Tonight's NEC Composers Series concert, directed by NEC composition faculty Malcolm Peyton, features works by Katherine Balch '14 Tufts/NEC and NEC faculty composers Kati Agócs, John Heiss, John Mallia, Stratis Minakakis.
The notes on these works were written by the respective composers.
Agócs Northern Lights
Prelude: Carillon - A la Claire Fontaine - I’s the B’ye - Huron Carol - Aurora Rising
Ina Zdorovetchi, harp
Northern Lights is a cycle for solo harp that incorporates folk songs from three regions of Canada, bookended by a prelude and postlude of original material that set the mood, interpolate, and comment. The three central movements are not folk song arrangements, but instead subject the original melodies to my own harmonic inflections, fragmentation, and juxtaposition with new motives. Much of this process involves searching for ways to make the material sound resonant on the harp. In this way, the piece builds upon my 2005 harp cycle, Every Lover is a Warrior, where I worked with folk songs from Appalachia, France, and Hungary.
Since I spent my first nineteen years in Canada and many of its folk songs are as familiar to me as breathing, choosing and working with its songs presented a special challenge. I needed to cast aside my own associations with the songs, to hear them in a new light, and to mine the musical material for its own intrinsic beauty.
A la Claire Fontaine is a lyrical French Canadian folk song about lost love. I used changes in modality and unusual non-diatonic pitch collections to capture the bittersweet essence of the original words: “It has been a long time that I have loved you; I will never forget you.”
I’s the B’ye is an irrepressible Newfoundland jig, its title in dialect: “I am the boy who builds the boat, and I am the boy who sails her…” I interwove continuous melodic layers with cross-rhythms against the tune and played with the coloristic possibilities of harp harmonies, making a hybrid that resembles a Maritime jig fused with a Baroque toccata.
The Huron Carol (‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime) is a Christmas song introduced to Canada by the Jesuits with the goal of converting its Native people. It describes the birth of Jesus in a silent, snow-covered winter landscape. Wise men’s gifts are replaced by furs and pelts harvested by the native people in the woods. This movement links the mystery of Christian mysticism with the pristine natural environment in Ontario, the country’s central region.
My prelude, the opening movement, features bell-like sonorities; the postlude is a perpetual-motion movement that accumulates resonance over the entire range of the harp, evoking the emergence of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis).
Balch Triple Point
Nathan G. Raderman, clarinet
Christopher Bassett, trombone
Sean Van Winkle, percussion
Ashley Zhang, piano
Robert Anemone, violin
Elizabeth Burns, double bass
Efstratios Minakakis, conductor
The triple point of a substance is the temperature and pressure at which the three phases (gas, liquid, and solid) of that substance can coexist. I was attracted to the image of rapidly or easily manipulated states of matter, and used this as a springboard for the design and sound world of this piece. In Triple Point, the instruments transition between different textural worlds at different rates of change. For most of the piece, each instrument acts as a member or participant in a unified texture, but towards the middle of the piece, each instrument begins to take on its own textural identity in sharp outbursts before coming together again.
Heiss Epigrams for Flute and Percussion
Laura Heiss Varas, flute and piccolo
Frank Epstein, percussion
Epigrams was composed for my then teenaged daughter and son. At ages 16 and 14, they understood the music perfectly and played it well. Her flute’s lyricism and his percussionist’s timing and sense of color complemented each other nicely. But some sibling arguments (mvt. 2) and strong individualities (mvts. 3 and 4) crept in, inevitably! The “old favorite” (mvt. 5) is jazz pianist Errol Garner’s Lullaby of Birdland, which they had often heard me play, and which, by way of conclusion, dissolves mysteriously back into ideas from the opening movement.
Mallia Dangerous Passing
Allison Poh, flute
Tara Mueller, violin
Daniel Parker, cello
Harrison Honor, percussion
John Mallia, electronics
Minakakis Diaploys for Solo Percussion
David Tarantino, percussion
The word “diaploys” in Greek means sailing through. Diaploys is the third in a family of works that relate to Odysseus’s sea voyages towards home. As in the case of Apoploys I, Diaploys is a commentary on verses 78–80 from the 13th book of the Odyssey: as the Phaiakians “rowed vigorously’’ towards Ithaka, Odysseus is overcome by a sweet, deep slumber, “very akin to death.” The work is conceived as a series of escalating waves, tracing a tense, fragile line and its shadows throughout the piece.
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