Selections from “Nine Muses” to be presented in masterclass with John Heiss

Elizabeth Erenberg
Elizabeth Erenberg

Flutist Elizabeth Erenberg will be participating in a masterclass with the renowned flutist, composer, and conductor John Heiss this Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 6:00pm at New England Conservatory (in Jordan Hall room 118), presenting three solo pieces from my Nine Muses, a set of works inspired by the muses of Greek mythology (the other six “muses” were composed for harp and violin; listen here).

Elizabeth will be performing Nine Muses on a recital program centered on music relating to Greek mythology, which she will presenting in Los Angeles this summer, and Boston in the fall. Her recital program will be funded by an Entrepreneurial Grant from NEC (learn more about her project).

“Triptych” for guitar

My newest piece, a work for solo classical guitar, Triptych, will receive its premiere on Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 at 8:00pm in Williams Hall at New England Conservatory (290 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA, 02115).

A 13th c. triptych from France
A French 13th c. triptych

Triptych (pronounced “trip-tik”) is a term from visual art describing an artwork divided into three sections that are displayed as a group. Triptych structures have appeared in a variety of genres of art, including Japanese woodblock prints, and they were especially popular in European Medieval and early Renaissance religious art. European triptychs were usually painted or carved wood or ivory panels connected by hinges for standing or folding, and would have two narrow panels flanking a larger, contrasting middle panel.

My three-movement piece for solo guitar reflects this structural model. The first movement parallels the third in overall tempo, density, tonality, and duration, and contains similar musical devices (e.g., the ongoing use of droning upper strings). The middle movement is somewhat longer, slower, sparser, and more lyrical.

Devin Ulibarri
Devin Ulibarri

As a former rock guitarist with some (minimal) experience with classical guitar performance, I chose to compose most of this piece on the instrument in order to achieve an idiomatic, “guitaristic” effect that would take advantage of the resonance of the open strings and explore the full register of the instrument.

Triptych was composed for guitarist Devin Ulibarri (visit his blog, or listen to his music here). We collaborated throughout the creation of the piece, and Devin has encouraged and guided me since well before I had written a note. Thanks to our teachers, composer/guitarists Michael Gandolfi and John Mallia and guitarist Eliot Fisk, who are working with us on the development of this performance.

“I Dream’d in a Dream” performed by the New Music Vocal Chamber Ensemble

The New England Conservatory New Music Vocal Chamber Ensemble, a group of young singers dedicated to performing works written by composers at NEC, gave a gorgeous premiere performance on April 6 of selections from my three-movement Walt Whitman setting I Dream’d in a Dream for SATB. This was the first performance by the sixteen-piece ensemble, and hopefully not the last time that we will collaborate!

Click the titles of the movements to hear mp3s of this performance:

I. Dream’d in a Dream
II. Think of the Soul (not performed)
III. Among the Multitude

Read the texts while you listen, and check out my previous post about setting the poetry of Whitman to music.

The NEC New Music Vocal Chamber Ensemble
The NEC New Music Vocal Chamber Ensemble (click to enlarge)

Setting the poetry of Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman

Newly completed three-movement cycle for SATB choir or vocal ensemble, I Dream’d in a Dream, is a setting of selections from Walt Whitman’s poetic masterpiece Leaves of Grass (1855). The first and third movements of the set will be premiered this Wednesday at New England Conservatory in Boston, MA. This will also be the first performance by an ensemble of young singers dedicated to the realization of newly-composed music: the NEC New Music Vocal Chamber Ensemble.

I am far from the first composer to set Whitman to music, and for good reason. His works have a directness and a universality that refuse to show their age, and speak to the reader (or listener) with a kind of emotional clarity and honesty that is, in my opinion, irresistibly appealing. The gentle wit and undying idealism that shine through the verses of Leaves of Grass allow the bold, declamatory quality of Whitman’s voice to ring true.

Although I previously set a poem from Leaves as an art song for baritone and piano (Laws for Creations), I’ve been wanting to write a choral piece with texts from Whitman for years, and until now had never quite managed to realize my vision of what this poetry should sound and feel like in a choral setting. It seems this creative impulse had, like many, a necessary gestation period. When I sat down to compose music last February for these particular poems, it clicked. The piece (about 11 minutes in duration) was begun and completed in less than two weeks.

I chose to set three poems on distinct but complementary topics: the title piece, I Dream’d in a Dream, is a vision of peace (“I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth; / I dream’d that was the new City of Friends; / Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love“); Think of the Soul, a list of incitations to contemplation that cover the gamut of earthly and spiritual experience (“Think of the soul… think of loving and being loved… think of the time when you were not yet born…“) and resolve with a humanist affirmation (“The creation is womanhood… / Have I not told how the universe has nothing better than the best womanhood?“); and Among the Multitude, a love song to the “one” who finds a kindred spirit amongst the crowds of people (“Some are baffled–but that one is not–that one knows me.”)

These poems possess a unique combination of qualities–reflective, declamatory, muscular–which I attempted to reflect in my setting. However, this poetry is broad enough for each reader to understand in an entirely personal way. And although my piece comes from my own subjective interpretation, I also hope that listeners of my music will be able to see themselves and their own experience reflected in it.

If you’re in town, come check out the premiere of the first and third movements of I Dream’d in a Dream performed by the New Music Vocal Chamber Ensemble on Wednesday, April 6th, at 8:00pm in Brown Hall at New England Conservatory (290 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA, 02115). The piece will be featured on a brief program of works by composers studying at NEC, including pieces for soprano and piano, jazz ensemble, and euphonium quartet. The concert is free and open to the public.