Everything happens twice in Spam. The music constantly brings itself back, repeating ideas two times, always changing it the second time. In the beginning, the piano plays two whole steps a minor third apart (the other important element), two times. After the other instruments echo, the piece gradually unfolds, with the musical material always being played twice, and always being varied. For example, a minor third between the flute and clarinet may sound twice, back to back. The first chord might have flute playing the upper note, and then clarinet might play the higher note. This same music will reappear again in the next measure, this time with the instrumentalists role's reversed. The piano might double this music with single pitches of the very same minor third, the first time ascending, the second time descending. The opening "echo", which is nearly the same music happening twice but varied, turns into a raucous play between the piano and the other instruments in the middle of the work. This constant shift and play between everything happening twice continues until the very last measure of the piece.
– Marc Mellits
Written for the 20th Anniversary of the Da Capo Chamber Players
MIRAGE is the fourth work written on commission by Da Capo. Because the other three involved only clarinet and cello, as solos and duo, I chose for this latest work, dedicated to the group, to include all five members, assigning the principal "tune" this time to an amplified alto flute. (The amplification is used here not because of balance considerations, but for its timbral coloring.)
In one movement, Mirage's eleven minutes are shaped into an asymmetrical, loosely structured five-part arch form. Throughout, I aimed for a free flowing, yet intense, at times incantational gamut from polyphonic to heterophonic to one pivotal unison phrase occurring about four fifths of the way through the work -- a phrase emblematic of the entire composition. Harmonically and melodically the work reminds one, I think, of modes associated with Middle Eastern music. These become chromatically saturated in areas, especially in the dense, central section of the arch form.
Mirage was begun in the summer of 1990 and composed mainly during the month of December 1990.
– Shulamit Ran
Written for the Da Capo Chamber Players with a grant from the manitoba Arts Council
Commissioned jointly by the Atlanta Chamber Players, with funding from Cherry Logan Emerson, and the Da Capo Chamber Players, with an award from the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University.
It is a distant, quaint vision: the family around the piano singing familiar songs, a Currier and Ives print, an album of sepia photographs. But I remember it well (or did I imagine it?). The album which our family sometimes used may have been called Songs America Loves to Sing. The present collection of solos and canons on some of these still familiar melodies is dedicated to my sister Meg (of five singers, now only two left).
Ideally many of the tunes will still be recognizable. In the chorale preludes of the German baroque common melodies are embedded in the composer's invention (strict against free); if we know the tunes our enjoyment of the pieces is enhanced. It is my hope that choosing well-known musical material will make these settings transparent.
1. Solo: Amazing Grace.
In 1972 I made a virtuoso set of variations for solo oboe on this tune. This simpler version is an exploration of the overtones of the primary chord. The accompanying strings offer a foretaste of the canonic principle, framing the soloist with slower versions of Amazing Grace.
2. Canon: Careless Love.
The melody is presented as a ghostly backdrop in the accompanying piano. A series of pensive octave canons serves to introduce the ensemble, in pairs, to the listener.
3. Solo: Will the Circle be Unbroken?
The song has a visionary presence, and suggests very little harmonic change, a fact emphasized by the obsessive piano signal. The solo begins rhapsodically, then is pulled into the pulse.
4. Canon: Aura Lee.
The piano ostinato is an abstract wallpaper of the tune which is presented at various speeds by the others. In the '50s a famous entertainer produced a hit record of a song that very much resembles Aura Lee.
5. Solo: What a Friend We Have in Jesus.
We are at the heart of the cycle, two numbers touching upon the gospel and blues traditions. Here the piano offers increasingly fervent glosses on the tune. The accompanists are not drawn in, but cast a reverent shadow.
6. Canon: St. Louis Blues.
The most elaborate of the canons, actually a double inversion canon over a free bass, with certain elements treated as "thickened lines" (a fine descriptive jazz theory term).
7. Solo: Poor Butterfly.
The pristine melody is first presented as a cadenza, filtering though only if the listener remembers it well. Then, as a reminder, it is played simply by the accompanists, while the soloist continues an embroidery derived from the tune.
