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Composer David Leisner To Release A Portrait Album Of Vocal Chamber Music, On Azica Records

Letter to the World includes four vocal compositions from different stages of Leisner's career: two from the 1980's, one from 2002, and one from 2011.

Composer David Leisner To Release A Portrait Album Of Vocal Chamber Music, On Azica Records

On Friday, November 18, 2022, composer and guitarist David Leisner releases his new album, Letter to the World, on Azica Records. Featuring four song cycles - Confiding, Das Wunderbare Wesen, Simple Songs, and Of Darkness and Light - Letter to the World includes four vocal compositions from different stages of Leisner's career: two from the 1980's, one from 2002, and one from 2011. This portrait album of Leisner's oeuvre for voice and instruments features soprano Katherine Whyte, tenor Andrew Fuchs, baritone Michael Kelly, violinist Sarah Whitney, oboist Scott Bartucca, cellist Raman Ramikrishnan, Leisner on guitar, and pianists Lenore Fishman Davis and Dimitri Dover.

Of Leisner's vocal writing The Boston Globe raves, "He shows imagination and taste in taking poems from disparate sources and putting them into cycles that trace emotional progress and develop dramatic shape. His prosody is excellent, and he sets words with an ear for sound, rhythm and sense... Best of all, Leisner has a gift for eloquently shaping a vocal line that is also grateful to sing."

Letter to the World opens with Confiding, a cycle of ten songs written in 1985-86 and set to poems by women on various forms of confiding. The first and last songs act as prelude and postlude, while songs no. 2-5 trace the rise and fall of an intimate relationship, after which the "I" of the poems turns for confiding to the guitar (no. 6), pauses for reevaluation (no. 7), then turns to imagination (no. 8), and finally to a higher power (no. 9). Confiding exists in versions for both high and medium voice with piano, as well as its original high voice and guitar version. It was premiered by baritone Sanford Sylvan and pianist Patty Thom, and is dedicated to Leisner's husband, Ralph Jackson.

For the set of five songs, Das Wunderbare Wesen, Leisner chose excerpts from Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching. The composer says, "The songs emerged less out of deference to the melodic line and more in response to a structure established in the cello part, e.g., a repeated alternating metric pattern or a melodic theme that is repeated in the fashion of a passacaglia throughout a movement. Meanwhile, the melodic lines often tend not to repeat in traditional circular structures, but rather to spiral outward, relating motivically to what has gone before, yet opening up to different phrase patterns. This is echoed by the harmonic structures. Unlike functional harmony, which tends to travel in closed circles, these harmonies might, for example, change one note at a time, moving progressively away from the center." Das Wunderbare Wesen was written in 2011, at the request of baritone Wolfgang Holzmair, to whom the work is dedicated, and commissioned by Eleanor Eisenmenger.

Simple Songs, composed in 1982, sets to music six poems by Emily Dickinson. It is dedicated to baritone Sanford Sylvan. Each song illustrates its poem's meaning by example. In "Madness," for instance, the vocal line is a simple chromatic scale that descends at first, and then ascends, but the notes are often displaced to another octave, which embodies the line, "Much Madness is divinest Sense." The fifth song, "Humility," is the chronicle of a brief love affair between a bee and a rose. Toward the end, when "their Moment consummated," the voices join together in the same key, and then drift apart again.

Just after the 9/11 tragedy, Leisner found a special resonance in the works of great American poet Wendell Berry. He says, "When the Stones River Players of Middle Tennessee State University commissioned me that year for a work for tenor, violin, oboe and piano, I turned to some of these poems that spoke to both the moment and to the ages. The resulting piece, Of Darkness and Light, is a set of five songs that are joined into one large movement. The work begins with a violin-and-oboe arabesque that opens into the first song. Then comes a spare fragment of a song, a kind of meditation, which is followed by the third song of terror, as 'the earth is poisoned with narrow lives'. This leads to the anxiety of the fourth song, with its 10/8 and 13/8 meters restlessly alternating. The second song/fragment appears in a reprise and leads to the final song, an anthem of hope amid the rubble - a discovery of solace in 'The Peace of Wild Things.'"

About David Leisner
David Leisner is an extraordinarily versatile musician with a multi-faceted career as an electrifying performing artist, a distinguished composer, and a master teacher.

