Concert Program Notes

Brightwork newmusic • Thursday, February 22, 2024


 

The Garden Song (2023) | JONATHON GRASSE

Jonathon Grasse’s The Garden Song (2022-23) incorporates a 2021 poem of the same name and is the fourth of his series of compositions written for Brightwork and Aron Kallay that began in 2017. Using thematic and stylistic fragmentation, these pieces present freely chromatic languages and rhythmic tensions suggestive of improvisation. Here, expressionistic coloring of words and phrases resolves toward song-like simplicity and repeated melodic themes, a general pattern shared by the other works in which sectional and freely chromatic passages of non-developmental music lead to formal closing statements marked by tonal centers and minimalist ideas. The text draws sometimes surreal parallels between imagesof a garden, senses of time, and human fragility. - Jonathon Grasse

 

The Garden Song

Bright pale-green hedges whistle generous scents

tall edges of a garden cultivated by happy thieves

where rhythmic steps and loose scrapings of a rake awaken fossils

marking scattershot apparitions of dawn

 

Inhale/exhale meters of shifting sunlight

share hues among faint damp hisses and consonant drips

flowing eyes, ears, over paths brightening with warmth,

sounds explore quiet jewels, deep blue and fiery red

 

Unhinged strata of our old footprints, webs of desiccated twigs

strewn about flower beds, mossy flat grey steppingstones

slow-motion shadows inflate into thoughtful shapes

behind colors swaying in the tempi of afternoon breeze

 

Blind drone of tiny, deaf lives speaks with bald-faced clarity

enveloped by the gradual wealth of nocturnal tableaux

a soon resting darkness silently grounded under ivory moon’s eye

translating dream languages of night’s nothingness

 

Fecund enclosure’s promise of embrace – a place never quite forlorn,

forever cool to hocketing seasonal whispers, decay’s “goodbye,”

and the welcoming, misty “hello” of nourished rebirth,

a changeling’s laughter and tears beneath indifferent stars

 

I Mary, Mary By Herself for piano, cello, and voice (2024) | PAMELA MADSEN

The Opera America and National Endowment for the Arts awarded Why Women Went West (2022-2023) explores controversies over human rights, water wars, early 20th-century feminist artist communities through the life of Mary Hunter Austin. Writer, feminist, conservationist, and defender of Native American and Spanish-American rights, Austin's quest, trauma, and journey uncovered dark mysticism in the American Southwest. Resonating with concerns over marginalization of indigenous cultures, desecration of women, nature, and women's escape from conventions through their artistic agency, this work reveals ongoing trauma of woman's quest for autonomy. A complex, problematic story of coming to terms with one’s self as a woman in society, Why Women Went West chronicles Mary Austin’s escape from persecution to transformation of white woman’s privilege and passion for preservation of nature, history, and indigenous culture.

“I Mary, Mary by Herself” is an aria for soprano, cello and piano),  a multi-media chamber opera in which two voices—I, Mary (soprano) and Mary by Herself, (recorded voice of soprano/spoken voice/electronics) tells the unfolding narrative of a sole woman protagonist and her journey west. Fourteen songs comprise the two-part narrative; with empathy, ritual, and passion they trace Mary’s experiences from her youth in a Midwest small town in late 19th century to her pioneer days in California, and finally to her wild west days in New Mexico where she eventually confronts death and overcomes the challenges that have plagued her throughout her life. Mary struggles with her decision to abandon her disabled daughter, her abusive and absent husband. She struggles with  the conflicting voices in her head, she finally resolves to escape and find herself on her own, as a writer.  -Pamela Madsen

 

The Illusion of Permanence (2020, arr. 2023) | RAJNA SWAMINATHAN

This piece traces the journey of a song through the embodied memory. The song— "Pyaare darshan dijo ay," by the 16th century Bhakti saint-poet Meera Bai — was one I enjoyed singing as a child with my late mother Lalitha (1958-2010). Over time, the song faded from my conscious memory. Many years later, I encountered it again through an old tape recording of me and my sibling Anjna eagerly singing along with our mom, when we were probably 4-5 years old. An uncanny feeling arose as I listened, and the song gently haunted me for several months, drawing out forgotten melodies I had composed in my youth. It felt as though the song had somehow lived on within me, and it inspired a process of creative remembering that led to this piece. "The illusion of permanence" felt like the best way to encapsulate the simultaneous sense of loss, continuity, and renewal in the way our bodies remember sound, in the ways sounds resonate with us over time.