8. Canon: We Shall Overcome.
We enter a political sequence here, two songs that never lose currency. The early music vocabulary for We Shall Overcome says that the goals it furthered have not been achieved. The contentious diminution canons suggest that social struggles and disjunction continue, inevitably.
9. Solo: Ain't Goin' to Study War No More.
I know no sturdier expression of the hope for peace than this spiritual. In the setting an undercurrent of unease is present in the fanfares heard during the second stanza. As the accompanists join the soloist in a collective jam session, the conflicts recede. (A parallel version of the piece was my contribution the Albany Symphony Spiritual Project.)
10. Canon: Anniversary Song.
In a photograph of her fifth birthday party my sister Helen sits in front of her cake, surrounded by her friends, in a perfect party dress, weeping inconsolably. From that image of her indelibly melancholic temperament comes the initial canon; birthdays can be daunting. At the end a more hopeful version of this tune, similar to a (perhaps) still copyrighted melody takes over.
Songs America Loves to Sing, for the so-called "Pierrot" combination,was commissioned jointly by the Atlanta Chamber Players, with funding from Cherry Logan Emerson, and the Da Capo Chamber Players, with an award from the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University. As in an earlier piece, Fourteen Fabled Folksongs (in which I invented all the tunes), the pattern is all-important—the key scheme, contrasts, pacing of the sequence—so pauses between movements must be minimal. Paradoxically I would permit separate performance of any part of the music with very different purposes in view. The entire piece lasts about twenty-three minutes.
– John Harbison
Marc Mellits was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1966, and is one of the leading American composers of his generation, enjoying hundreds of performances throughout the world every year. His unique musical style is an eclectic combination of driving rhythms, soaring lyricism, and colorful orchestrations that all combine to communicate directly with the listener. Mellits' music is often described as being visceral, making a deep connection with the audience. "This was music as sensual as it was intelligent; I saw audience members swaying, nodding, making little motions with their hands" (New York Press). He started composing very early, and was writing piano music long before he started formal piano lessons at age 6. He went on to study at the Eastman School of Music, Yale School of Music, Cornell University, and Tanglewood. Mellits often is a miniaturist, composing works that are comprised of short, contrasting movements or sections. His music is eclectic, all-encompassing, colourful, and always has a sense of forward motion. Mellits' music has been played by major ensembles across the globe and he has been commissioned by groups such as the Kronos Quartet, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Sergio and Odair Assad, Bang On A Can All-Stars, Eliot Fisk, Andrew Russo, Canadian Brass, Nexus Percussion, Debussy Quartet, Real Quiet, New Music Detroit, Musique En Roue Libre (France), Fiarì Ensemble (Italy), the Society for New Music, LEMUR, Kathy Supove, Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, and the Albany Symphony's Dog's Of Desire. Marc remains active within the acclaimed Common Sense Composer's Collective, a group he helped found, which seeks new and alternative ways of collaborating with performance ensembles. Mellits also directs and plays keyboards in his own unique ensemble, the Mellits Consort. He was awarded the prestigious 2004 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Award. On CD, there are over 31 recorded works of Mellits's music that can be found on Black Box, Endeavour Classics, Cantaloupe, CRI/Emergency Music, Santa Fe New Music, Innova, & Dacia Music. Marc Mellits is on the music faculty of the University of Illinois-Chicago where he teaches Composition and Theory. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two daughters, and spends significant time in Romania.
"Shulamit Ran has never forgotten that a vital essence of composition is communication." So ran the review in the Chicago Tribune following the premiere of Legends by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This sort of reaction is by no means unusual. Around the country, from Seattle to Baltimore to Houston, commentary on her music typically runs thus: "gloriously human", and "compelling not only for its white-hot emotional content but for its intelligence and compositional clarity," — "Ran is a magnificent composer." It is hardly surprising, then, that Symphony, which has drawn references to "the superior quality of her musical imagination and artistic invention" and which has been hailed as "a work that will reward each new listening" should have won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Music. Ms. Ran's work displays an emotional quality and technical superiority that has led critics to acclaim her work as "written with the same sense of humanity found in Mozart's most profound opera arias or Mahler's searching symphonies."
