25 X 25: Twenty-Five Premieres for Twenty-Five Years

Our 25th-anniversary recording has been released on the Soundbrush Records label!

25 X 25: Twenty-Five Premieres for Twenty-Five Years.

David Felder: “Nomina sunt consequentia rerum”

David Felder

David Felder

David Felder received the 2010 Music Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and currently serves as the Birge-Cary Chair in Composition at SUNY, Buffalo, where he has served as Ph.D. dissertation advisor for nearly 50 composers.  Felder also holds several Artistic Directorships, among them that of the “June in Buffalo” Festival (1985-present) and the Slee Sinfonietta (1996-present).  Felder’s music has been recorded on the Bridge, Mode, EMF, and Albany labels.

Felder has received grants and commissions from numerous entities including the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, Guggenheim, two Koussevitzky commissions, two Fromm Foundation Fellowships, two awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, a Meet the Composer “New Residencies” (1993-1996) composer residency with the Buffalo Philharmonic, and two commissions from the Mary Flagler Cary Trust.  Recent commissions include Le Quatre Temps Cardinaux for soprano Laura Aikin, bass Ethan Herschenfeld, large chamber ensemble/orchestra (BMOP, Signal, and Slee Sinfonietta) and electronics on texts of Neruda, Creeley, Gioia, and Daumal for the Koussevitky Foundation, and ensemble works commissioned by Neo Norbotten of Sweden, Norway’s Cikada Ensemble, the New York New Music Ensemble, Talujon Percussion Ensemble, and The New York Virtuoso Singers.

With Nomina sunt consequentia rerum (“names are the consequences of things”) for The New York Virtuoso Singers, Felder has written an invocation to guardian angels, based on a text from Dante’s In La Vita Nuovo:

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God gives me an angel.

In the sight of the angels, I sing to thee.

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Felder explains: “When reflecting upon the impressive and odds-defying anniversary of one Harold Rosenbaum and his elite group of singers, it is clear to observe that in the face of all manner of difficulties that arise in persevering, full employment of requisite guardian angels is an absolute imperative.”  In this meditative work, Felder employs German and Latin texts associated with the autumnal “feast of the guardian angels,” using words referring to the presence of light (lux, lumine, luceat).  Felder concludes the work with one full line of text: “in conspecto angelorum psallam tibi” (“in the sight of the angels we sing to thee”).

For more on David Felder and his music, go to: http://www.music.buffalo.edu/faculty/felder/

The New York Virtuoso Singers and Harold Rosenbaum will perform the world premiere of Nomina sunt consequentia rerum at Merkin Concert Hall in New York on Sunday, March 3, 2013.  For more information and to purchase tickets, go to: http://www.kaufmanmusiccenter.org/mch/event/the-new-york-virtuoso-singers1

© 2013 Suzanne Schwing.  Used by permission.

Richard Wernick: “The Devil’s Game”

Richard Wernick

Richard Wernick

Richard Wernick (b. 1934 in Boston, Massachusetts) has won numerous honors for his compositions, including the 1977 Pulitzer Prize in Music and awards from the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Institute for Arts and Letters, and the National Endowment for the Arts.  He is the only two-time First Prize recipient (1986 and 1991) of the Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards.  He was also the Classical Recording Foundation’s 2006 Composer of the Year, an award which funded an all-Wernick CD on the Bridge label.

Wernick has served on the faculties of SUNY Buffalo, the University of Chicago, and at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was Magnin Professor of Humanities until his retirement in 1996.  Wernick was Consultant for Contemporary Music for the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1983 to 1989,  later serving as Special Consultant to Music Director Riccardo Muti from 1989 to 1993.  His broad reach as a composer includes works for theater, film, ballet, and television, as well as a sizeable catalog of compositions for voice, chorus, band, chamber group, and orchestra.

In a 1993 telephone interview with Bruce Duffie, Wernick spoke to the joys and sorrows of writing for the voice:

“The joys are the fact that the human voice is the most glorious instrument of all. I have found that dealing with the emotive quality of text and dealing directly with singers has always been an incredibly satisfying experience for me. One of the difficulties — not sorrows — of writing for voice is that if you write music which is fairly difficult, as mine is, there are probably a limited number of singers who are going to be able to do the music.”

For The New York Virtuoso Singers, Wernick has composed The Devil’s Game, which he subtitles as “a brief meditation on “The Devil’s Verse,” a short text of uncertain origin:

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in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni

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Wernick describes The Devil’s Verse as a text which “does not surrender its meaning easily,” adding that “it is a riddle as well as a palindrome, in other words, a puzzle within a puzzle.  My preferred translation, without going into the niceties of Latin grammar, is ‘We enter the circle at night and are consumed by fire.’”

In The Devil’s Game, Wernick sets this intriguing text into a musical palindrome, in which the homophonic structure of the outer segments encases a brief double canon, turning at its center upon a single statement of the riddle by the basses.