"Among the finest guitarists of all time," according to American Record Guide, David Leisner's career began auspiciously with top prizes in both the 1975 Toronto and 1981 Geneva International Guitar Competitions. His recent seasons have taken him around the US, including his solo debut with the Atlanta Symphony, a major tour of Australia and New Zealand, and debuts and reappearances in China, Japan, the Philippines, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, the U.K., Italy, Czech Republic, Greece, Puerto Rico and Mexico. An innovative three-concert series at Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall included the first all-Bach guitar recital in New York's history, and currently he is the Artistic Director of Guitar Plus, a New York series devoted to chamber music with the guitar. He has also performed chamber music at the Santa Fe, Music in the Vineyards, Vail Valley, Crested Butte, Rockport, Cape and Islands, Bargemusic, Bay Chamber, Maui, Portland, Sitka and Angel Fire Festivals, with Zuill Bailey, Tara O'Connor, Eugenia Zukerman, Kurt Ollmann, Lucy Shelton, Ida Kavafian, the St. Lawrence, Enso, Escher and Vermeer Quartets and many others. Celebrated for expanding the guitar repertoire, David Leisner has premiered works by many important composers, including David Del Tredici, Virgil Thomson, Ned Rorem, Philip Glass, Richard Rodney Bennett, Peter Sculthorpe, Osvaldo Golijov, Randall Woolf, Gordon Beeferman and Carlos Carillo, while championing the works of neglected 19th-century guitar composers J.K. Mertz and Wenzeslaus Matiegka.

A featured recording artist for Azica Records, Leisner has released nine highly acclaimed CDs, including the most recent, Arpeggione with cellist Zuill Bailey, and Facts of Life, featuring the premiere recordings of commissioned works by Del Tredici and Golijov. Naxos produced his recording of the Hovhaness Guitar Concerto with Gerard Schwarz and the Berlin Radio Orchestra. Other CDs include the Koch recording of Haydn Quartet in D with the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and Hovhaness Spirit of Trees for Telarc with harpist Yolanda Kondonassis. And Mel Bay Co. released a solo concert DVD called Classics and Discoveries.

Mr. Leisner is also a highly respected composer noted for the emotional and dramatic power of his music. Fanfare magazine described it as "rich in invention and melody, emotionally direct, and beautiful." South Florida Classical Review called him "an original and arresting compositional voice." Recent commissioners include the Rob Nathanson for the New Music Festival at UNC Wilmington, Cavatina Duo, baritone Wolfgang Holzmair, Arc Duo, Stones River Chamber Players (TN), Fairfield Orchestra (CT), Red Cedar Chamber Music (IA), and the Twentieth Century Unlimited Series (NM). Recordings of his works are currently available on the Sony Classical, ABC, Dorian, Azica, Cedille, Centaur, Town Hall, Signum, Acoustic Music, Athena and Barking Dog labels. The Cavatina Duo's recording of his complete works for flute and guitar, Acrobats (Cedille) was released to exceptionally strong reviews. His compositions are mostly published by Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co., as well as AMP/G. Schirmer, Doberman-Yppan and Columbia Music.

David Leisner has been a member of the guitar faculty at the Manhattan School of Music since 1993, and also taught at the New England Conservatory from 1980-2003. Primarily self-taught as both guitarist and composer, he briefly studied guitar with John Duarte, David Starobin and Angelo Gilardino and composition with Richard Winslow, Virgil Thomson, Charles Turner and David Del Tredici. His book, Playing with Ease: A Healthy Approach to Guitar Technique, published by Oxford University Press, has received extraordinary acclaim. Learn more

Letter to the World Track List
David Leisner - Confiding [31:07]
1. Savior! I've no one else to tell (Emily Dickinson) [2:00].
2. Ample Make This Bed (Emily Dickinson) [2:11]
3. Wild Nights (Emily Dickinson) [2:15]
4. Signal (Gene Scaramellino) [3:30]
5. Star-Crossed (Elissa Ely) [3:43]
6. The Lady to her Guitar (Emily Brontë) [2:48]
7. Love and Friendship (Emily Brontë) [2:00]
8. To Imagination (Emily Brontë) [6:15]
9. Faith (Emily Brontë) [4:18]
10. This is my letter to the World (Emily Dickinson) [2:11]
Katherine Whyte, soprano; Lenore Fishman Davis, piano

David Leisner - Das Wunderbare Wesen (From Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu, trans. Richard Wilhelm) [12:48]
11. I. Der Sinn [3:03]
12. II. Dreissig Speicher [:44]
13. III. Der Mensch [3:09]
14 .IV. Schaffe Leere [2:30]
15. V. Ohne aus der Tür zu gehen [3:21]
Michael Kelly, baritone; Raman Ramakrishnan, cello

David Leisner - Simple Songs (Emily Dickinson) [8:40]
16. 1. Exultation [1:06]
17. 2. Beauty [1:27]
18. 3. Madness [1:52]
19. 4. Letter [:51]
20. 5. Humility [1:53]
21. 6. Simplicity [1:32]
Michael Kelly, baritone; David Leisner, guitar

David Leisner - Of Darkness and Light (Wendell Berry) [11:05]
Andrew Fuchs, tenor; Sarah Whitney, violin; Scott Bartucca, oboe; Dimitri Dover, piano

Total Time: 63:40

Producer: Judith Sherman
Engineering: Charles Mueller
Engineering and Editing Assistant: Jeanne Velonis
Mastering: Judith Sherman and Jeanne Woods
Piano Technician: Daniel Jessie
Cover Painting: "Mountain Song" by Brenda Goodman
Recorded June 4-6, 2021 at Oktaven Audio, Mount Vernon, NY

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