Ms. Ran began composing songs to Hebrew poetry at the age of seven in her native Israel. By nine she was studying composition and piano with some of Israel's most noted musicians, including composers Alexander U. Boskovich and Paul Ben-Haim, and within several years was having her early works performed by professional musicians, as well as orchestras. She continued her piano and composition studies in the U.S., on scholarships form the Mannes College of Music in New York and the America Israel Cultural Foundation, with Nadia Reisenberg and Norman Dello Joio, respectively, later studying piano with Dorothy Taubman. In 1973 she joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, where she is now the Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Music and artistic director of Contempo, formerly the Contemporary Chamber Players. She lists her late colleague and friend Ralph Shapey, with whom she also studied in 1977, as an important mentor.
Among her numerous awards, fellowships and commissions are those from the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Fromm Music Foundation, WFMT, Chamber Music America, the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Eastman School of Music, the American Composers Orchestra (Concerto for Orchestra), the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (Concerto da Camera II), the Philadelphia Orchestra (Symphony, first performed in 1990, Pulitzer Prize 1991, first place Kennedy Center Friedheim Award 1992), the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Legends), the Baltimore Symphony (Vessels of Courage and Hope), and many more.
Orchestral works since the prize-winning Symphony include Legends (a joint commission celebrating the centennials of both the Chicago Symphony and the University of Chicago), which premiered in October, 1993, and Vessels of Courage and Hope, commissioned by the Albert Shapiro Fund and premiered by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 1998, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel and the voyage of the S.S. President Warfield/"Exodus 1947."
More recent works include the flute concerto, Voices, commissioned by the National Flute Association for its year 2000 convention; Supplications, for chorus and orchestra, premiered in November, 2002 by the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall; a Violin Concerto premiered in June, 2003 by Israeli violinist Ittai Shapira and British conductor Charles Hazelwood, also at Carnegie Hall; Bach Shards, commissioned by the Brentano String Quartet as part of the quartet's Art-of-Fugue project and performed in many major venues since its premiere; Under the Sun's Gaze (Concerto da Camera III), an ensemble work for nine players for the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation and premiered in April, 2005 in San Francisco; Fault Line for ensemble, commissioned by the Chicago Symphony MusicNOW series, premiered in May, 2006 at Chicago's Symphony Center; and Credo/Ani Ma'amin, part of And on Earth, Peace: A Chanticleer Mass, commissioned and widely performed by Chanticleer, the noted 12-man vocal ensemble, following its premiere in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art in April, 2007.
In 1990, Ms. Ran was selected by Maestro Daniel Barenboim to be Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as part of the Meet the Composer Orchestra Residencies Program, a position she held for seven seasons. From 1994 to 1997, Ran also served as the fifth Brena and Lee Freeman Sr. Composer-in-Residence with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Her first opera, Between Two Worlds (The Dybbuk), which received its much-acclaimed premiere in June, 1997, was commissioned by the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and was described in Opera News as "the most powerful new music-theater piece to emerge from Lyric's composer-in-residence program." The European premiere of Between Two Worlds took place in May, 1999, at the Bielefeld Opera, in a German translation.
