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Posts tagged 'Gregory Spears'

Gregory Spears's "O Columbia" a "piercingly moving" and "haunting meditation on exploration"

Following its premiere at Houston Grand Opera on September 23, Heidi Waleson of the Wall Street Journal has hailed Gregory Spears's new opera-oratorio, O Columbia, as "piercingly moving" and "a haunting meditation on exploration."

(Photo Credit: Lynn Lane, Wall Street Journal)

Presented as part of the company's HGOco community initiative program, the production featured direction by Kevin Newbury and was conducted by Timothy Myers, with a cast including soprano Pureum Jo, baritone Ben Edquist and mezzo-soprano Megan Samarin. O Columbia, with an original libretto by Royce Vavrek, is a celebration of exploration and a reflection upon the risks of discovering new frontiers. Through the work’s three parts the listener rides with Sir Walter Raleigh and a mysterious figure on the bow of his ship heading for the New World; sits with a teenager as she experiences communion, and later, heartbreak, with a Columbia space shuttle astronaut gliding around the earth; and travels with three astronauts to the far reaches of the solar system with Lady Columbia waiting at the edge. 

The work is a celebration of the identity of the American frontiersperson and an ode to America’s national mythology. In preparing the production, Vavrek writes that "we went to the Johnson Space Center and spoke to astronauts, engineers and other employees... we thought that, in our opera, we could return to the promise of space exploration. O Columbia blossomed into a work that celebrated the spirit of the frontiersman, as opposed to a tragic story." Waleson praises the work for its "neoclassical-style clarity," "crystalline orchestrations" and "textured, complex musical structures that sound old and new at the same time." Spears's next opera, Fellow Travelers, receives its premiere later this season by Cincinnati Opera

Below, watch a performance of Spears's recent cantata Virginiana, for solo voices and early instrument ensemble.

Virginiana was commissioned and premiered by New York's New Vintage Baroque and the Netherlands' Damask Ensemble. Written in the spirit of neoclassical works like Stravinsky's Pulcinella and The Rake's ProgressVirginiana explores 18th-century North American aesthetics as heard through a contemporary lens, with a text by Robert Bolling (1738-1775).

The Works of John Duffy on PSNY

John Duffy is a towering figure in American composition, having composed over 300 works for symphony orchestra, chamber ensemble, film and television, opera, and theater. Born in 1926, Duffy is of a generation of American composers who helped define what it means to be a composer in the 21st century. Having studied with American greats, such as Copland, Cowell, but also European modernists such as Dallapiccola, Duffy pursued a compositional tack that melded direct, emotional writing with a unique sense of modernity.

In 1974, Duffy founded Meet the Composer, the pioneering organization that brought contemporary American composition into the homes of millions of Americans. Supporting programs that would engage composers with their audiences, Meet the Composer partnered with over 4,000 artistic and civic organizations to engage over 7,000 living composers with communities in all 50 states. Over its 37-year tenure as an independent organization, Meet the Composer had already fundamentally changed the face of American composition before merging with the American Music Center to become New Music USA, which continues its heritage. 

In addition to Meet the Composer, John Duffy founded the John Duffy Composers Institute at the Virginia Arts Festival in 2004. The Duffy Institute has supported the development of new operas by young composers, providing a platform for workshop performances of dozens of new works. Several PSNY composers have been involved with the Institute, including Christopher Cerrone and Gregory Spears.

Many of Duffy's works are available through Schott Music, including his recent opera, Black Water, as well as many orchestral and large-scale works. But here at PSNY, we're pleased to make available several of Duffy's chamber works for direct digital download. Beginning with a curated selection of five of his works from across the decades, we will be posting more works in the coming year. 

Duffy's 1971 Variations, for french horn, violin, viola, and cello, shows the composer exploring the possibilities of both rhythmic and melodic variations while still keeping the music full of humor, direct emotion, and a clarity of purpose. This playfulness is seen again in his 1975 Toccata and Fuguefor piccolo and percussion. Old forms are made new again in his 1990 Heritage Suite, which sees the composer evoking historical dances while making a thoroughly contemporary statement. Finally, Duffy's 2005/9 piece, We Want Mark Twain! is an evocative and dramatic piece for string quartet and narrator. 

We hope that you will have a chance to explore Duffy's works both on PSNY and through Schott Music, especially as we gear up to celebrate his 90th birthday in 2016! 

The JACK Quartet in the PSNY Greenroom

It would be an understatement to say that the JACK Quartet is one of the most important string quartets today; they have commissioned and performed works by composers across genres, ages, and continents, all with virtuosic aplomb. We sat down with the quartet in our PSNY Greenroom, a special section on our website where performers have a chance to talk about the music that they love. (Check out our previous installments with Present Music and the Talea Ensemble.) 

                     photo: Henrik Olund

From the thirty-six string quartets currently offered by PSNY, the JACK Quartet chose three that speak to them: Hannah Lash's Frayed, Alex Mincek's String Quartet No. 3 "lift - tilt - filter - split", and Gregory Spear's Buttonwood. All three of these works have been commissioned, premiered, or recorded by the JACK Quartet in the past five years. Check out recordings of JACK's picks in the playlist below, and hear more about their selections in JACK Quartet's Greenroom.  

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