Composer Debra Kaye To Release A New Portrait Album On Navona Records

Ikarus Among the Stars includes six recent compositions including Kaye's First String Quartet and the elegy for orchestra and fixed media, Ikarus Among the Stars.

By: Mar. 20, 2023
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Composer Debra Kaye To Release A New Portrait Album On Navona Records

On Friday, May 26, 2023, composer and new music advocate Debra Kaye releases her new album, Ikarus Among the Stars, on Navona Records.

This is the second all-Kaye portrait album to be commercially released. This colorful journey through Kaye's music is realized through the artistry of Charles Neidich (clarinet), Hikaru Tamaki (cello), Carl Gutowski (flute), Marcia Eckert and Marta Aznavoorian (piano), the Daedalus Quartet and the Portland Youth Philharmonic under the direction of David Hattner, produced by the Grammy Award-wining Judith Sherman.

Composer Debra Kaye's works range from lyrical to grooving, experimental to coloristic but above all, expressive and deeply felt. Kaye is a born storyteller and it is reflected in her dramatic music brimming with visceral power as is evident throughout this compelling new release.

The program opens with The Exchange (2019) for clarinet and cello, commissioned by Access Contemporary Music specifically for performance in Milwaukee's historic Grain Exchange as part of the 2019 Doors Open Milwaukee Festival. A flourishing center of trade during its hey-day, the light that streams through its towering windows seems to convey a sense of optimism. With its soaring ceilings, ornate plasterwork and mural-sized oil paintings, the Grain Exchange was built in 1879 and was as extravagantly finished as some of Milwaukee's finest churches. Mural-sized paintings grace the walls depicting not only the merchants and farm life of the time, but also Native Americans of 1870's Wisconsin. The Grain Exchange also houses the first ever octagonal trading floor, which suggested to Kaye the Native American tradition of welcoming the four directions. Drawing on this inspiration, she incorporates these ideas musically in a section, about two thirds of the way through that has a sudden regularity, and could seem to be a meditative welcome that happens eight times with minimal variation, as a symbolic welcoming everyone in the space, and honoring all people.

At nearly 20 minutes in length, Kaye's String Quartet No. 1: Encountering Lorca is by far the most substantial work on the program. The composer says, "Encountering Lorca grew out of my fascination with the interplay of darkness and light found in the works of Federico Garcia Lorca. This chiaroscuro suggestive of both art and dance are recurring themes throughout his works. Together, they seem to describe an entire world of life and emotion, something that I explore in my own work." The titles for each of the work's four movements come from Lorca's own texts. In Encountering Lorca playful pizzicati and snippets of melody reminiscent of Chabrier's España set a suitable Spanish-flavored mood. A sense of loss permeates Wrestling with the Moon, but also, an urging to move on, persevere and travel new paths. Mouth of the Sky features a denser, contrapuntal texture with close imitations, guitar-like pizzicati and wisps of melody. For The Dance the Turtle Dreamed, elements and textures from all of the previous movements are drawn together, resolving their internal tensions to find a moment of transcendence and conclude in a passage of ethereal harmonics. Interestingly, Kaye suggests that the quartet's four movements may be played either together in their entirety or excerpted at will. Given that Lorca was himself a composer who loved improvisation, this ad libitum option would surely please him.

Ikarus - Duo for Binya is the first of two works written to honor the memory of Benjamin Yaphet Klatchko, a young musician of brilliance who died tragically at the age of 16. Kaye first learned of Binya, as his family affectionately called him, through videos of his playing the viola and violin, as well as his original hip hop songs that he wrote, sang and recorded. Selection from two of these "beats" and melodies are woven throughout the duo. In the myth of Ikarus, with its youthful energy, impetuous emotions, yearning and fearlessness, Kaye found a suitable inspiration for that was both tragic and heroic. The piece opens with an elegiac introduction which gradually gives way to a rhythmic interplay between the two instruments. An abbreviated return to the elegiac opening leads to a luminous apotheosis on a vibrant unison. The work was commissioned by the Community Music Center, Asher Klatchko & Katja Garloff.