Ms. Ran's music has been played by many of the world's leading orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Jerusalem Orchestra, l'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Amsterdam Philharmonic, the Baltimore Symphony, the National Symphony, the Orchestra of St. Luke's, and the American Composers Orchestra; her works have been conducted by, among others, Zubin Mehta, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Gary Bertini, Christoph Von Dohnanyi
(in two U.S. tours), Gustavo Dudamel, and the late Yehudi Menuhin. Other performers include the Contemporary Chamber Players of the University of Chicago under Ralph Shapey and Cliff Colnot, Da Capo Chamber Players, the New York New Music Ensemble, the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble under Arthur Weisberg, Twentieth Century Consort, Monday Evening Concerts in Los Angeles, New York Philomusica, the Pennsylvania Contemporary Players, on "Music Today" in New York directed by Gerard Schwarz, the Mendelssohn String Quartet, the Lark Quartet, the Penderecki Quartet, the Cassatt Quartet, the Peabody Trio, Musical Elements, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Callisto Ensemble (for which Ms. Ran was the 2006-2007 theme composer), both Collage and Musica Viva in Boston, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's MusicNOW, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Ms. Ran's works have been performed at the Library of Congress, Kennedy Center, and at the Tanglewood, Aspen, Santa Fe and Yellow Barn summer festivals, among many others. In 1989, her second string quartet ("Vistas"), commissioned by C. Geraldine Freund for the Taneyev String Quartet of Leningrad, received its first performance. It was the first commission given in this country to a Soviet chamber ensemble since the 1985 cultural exchange accord between the former Soviet Union and the United States.
Shulamit Ran, who formerly performed extensively as a pianist in the U.S., Europe, Israel and elsewhere, is presently the Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Music at the University of Chicago, where she has taught since 1973. In 1987, Ms. Ran was Visiting Professor at Princeton University. She has received honorary doctorates from Mount Holyoke College (1988), Spertus Institute (1994), Beloit College (1996), the New School of Social Research in New York (1997), and Bowdoin College (2004). Ms. Ran was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992 and of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2003. Her works are published by the Theodore Presser Company and by the Israeli Music Institute. Recordings have been released on more than a dozen labels, including Albany, Angel, Bridge, Centaur, CRI, Erato, Koch International Classics, New World, Vox, and Warner Classics, with several all-Ran discs available.
Composer John Harbison is among America's most prominent artistic figures. He has received numerous awards and distinctions, including the prestigious MacArthur Foundation's "genius" award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities. Harbison has composed music for most of this country's premiere musical institutions, including the Metropolitan Opera (for whom he wrote The Great Gatsby), the Chicago Lyric Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Boston Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and the Santa Fe and Aspen festivals. His works include four string quartets, five symphonies, a ballet, three operas, and numerous chamber and choral works.
Harbison's music is distinguished by its exceptional resourcefulness and expressive range. He is considered to be "original, varied, and absorbing — relatively easy for audiences to grasp and yet formal and complex enough to hold our interest through repeated hearings — his style boasts both lucidity and logic" (Fanfare). Harbison is also a gifted commentator on the art and craft of composition and was recognized in his student years as an outstanding poet (he wrote his own libretto for Gatsby).
Several of his works have recently premiered: Closer to My Own Life, on texts by Alice Munro, by the Met Orchestra and mezzo-soprano Christine Rice led by Fabio Luisi; Finale, Presto, a "comment" on Haydn's unfinished Op. 103 invited by the Brentano Quartet; Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with the Boston Symphony Orchestra; Diamond Watch: Double Play for Two Pianos (at MIT); Leonard Stein Anagrams (for Piano Spheres); Mary Lou (for the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony); The Seven Ages (A Koussevitsky commission for the New York New Music Ensemble and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players); French Horn Suite (Boston, MA), A Clear Midnight (Pro Arte Singers); Winter's Tale (Boston Modern Orchestra Project [BMOP], complete revised version); Symphony No. 5, commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra; The Great Gatsby Suite (for the Aspen Festival Orchestra); Cortège, for six percussionists (New England Conservatory); Milosz Songs (commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for long-time Harbison champion Dawn Upshaw); the Concerto for Bass Viol (commissioned by the International Society for Double Bassists for a consortium of 15 major orchestras); But Mary Stood: Sacred Symphony for Soprano, Chorus and Strings (Cantata Singers of Boston); and the sinfonietta Umbrian Landscape (Chicago Chamber Musicians).
Harbison's present composition projects include his Sixth Symphony for the Boston Symphony Orchestra (who are also honoring Harbison by presenting his full symphonic cycle between 2010-2012), his fifth string quartet (for the Pro Arte Quartet), and Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano, to be premiered by Cho-Liang Lin and Jon Kimura Parker at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center where Harbison is the Season Composer for 2011-2012.