For more on Richard Wernick and his music, go to: http://www.presser.com/composers/info.cfm?name=richardwernick

The New York Virtuoso Singers and Harold Rosenbaum will perform the world premiere of The Devil’s Game at Merkin Concert Hall in New York on Sunday, March 3, 2013.  For more information and to purchase tickets, go to: http://www.kaufmanmusiccenter.org/mch/event/the-new-york-virtuoso-singers1

© 2013 Suzanne Schwing.  Used by permission.

Roger Davidson: “Song to Celia”

Roger Davidson

Roger Davidson

Composer and pianist Roger Davidson was born in Paris to a French mother and an American father, and moved with his family to New York City a year later.  Originally a self-taught musician, Davidson earned his Master’s degree in composition from Boston University, where he studied with David Del Tredici and Theodore Antoniu.

Although Davidson is perhaps best known for his work as a jazz pianist influenced by a wide variety of styles including tango, Brazilian music, and klezmer, Davidson gives choral music a special place in his life as a composer.  In his online biography, he explains, “I realized early on that any choral music I’d write had to have a message of unity and aspiration that included all humanity. This was not about one faith. This was about celebrating what we all have in common, not what separates us.”  This led him to found the Society for Universal Sacred Music (SUSM), “with the mission of creating a repertoire of music to express the unity of God and especially His unconditional love for all humanity.”

As Founder and President of SUSM, Davidson has enjoyed a long association with The New York Virtuoso Singers and Harold Rosenbaum.  Davidson is also Founder and Executive Producer of Soundbrush Records, on which The New York Virtuoso Singers will release two CDs in the Fall of 2013, including all 25 newly-commissioned works written in honor of the group’s 25th anniversary this season.

Included in this season’s 25 world-premiere choral works is Davidson’s Song to Celia, a new setting of Ben Jonson’s iconic 16th-century poem:

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Drink to me only with thine eyes,

And I will pledge with mine;

Or leave a kiss but in the cup,

And I’ll not look for wine.

The thirst that from the soul doth rise

Doth ask a drink divine;

But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,

I would not change for thine.

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I sent thee late a rosy wreath,

Not so much honouring thee

As giving it a hope, that there

It could not withered be.

But thou thereon didst only breathe,

And sent’st it back to me;

Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,

Not of itself, but thee.

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With Song to Celia, Davidson offers a sweet and tender setting, which begins with four-part men’s chorus before blossoming through a canonic section into the full SATB choral texture.  Davidson’s lilting 6/4 time signature evokes memories of a simpler time, while allowing Jonson’s poetry to speak for itself.

For more on Roger Davidson and his music, go to: http://www.rogerdavidsonmusic.net/

The New York Virtuoso Singers and Harold Rosenbaum will perform the world premiere of Song to Celia at Merkin Concert Hall in New York on Sunday, March 3, 2013.  For more information and to purchase tickets, go to: http://www.kaufmanmusiccenter.org/mch/event/the-new-york-virtuoso-singers1

© 2013 Suzanne Schwing.  Used by permission.

Joseph Schwantner: “Smoke”

Joseph Schwantner

Joseph Schwantner

Winner of the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Music, Joseph Schwantner is one of the most prolific American composers active today.  Schwantner’s style is known for its dramatic impact, eclecticism, and masterful use of orchestral color.  In addition to the Pulitzer, among Schwantner’s other honors are a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Bearns Prize, and several Grammy nominations.  Schwantner is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Schwantner’s vast catalog of works is deeply intertwined with and influenced by poetry.  As he told an interviewer for the Ford Made in America project, “Throughout my life, poetry has also been a source of great inspiration in my own work, and there’s hardly a piece that I’ve written that has somehow not had some connection with poetry.”

Schwantner composed Smoke for The New York Virtuoso Singers on a poem by Henry David Thoreau, from Walden:

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Light-winged Smoke, Icarian bird,

Melting thy pinions in thy upward flight,

Lark without song, and messenger of dawn,

Circling above the hamlets as thy nest;

Or else, departing dream, and shadowy form

Of midnight vision, gathering up thy skirts;

By night star-veiling, and by day

Darkening the light and blotting out the sun;

Go thou my incense upward from this hearth,

And ask the gods to pardon this clear flame.

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In Smoke, Schwantner shapes a gently undulating aural portrait of tendrils of smoke rising to the heavens, using both finely-crafted rhythmic complexity and rich tonalities to evoke Thoreau’s peaceful imagery.

Schwantner, who lives in the hills of rural New Hampshire, points to Thoreau’s writings as a “fertile source of spiritual and poetic nourishment that has helped shape the mood, character, and direction” of his music.  Several of Schwantner’s recent works have been informed or inspired by Thoreau’s pen, including “Thoreau Songs” for contralto and baroque string quartet, and his orchestral works “Morning’s Embrace” and “Chasing Light.”

For more from Joseph Schwantner on the subject of inspiration and new music, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gV-7MReJ_Wc&playnext=1&list=PL30DB46FED12787C8&feature=results_main

You can also visit his website at www.schwantner.net for more on his compositions and recordings.

