tuesday, December 8, 7 PM, at Americas Society, 680 Park Avenue at 68th Street.

“Blue,” based on a moving poem of Walt Whitman, will be sung by mezzo-soprano, Abigail Fischer. The piece was developed during Andrew’s residency during the 2007-08 Composers & the Voice program at AOP with Fischer premiering the song.

Tickets and info…

Whitman in Song travels up the Hudson

October 7, 2008
Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

This evening we will be performing our Walt Whitman in Song program in a special presentation for The Rockefeller Brothers Fund at Pocantico, the estate of John D. Rockefeller and home of Kykuit. We will be adding a new song to the program, premiering tonight – Gilda Lyons’s “Old Walt”, an a cappella piece for trio commissioned by AOP.

Walt Whitman in Song at Pocantico
Greg Trupiano, Walt Whitman Project, emcee
Kelly Horsted, music director and keyboard
Donna Smith, soprano
Adrienne Danrich, soprano
Matt Curran, bass

I C&V composers settings of Whitman texts:
“the silvery round moon” – Ray Lustig; (Donna)
“When lilacs last by the dooryard bloomed” – Jack Perla (Adrienne)
Wallabout Martyrs – Gilda Lyons, (Adrienne)
“O Me! O Life!” – Clint Borzoni (Matt)
“Old Walt” (Langston Hughs text) Gilda Lyons (Trio)

II Other composers with texts about or related to Whitman themes:
Aids Quilt song, deBlasio; Whitman text (Matt)
Star Spangled Banner with unpublished words by Whitman (Donna)
Hymn – “ My Days are Swiftly gliding by” Whitman weaves into “Speciman Days” (Donna)

III Other song texts with themes related to Whitman themes:
“Lady of the Harbor” – Lee Hoiby (Adrienne)
“Black Max,” Bill Bolcom (Matt)
“Jewel Song” from Gounod’s FAUST (Adrienne)
Duet from Mozart’s GIOVANNI (Adrienne and Matt)

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