Harbison's opera Full Moon in March (BMOP Sound) was released on CD in April 2009 and The First Four String Quartets (Centaur) followed in September, ahead of several new recordings issued last season: Christmas Vespers (Brassjar Music), Montale Occasions (Albany), and the ballet Ulysses (BMOP Sound). Other recent releases include Cortège (Naxos), Rubies (after Thelonius Monk's "Ruby, My Dear") (Naxos: Schwarz/Seattle); Suite for Cello Solo (Albany: Carolin Stinson, cello); and the Woodwind Quintet (Summit: Lieurance Woodwind Quintet). Altogether, more than 90 of his compositions have been recorded on labels such as Albany, Centaur, Nonesuch, Northeastern, Harmonia Mundi, New World, Decca, Koch, Archetype, CRI, Naxos, Bridge, Cedille, and Musica Omnia. The Musica Omnia double album of works for string quartet was named one of the top ten classical CDs of the year by The New York Times.
Harbison has been composer-in-residence with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Tanglewood, Marlboro, and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festivals, Songfest, and the American Academy in Rome. As a conductor, Harbison has led a number of leading orchestras and chamber groups. From 1990 to 1992 he was Creative Chair with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, conducting music from Monteverdi to the present, and in 1991, at the Ojai Festival, he led the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Harbison has also conducted many other ensembles, among them the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, and the Handel and Haydn Society. Mr. Harbison first led Bach cantata performances in 1958 as conductor of Harvard's Bach Society Orchestra. He has continued to do so every year since then, in two tenures as music director of Boston's Cantata Singers, and then for many years as principal guest conductor of Emmanuel Music in Boston, leading performances there not only of Bach cantatas, but also 17th-century motets, and contemporary music.
Harbison was born in Orange, New Jersey on December 20, 1938 into a musical family. He was improvising on the piano by five years of age and started a jazz band at age 12. He did his undergraduate work at Harvard University and earned an MFA from Princeton University. Following completion of a junior fellowship at Harvard, Harbison joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where, in 1984, he was named Class of 1949 Professor of Music; in 1994, Killian Award Lecturer in recognition of "extraordinary professional accomplishments;"and in 1995 he was named Institute Professor, the highest academic distinction MIT offers to resident faculty. He has also taught at CalArts and Boston University, and in 1991 he was the Mary Biddle Duke Lecturer in Music at Duke University. Furthering the work of younger composers is one of Harbison's prime interests, and he serves as president of the Aaron Copland Fund for Music.
In 1998, Harbison was named winner of the Heinz Award for the Arts and Humanities, a prize established in honor of the late Senator John Heinz by his wife Teresa to recognize five leaders annually for significant and sustained contributions in the Arts and Humanities, the Environment, the Human Condition, Public Policy and Technology, and the Economy and Employment. He is the recipient of numerous other awards, among them the Distinguished Composer award from the American Composers Orchestra (2002), the Harvard Arts Medal (2000), the American Music Center's Letter of Distinction (2000), the Kennedy Center Friedheim First Prize (for his Piano Concerto), a MacArthur Fellowship (1989), and the Pulitzer Prize (1987). He also holds four honorary doctorates.
Much of Harbison's violin music has been composed for his wife Rose Mary, with whom he serves as artistic director of the annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, founded in 1989 and held on the family farm in Wisconsin, where much of Harbison's music has been composed.
In recent years, Harbison has revived his career as a jazz pianist, composer, and arranger. Early on, as the founder-leader of the Harbison Heptet and as sideman in many other groups — playing with Tom Artin, Buck Clayton, Vic Dickenson, Jo Jones, and Edmund Hall (1952–1963) — he took a jazz sabbatical for four decades, returning in 2003 to found the Token Creek Jazz Ensemble. The quartet and guests perform exclusively for the annual Token Creek Festival in Wisconsin. As a keyboard player he explores affinities between jazz change playing and figured bass realization.
Harbison's music is published exclusively by Associated Music Publishers.