While the original piece featured me as a soloist, the process of creating this new arrangement for Brightwork invited me to revisit what this piece means to me today and entrust it to others. While maintaining the episodic nature of the piece, its specific softnesses and intensities, performers are invited to shape their own presence and journey among the gestures and textures.

The Illusion of Permanence (2020) was originally commissioned by the LA Phil as part of the Green Umbrella Series. - Rajna Swaminathan

 

Scorpio (2016) | ADAM BORECKI

Strengths: Loyal, Passionate, Resourceful, Observant, Dynamic. Weaknesses: Jealous, Obsessive, Suspicious, Manipulative, Unyielding.

My interpretation of "Scorpio" from Stockhausen's Tierkreis is based on two aspects of the original melody. The first comes strictly from the given pitch material. I elaborate and expand on the implied polyphony (outlining multiple voices or chords from a single line) and the melody's characteristic use of glissandi. The second aspect of Stockhausen's Tierkreis that inspired me was the instrumentation. In my arrangement, the musicians double on melodicas as a reference to the simple yet unique nature of Stockhausen's original instrumentation (music boxes). - Adam Borecki

 

A Prayer For My Daughter (2022) (piano, strings, voice) | PAMELA MADSEN

(With texts by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mary Hunter Austin and W.B. Yeats)

Why Women Went West is a multi-media chamber opera in which two voices—I, Mary (soprano) and Mary by Herself, (recorded voice of soprano/spoken voice/electronics/voices of the choir) tells the unfolding narrative of a sole woman protagonist and her journey west. Why Women Went West explores controversies over human rights, water wars, early 20th-century feminist artist communities through the life of Mary Hunter Austin. Writer, feminist, conservationist, and defender of Native American and Spanish-American rights, Austin's quest, trauma, and journey uncovered dark mysticism in the American Southwest. During her journey west, Mary encounters marriage, childbirth, abuse and abandonment. She struggles with her dual existence as a kept woman (I, Mary), and her self-reliance (Mary by herself). Act II sets the scene of her heroic journey west by train, across the plains and through hostile territories of the desert southwest. She encounters the desolation and dangerous challenges of nature that inspires her artistic vision. “Prayer for My Daughter” reveals Mary’s difficult decision to leave her absent husband and give up her disabled daughter and place her in an institution, showing Mary’s growing distance from her family and her past--to press on, survive, on her own.

Commissioned and funded in part by National Endowment for the Arts and Opera America Discovery Award for concert premiere of Act I and II by Brightwork New Music, Stacey Fraser, soprano; concert premiere of Act III HEX Ensemble (SSATTB) and full two-act version for Operation Opera Festival, Sacramento. - Pamela Madsen

 

The Glam Seduction (2001) | D.J. SPARR

The Glam Seduction was written with the intent of making an analogy amongst virtuosic classical playing in the (mostly romantic) style of performer-composers such as Liszt and Paganini, modern classical music, and "glam rock" from the 1980s era of heavy metal music such as Van Halen. The Glam Seduction begins with a modern music re-write, infused with more funky notes, of one of the most notorious and outrageous guitar solos of all time, the culmination of all that was the riotous excess of the 1980s; Eruption, by Eddie Van Halen. The piece continues with an ascending scale pattern that rears its bleached and frizzed-out head two more times, thereby delineating different musical sections, and signifying a return to the beginning of the form. In The Glam Seduction, each member of the ensemble gets their own solo in which to "rock out" heavy metal style. The Glam Seduction was commissioned by the BMI Foundation, Inc./ Boudleaux Bryant fund for eighth blackbird. - Nicholas Photinos

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