World Premiere of “Blue Shadows, Silver Sunlight” by Boston Choral Ensemble

Snow-covered field with tree shadows
Photograph: Nell Shaw Cohen, Taos, New Mexico, 2019

Saturday, December 14, 3:00pm
Boston Choral Ensemble Holiday Concert
Old South Church
645 Boylston St, Boston, MA
Purchase Tickets

Boston Choral Ensemble will give the World Premiere of Blue Shadows, Silver Sunlight—commissioned through their 12th Annual Commission Competition—on the choir’s annual winter holiday concert!

Blue Shadows, Silver Sunlight (ca. 9 minutes) features settings of three poems on the theme of winter: “Winter Branches” by Margaret Widdemer, “A Winter Blue Jay” by Sara Teasdale, and “A Winter Ride” by Amy Lowell, all written in the early 20th century by American women.

Each of these poets used vivid descriptions of winter phenomena to convey moments of profound connection to the natural world. I’ve grouped these poems together because I feel they form an aesthetically cohesive set, providing the basis for a musical narrative arc that moves from quiet contemplation (“Winter Branches”) to joyful exuberance (“A Winter Ride”).

I hope you may be able to join me at this very special performance!

New Recording! “Transform the World with Beauty” for Vocal Ensemble

GRAMMY Award-nominated vocal ensemble Skylark gave absolutely stunning premiere performances of my work Transform the World with Beauty, which they commissioned for their Spring 2019 program “Masterpiece” featuring musical reflections of visual art. They recorded my piece during their tour’s culminating concert on the Georgetown Concert Series in Washington, D.C.

In the following video, I’ve paired the ensemble’s recording with texts and images from the Victorian artists and poets—Julia Margaret Cameron, Christina Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and William Morris—who inspired my composition.

Watch below (or on YouTube here), and continue reading for my notes about this work.


video credits

Performed by Skylark Vocal Ensemble (Matthew Guard, Artistic Director). Audio Recording by Dan Shores. Video Editing by Nell Shaw Cohen.

ABOUT THE Work

Transform the World with Beauty, an 11-minute work for SATB vocal ensemble in three movements, is inspired by the flowering of visual art and poetry in Victorian Britain during the 1840s-1870s.

Julia Margaret Cameron, "Pomona," 1872

The first movement, “My First Camera,” celebrates avant-garde photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. In my adaptation of an excerpt from Cameron’s autobiography, this pioneering artist describes the power of her creative impulse when she first took up the camera as a 48-year-old wife and mother. (Image: Julia Margaret Cameron, “Pomona,” 1872.)

“In an Artist’s Studio” is a setting of a poem by Christina Rossetti. She offers an incisive, feminist critique of her brother, Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and his obsessive depictions of an idealized woman. (Image: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “The Annunciation” (detail), 1849.)

William Morris, "Strawberry Thief" wallpaper design, 1883

The final, title movement is inspired by the work and ideas of William Morris. The botanical and mythological titles of Morris’ sensuous textiles and wallpaper designs are juxtaposed with lofty sentiments from his philosophical lectures and essays. These two strands of Morris’ world, disparate at first, come together into a hopeful vision of society “transformed” through the beauty of nature and art. (Image: William Morris, “Strawberry Thief” wallpaper design, 1883.)

Boston Choral Ensemble Awards Nell Commission

BCE logoI’m thrilled to have been named winner of Boston Choral Ensemble’s 12th Annual Commission Competition to write a work for their annual holiday concert! It’s a great honor to have been awarded this highly competitive opportunity to continue expanding my work in choral and vocal ensemble music.

My planned work, Blue Shadows, Silver Sunlight, will feature poems by early 20th century American poets Margaret Widdemer, Sara Teasdale, and Amy Lowell, each of which use vivid descriptions of winter phenomena to convey moments of profound connection to the natural world.

Stayed tuned for an announcement of the World Premiere performance this December in Boston, MA!

Skylark Premieres “Transform the World with Beauty”

Skylark Vocal Ensemble group photoSkylark Vocal Ensemble. Photo: Sasha Greenhalgh.

I am thrilled that brilliant GRAMMY Award-nominated vocal ensemble Skylark will premiere my work Transform the World with Beauty on April 4, 5, 6, and 7 during their tour of Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.! Concert details are listed below.

​Skylark is one of the leading vocal ensembles in the U.S., praised for their “awe-inspiring” performances (Boston Music Intelligencer), and their “original” (BBC Radio 3), “imaginative” (Limelight Australia), and “engrossing” (WQXR NYC) programming.

Skylark commissioned me to write a piece for their program Masterpiece, offering musical reflections and reactions to the visual arts. Transform the World with Beauty, an 11-minute work in three movements, is inspired by the flowering of visual art and poetry in Victorian Britain during the 1840s-1870s.

Julia Margaret Cameron, "Pomona," 1872

The first movement, “My First Camera,” celebrates avant-garde photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. In my adaptation of an excerpt from Cameron’s autobiography, this pioneering artist describes the power of her creative impulse when she first took up the camera as a 48-year-old wife and mother. (Image: Julia Margaret Cameron, “Pomona,” 1872.)

“In an Artist’s Studio” is a setting of a poem by Christina Rossetti. She offers an incisive, feminist critique of her brother, Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and his obsessive depictions of an idealized woman. (Image: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “The Annunciation” (detail), 1849.)

William Morris, "Strawberry Thief" wallpaper design, 1883

The final, title movement is inspired by the work and ideas of William Morris. The botanical and mythological titles of Morris’ sensuous textiles and wallpaper designs are juxtaposed with lofty sentiments from his philosophical lectures and essays. These two strands of Morris’ world, disparate at first, come together into a hopeful vision of society “transformed” through the beauty of nature and art. (Image: William Morris, “Strawberry Thief” wallpaper design, 1883.)

Transform the World with Beauty will be recorded during Skylark’s tour, and I look forward to sharing it with you all! Sadly, I can’t attend the Massachusetts dates myself, but I’m thrilled to hear the concert in D.C. See the links below and visit Skylark’s website for more information.

THURSDAY, APRIL 4, 2019 AT 7:00PM
Fitchburg State University, Fitchburg, MA
Tickets

FRIDAY, APRIL 5, 2019 AT 7:00PM
Gloucester Meeting House, Gloucester, MA
Tickets

SATURDAY, APRIL 6, 2019 AT 3:00PM
Cole Memorial Chapel, Wheaton College, Norton, MA
Tickets

SUNDAY, APRIL 7, 2019 AT 4:00PM
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Georgetown Parish, Washington DC
Tickets

“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.