The New York Virtuoso Singers and Harold Rosenbaum will perform the world premiere of Smoke at Merkin Concert Hall in New York on Sunday, March 3, 2013.  For more information and to purchase tickets, go to: http://www.kaufmanmusiccenter.org/mch/event/the-new-york-virtuoso-singers1

© 2013 Suzanne Schwing.  Used by permission.

The New York Virtuoso Singers: Celebrating 25 Years!

Harold Rosenbaum

Harold Rosenbaum

For 25 years, The New York Virtuoso Singers have been on the vanguard of contemporary choral music in America.  Founded by conductor Harold Rosenbaum in 1988, The New York Virtuoso Singers have premiered well over 350 new choral works, and have commissioned over 50 works to date – 25 for the 2012-2013 season alone.

When he founded The New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbaum had already been conducting his Canticum Novum Singers for 15 years, in repertoire ranging from Bach and Handel to Bruckner, Fauré, and Rorem.  What inspired Harold to create The New York Virtuoso Singers, and to make contemporary choral music the primary focus of the group?

Harold took time out before a rehearsal in early February 2012 to tell us how it all started:

Harold Rosenbaum: What happened was, I was asked by Lukas Foss, who was the conductor of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra at the time, to start a professional choir to perform in the “Meet the Moderns” series that the Brooklyn Philharmonic held regularly at the Cooper Union, and the piece I was to prepare and conduct was the American premiere of Hans Werner Henze’s Orpheus Behind the Wire.  And Lukas wanted to call the group The Brooklyn Philharmonic Singers, so that’s how we came into existence.  There were 16 singers and we performed it – it was a BEAUTIFUL piece, one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve ever had the privilege to conduct – and after that, the series ceased to exist after many years, and I just said to myself, “Boy, I really have to work with a professional choir again.”  So I started The New York Virtuoso Singers.

Suzanne Schwing: In his New York Times review of the October 2012 concert at Merkin Concert Hall, Anthony Tommasini said, “It takes confidence for an ensemble to put the word ‘virtuoso’ in its name.” How did the name of The New York Virtuoso Singers come about?

HR:  I thought it would call attention to the group.  Nowadays, people aren’t naming groups like this anymore – they go on the subway and they look at the sign that says if you open this door, “alarm will sound,” so they name their group Alarm Will Sound.  I mean, really clever names – Bang On A Can – so who knows what I would have come up with if I named the group something now?  I just thought, “This group is going to be so spectacular,” and I thought of that concept of putting something so striking in the title, so I named it The New York Virtuoso Singers.  And that’s the level of people that we have in the group.

SS: Did you focus on contemporary music with The New York Virtuoso Singers right away, or was this a gradual development?

HR: Well, when I first started the group, I just wanted to do so many pieces that I knew and had done before, but with an amateur group.  So the first few years, we did everything – we did Renaissance, and spirituals, and Milhaud, and just threw all these pieces together.  And actually one of the critics – we’ve always gotten very good reviews, obviously, from the press – but one critic did mention the strange hodge-podge of pieces, and then I just started realizing that the group’s real strength is the contemporary music, and started doing more and more of that.  It turns out now that we really have found a niche and I really have focused almost exclusively on contemporary music… and here we are, 25 years later, going strong still.

The New York Virtuoso Singers and Harold Rosenbaum, performing in Merkin Concert Hall in New York City on October 21, 2012.  (Photo by Richard Termine for the New York Times)

The New York Virtuoso Singers and Harold Rosenbaum with Brent Funderburk, piano, performing in Merkin Concert Hall in New York City on October 21, 2012. (Photo by Richard Termine for the New York Times)

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of The New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbaum has commissioned new works from 25 of the top composers currently active today.  In October of 2012, Harold and The New York Virtuoso Singers performed 12 of these world-premiere works at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City.  Featured on that program were pieces commissioned from Bruce Adolphe, Chen Yi, John Corigliano, David Del Tredici, John Harbison, Stephen Hartke, Jennifer Higdon, Fred Lerdahl, Shulamit Ran, Stephen Stucky, George Tsontakis, and Yehudi Wyner.

On Sunday, March 3, 2013, Harold and The New York Virtuoso Singers will continue the celebration at Merkin Concert Hall with 13 more world premieres, featuring specially-commissioned works by Mark Adamo, William Bolcom, Richard Danielpour, Roger Davidson, David Felder, Aaron Jay Kernis, David Lang, Thea Musgrave, Joseph Schwantner, Augusta Read Thomas, Joan Tower, Richard Wernick, and Ellen Taafe Zwilich.

For more information and to purchase tickets, go to:

http://www.kaufmanmusiccenter.org/mch/event/the-new-york-virtuoso-singers1

Stay with us as we lead up to the March 2013 concert with feature articles on several of the 13 composers commissioned for this program.   Next time, we’ll meet Joseph Schwantner, who composed Smoke “to The New York Virtuoso Singers for their 25th anniversary.”

– © 2013 Suzanne Schwing.  Used by permission.