Mark Crayton

Mark Crayton

  Daniel Gundlach

Daniel Gundlach

  James Janssen

James Janssen

Concert #6

Church of St. Matthew and St. Timothy, New York, NY

Conversations

New Music for Two Countertenors

Mark Crayton, countertenor | Daniel Gundlach, countertenor | James Janssen, piano

I

  • The Quilt Song  — Craig Urquhart
  • Audio Visual —  Michael Webster

II

The Lake Isle of Innisfree — Elliot Z. Levine

  • yes is a pleasant country
  • Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
  • Now You Will Feel No Rain
  • Amor mío

III

from Sonette an Orpheus — Martha Sullivan

  • Zu Unterst der Alte
  • Errichtet keinen Denkstein
  • Nur wer die Leier schon hob

IV

  • The Wind and the Sky and the Road: 
  • Three Theater Songs — Joseph and David Zellnik
  • Wind Song
  • I’m Not Afraid
  • Just True

V

Thy Lucifer* — Gilda Lyons

VI

Narcissus — Gregory Peebles 

* = New York premiere


PROGRAM NOTES

Mark and I began conversations about this recital in late spring 2005.  We originally intended to do a program that would be half baroque and half contemporary.  Nearly a year later the project had stalled and we realized we wanted more than anything to do a program of all-contemporary music.  It immediately became apparent that we needed to enlist the help of some of our composer friends and colleagues to help us create such a program, since there is a dearth of duets for two countertenors.  Every composer we approached about this project was enthusiastic about writing music for us.  And in each case, we were given music of exceptional beauty, power and inspiration.  Two composers (Elliot Levine and Joseph & David Zellnik) refashioned previously-composed work, but the rest of the works on the program this evening are world premieres.  Both Mark and I have had extensive experience performing different types of contemporary work, so we were well aware of the challenges of this repertoire.  Never before have I found an undertaking to be so arduous and yet so completely rewarding. This program is still very much a work-in-progress, but what we present this evening is an eclectic and brilliant assortment of songs by some of the most gifted composers working today.  — Daniel Gundlach 

Craig Urquhart: The Quilt Song

This song is derived from 2 of 27 text blocks found on a friend’s patchwork signature quilt, crafted in 1841 as a memorial for his ancestors who left the eastern seaboard bound for the heartland.  The heirloom commemorates an entire community’s friendship with a family, whose members would never be seen, and very rarely heard from, again.  Genealogists use signed quilts such as this as an aide to tracing family lines.  The authors of both texts are descendants of Mary Estey who, at the age of 68, in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, was tried and hung as a witch. 

Michael Webster: Audio Visual

Audio Visual is a mini-mystery, a song about fractured consciousness in a mediated world.  The poetic voice is split into two — the contrapuntal situation shifts: canons, unisons, hocket, dovetailed lines, voices crossing.  The harmony is familiar but for moments only: harmonic logic is always interrupted.  The song ends with a question “how can we live inside the picture?” ...just so the final cadence is framed, contained, by a cadence in another key; the focus can’t be fixed. Audio Visual is the first in a three song cycle called Trio — flashes from a poet’s life in Los Angeles: TV, distant tombs, driving in the empty light. 

Elliot Z. Levine: Five Duets

All of these duets were written as gifts. “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and “Stopping By Woods” started out as solo songs. “Now You Will Feel No Rain” and “Amor Mío” were written for weddings. “yes is a pleasant country” started out as a sight-singing exercise which turned out to be a composition I felt like sharing. I like to explore the harmonic and rhythmic possibilities of two voices interweaving. Having sung a lot of medieval and renaissance music I’ve always been awed and inspired by such composers as Landini, Josquin, Lassus and Morley. I often use these kinds of self-motivated projects either as warm-ups to working on larger pieces or as procrastination in dealing with the afore-mentioned.

Martha Sullivan: from Sonette an Orpheus

These songs are the first of what will be a longer cycle of songs set to Rainer Maria Rilke’s Die Sonette an Orpheus. The poet composed them as a memorial to Vera Knoop, a musician and dancer who died at the age of 20. This, Rilke’s mature poetry, speaks of art as it exists in time but also beyond time; whole histories occur in a mere sixteen lines. The imagery is at once specific and universal, so that the reader can make a personal connection to the text. I have done so by writing these songs with my own departed in mind. The first, “Zu unterst der Alte”, is for my father; the second, “Errichtet keinen Denkstein”, is for my close friend composer David Bieri; and the duet, “Nur wer die Leier schon hob”, is for poet and teacher Gerald Rich. In “Zu unterst der Alte”, Rilke describes the tangles of root and branch that comprise a single tree; the ramifying knots are also human fables and histories. The music shows the depths and ascents of the poetic line by twisting downward through chromatics and by rising up through horn calls. The poetry of “Errichtet keinen Denkstein” speaks for itself, particularly as a memorial to a composer. The musical gesture that represents Orpheus in the song is the repeated arpeggiation of chords, some of which occur (in a much calmer setting) in “Nur wer die Leier schon hob”. Several of the Sonette feature imagery of mirrors or pairing. In “Nur wer die Leier schon hob”, the pool creates the mirror reflection of life and afterlife, so the voices literally mirror each other in several places, or else chase each other through rising canons, to the steady accompaniment of the eternal lyre. 

The Wind and the Sky and the Road: Three Theater Songs by the Zellnik Brothers

Each of these songs was written for a different musical. The first (‘Why I Travel”) was inspired by the film (and book) Chocolat. The song introduces us to Vianne, a mysterious half-Mexican woman who has arrived in a small town in France to open a chocolate shop... The next song (“I’m Not Afraid”) is from the musical The Casebook of Hapsburg, R., which follows a young Sigmund Freud as he tries to grapple with, and understand, the suicide of his hero, Crown Prince Rudolf in 1889 Vienna. In this song, the melancholic Crown Prince meets the girl he will eventually kill himself with: an intense and headstrong 16-year-old names Mary Vetsera. The final song (“Just True”) is from Yank!, a gay WW2 love story set in the South Pacific. Yank! explores the coming of age of a young army magazine photographer named Stu and his love affair with a seemingly straight private named Mitch. For more information on any of these works, please check out our web site here

Gilda Lyons: Thy Lucifer

In medieval York, the great feast of Corpus Christi was a day of note: bells rang out over the city; high mass was attended by all; and citizens gathered – from dawn until dusk – for the presentation of the Mystery Plays. A cycle of forty-eight one-acts, each drama was assigned to the artisans’ guild best be suited to its telling, and members of the various guild halls would compete to produce the most elaborate stage designs.

When Daniel Gundlach invited me to adapt one of these Mystery Plays for two countertenors, it occurred to me that this unique instrumentation might be well-suited to the re-telling of the York Tanner’s Play “The Creation and Fall of Lucifer,” as I imagine the voice of deception to sound as sweet as the voice of God. 

“The Creation and Fall of Lucifer” has frequently been told — as it was by the York Tanners — in straightforward terms of good and bad. However, before Lucifer became known as the embodiment of evil, he was once stunning in his purity: made most near after God, and named “bearer of light.” In re-telling the tale, I was concerned with catching the characters in the moments before they were divided: Here, there would be a place to imagine how close they might have been; how Lucifer might once have embodied beauty; how, with his fall, God might have experienced deep loss. 

Thy Lucifer was completed on 22 July 2006 while in residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.