The multi-movement suite Call of the Dance for flute and piano had its origins in the Fantasy (2017), commissioned by flutist Carl Gutowski as a wedding gift for his niece. Gutowski later commissioned two additional movements, giving the work its current form. The second movement, a deafening silence - is an elegy in remembrance of a beloved older brother is among Kaye's strongest musical statements to date. Opening with a "hammer blow of fate," the flute responds with a chilling cri du coeur. The piece ends in a song of remembrance, embracing the beautiful sadness of a life cut short. The concluding movement, Call of the Dance references Munch's famous painting. The opening introduction is the inner striving toward life, its stirring represented in a series of overlapping trills that emerge and recede, accelerating to become a lively dance, the dance of life itself. Together the three movements explore the cyclical themes of growth, death and regeneration. The opening Fantasy is in a loose Rondo-Variation form, the flute and piano alternately taking the lead and, following each other in canonic imitation. Kaye subtly weaves melodic references throughout each of the movements, giving the work an underlying sense of organic unity.

Sky is Falling for solo piano is unique on this program in that it exists as an "open score" in alternate performance versions. Originally conceived for reciter and piano the work takes its inspiration from a text by Roger Aplon, itself a response to Elliot Carter's Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano. According to Kaye, the piece can be also be performed as a solo without recitation. In both versions, the pianist is required to improvise upon various prescribed tonal aggregates and thematic materials in "response" to the poet's inspiration with its fractured statements, multitude of textures, and patchwork of emotional arenas. The imagery of the text, like music itself, is not totally linear, and is brought compellingly to life by pianist Marta Aznavoorian.

The program concludes with the album's title track, Ikarus Among the Stars. This 17-minute orchestral piece is the second of two works composed in memory of Benjamin Yaphet Klatchko. In addition to the orchestra, two recorded sequences of Binya's own music are interpolated. The first excerpt appears at 5:33, the second at 13:27 (which features Binya's rapping) and the final, at 15:25. The resources of a full orchestra offer an expressive canvas within which to transform a personal loss into a communal expression of grief for all lives taken from us too soon. The work ends on a hopeful note however: Ikarus has soared beyond the sun to ascend to the stars. Ikarus Among the Stars was commissioned by the Portland Youth Philharmonic, Katja Garloff & Asher Klatchko.

The 2022-23 season has been a busy year for Kaye, with premieres of five new works including a commission from the accordion quartet 'Bachtopus,' and a new work for eGALitarian Brass and personal response to the climate crisis called It Rained for Seventeen Days, conceived as a blues-meets-classical fusion. Kaye's Ukraine 2022 for narrator and piano inspired by a text by Roger Aplon was performed as part of Composers Concordance 'Pianos, Poems & Paintings' concert at Kostabi World on October 8, 2022 and her chamber orchestra piece, My Candle Burns premiered was part of the annual Village Trip Festival. This season also saw the release of Kaye's orchestral work, Rising Up with the Janá?ek Philharmonic Ostrava (on Navona Records) which was chosen for ASCAP's New Music Friday Playlist on the day of its release, recognized with a Global Music Award for creativity and originality, and hailed as "a strong and vibrant piece" by Grammy Award-winning conductor JoAnn Falletta.

Kaye has received commissions from numerous ensembles and organizations, including the Howland Chamber Music Circle, Portland Youth Philharmonic and Kyo-Shin-An and awards from ASCAP Plus. Her music has premiered at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall and has been played by acclaimed artists such as the Lincoln Trio and Daedalus Quartet. The Off-Broadway production of The Ugly Duckling, produced by Literally Alive Family Theatre garnered enthusiastic notice in the New York Times in each of its three extended runs. With a catalog of close to 100 works in multiple genres including chamber and orchestral music, art songs, choral and theatrical compositions, Kaye continues to develop her craft through a steady stream of commissions and collaborations.

Kaye is recipient of numerous grants including from Meet the Composer, Mannes College, New School University, the Fort Wayne Children's Choir, Atlanta Music Teachers Association, and the Edward T. Cone Foundation. She has held composing residencies at the Millay Colony and Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. An advocate for new music, Debra serves on the board of the New York Women Composers and is an Associate Director of Composers Concordance. She previously served as President of the Howland Chamber Music Circle and Executive Director of the New York Composers Circle.

Kaye's debut album And So It Begins (Ravello Records), was produced by Grammy Award-winning Judith Sherman made Ted Gioia's list of top 100 CDs, and was described as, "...inspirational, an album that will surely stand the test of time" ( The acclaimed release of Kaye's solo violin work, Turning in Time, written for violin virtuoso Kinga Augustyn (and featured on Augustyn's album of the same name), was recognized as "a tour de force" by New York Concert Review.

Kaye is a graduate of Mannes College and New York University and served on the faculty of the Mannes College Preparatory Division from 1991 to 2018. When not composing, she loves reading, playing, the company of friends, and nature. Debra is a lifelong diarist and an avid amateur photographer.