St. Luke's Gives NYC Premiere of John Harbison's CROSSROADS, Feat. Abigail Fischer, Now thru 11/1
In a series of three concerts at The Morgan Library & Museum and Brooklyn Museum, St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble gives the New York / East Coast premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Harbison's newest work,Crossroads, a setting of poems from Louise Glück's 2009 book, A Village Life. Orchestra of St. Luke's was a co-commissioner of Crossroads, which had its world premiere at La Jolla Music Festival in August 2013. John Harbison will give a pre-concert talk with mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer, violinist Krista Bennion Feeney, and cellist Daire Fitzgeraldon tonight, October 30 at 7:00 PM at The Morgan Library & Museum.
A prolific and renowned composer whose music is complex yet accessible, Harbison is also an avid reader of poetry and has been recognized as a talented writer (he wrote the libretto for his opera The Great Gatsby). Crossroads-for mezzo-soprano, oboe, string quartet, and double bass-is his third piece set to the words of one of America's most popular poets, Louise Glück. For this work, Harbison selected three of Glück's poems, all touching on the cycle of nature and human life. "When Glück published A Village Life in 2009, I noticed a new direction [in her poetry]: The book seemed to originate in a community in which isolation was both ameliorated and more deeply experienced, something like what I register in Leopardi's poems," Harbison wrote in his program note. "I wanted to engage with these poems partly to add voice to this new direction, to affirm it, and to find whatever new compositional skills it required."
Abigail Fischer appears with St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble as mezzo-soprano soloist in Crossroads. Praised for her "attractive tone, abundant feeling, and clear diction" (The New York Times) and diverse repertoire from Baroque to contemporary, Fischer has been featured in new-music performances at Lincoln Center, Tanglewood Music Festival, and Brooklyn Academy Of Music; has given world premieres of works by Elliott Carter, John Zorn, and Nico Muhly; and released an album of works by Missy Mazzoli in 2012.
Fischer will also sing Respighi's Il Tramonto for mezzo-soprano and string quartet, which Harbison handpicked for the St. Luke's program to complement Crossroads. Though Respighi is best known for his tone poems, he was also the most significant composer of art songs in early 20th century Italy. Il Tramonto (The Sunset) is one of three works Respighi set to poetry by Percy Bysshe Shelley, in Italian translation. The work unfolds with gentle, warm lyricism, colored by evocative harmonies and lush string quartet sonorities.
Alongside Bach Cantatas and jazz, John Harbison cites Stravinsky as one of his most significant compositional influences. The program includes Stravinsky's Three Pieces for String Quartet, described by the composer as representing "a group of peasants singing and dancing against the monotonous setting of the steppes." These short pieces were composed one year after the first performance of The Rite of Spring and, due to their unconventional treatment of the string quartet, were widely denounced by critics at the time. Stravinsky, however, declared later in his life that some of the music found in these pieces was among the best that he wrote. Also featured is Stravinsky's Concertino, a string quartet work composed in 1920, foreshadowing his neo-Classical period.
Four-part sonatas by Purcell will precede each Stravinsky work. The Sonata in Four Parts No. 9 ("The Golden Sonata") will be heard before the Three Pieces for String Quartet, and the Sonata in Four Parts No. 7 before the Concertino. During Purcell's time, these versatile sonatas were equally at home as entertainment at parties or as church music, and could be played by any number of musicians, depending on the available forces. Published posthumously by Purcell's widow, they are believed to be compilations of miscellaneous single-movement works, alternating lively dances with moody Adagio and Grave sections.