Graduate Composition Seminar Virtual Concert

The works in this concert were written during the 2021 spring semester as part of the Graduate Composition Seminar, which took place online because of Covid restrictions.

I asked each composer in the class to write a short setting of a text of their choosing for one or two singers and hand percussion that the singers play themselves, using my piece Hyacinth Curl as a model. The composers were assigned to workshop the pieces individually over the course of many virtual meetings with the performers, revising each time. We also workshopped the pieces in class in successive stages, from the text choice through the conception, technical realization, and the coaching of the final performance. There was much discussion, and we also enjoyed virtual master classes from visiting composers who shared their thoughts on vocal music. The goal was a complete, recorded performance of each work at the end of the semester — reflecting its evolution through this real-time workshop process — and that is what you’ll be hearing in tonight’s concert, with Hyacinth Curl included at the end in a run-through from Jordan Hall. These performances are not polished in the manner of a traditional “concert music” presentation — they are meant to be informal and to showcase the singers in their own milieux, reflecting the current times.

–Kati Agócs

Watch Concert Stream:

  1. Kou Muramatsu: Oku no Hosomichi -introduction- (おくのほそ道 序文)



     草の戸も  住替る代ぞ  ひなの家


    The sun and the moon are eternal voyagers; the years that come and go are travelers too. For those whose lives float away on boats, for those who greet old age with hands clasping the lead ropes of horses, travel is life, travel is home. And many are the men of old who have perished as they journeyed.
           I myself fell prey to wanderlust some years ago, desiring nothing better than to be a vagrant cloud scudding before the wind. Only last autumn, after having drifted along the seashore for a time, had I swept away the old cobwebs from my dilapidated riverside hermitage. But the year ended before I knew it, and I found myself looking at hazy spring skies and thinking of crossing Shirakawa Barrier. Bewitched by the god of restlessness, I lost my peace of mind; summoned by the spirits of the road, I felt unable to settle down to anything. By the time I had mended my torn trousers, put a new cord on my hat, and cauterized my legs with moxa, I was thinking only of the moon at Matsushima. I turned over my dwelling to others, moved to a house belonging to Sanpû, and affixed the initial page of a linked-verse sequence to one of the pillars at my cottage.

                Even my grass-thatched hut
                will have new occupants now:
                a display of dolls.

    Translation by Helen Craig McCullough.

    • Lauren Guthridge, voice and harmonica
    • Chihiro Asano, voice and harmonica
  2. Brooks Clarke: I taste a liquor never brewed


    I taste a liquor never brewed –
    From Tankards scooped in Pearl –
    Not all the Frankfort Berries
    Yield such an Alcohol!
    Inebriate of air – am I –
    And Debauchee of Dew –
    Reeling – thro’ endless summer days – From inns of molten Blue –
    When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
    Out of the Foxglove’s door –
    When Butterflies – renounce their “drams” –
    I shall but drink the more!
    Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats –
    And Saints – to windows run –
    To see the little Tippler
    Leaning against the – Sun!

    Emily Dickinson

    • Michaela Wright, voice and spoons
  3. Marie Carroll: mountain flower


    yes he said I was a flower of the mountain 
    yes so we are flowers all a womans body 
    yes that was one true thing he said in his life 
    and the sun shines for you today yes

    the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses 
    and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain 

    yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls 
    or shall I wear a red yes 
    and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall 
    and I thought well as well him as another 
    and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes 

    and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower 
    and first I put my arms around him yes 
    and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume 
    yes and his heart was going like mad 
    and yes I said yes I will Yes

    Excerpt from Ulysses by James Joyce

    • Litha Ashforth, voice and autoharp
  4. SangUn Kang: Mirror for 2 voices and 2 wine glasses


    이상 – 거울


    Yi Sang – Mirror

    There is no sound in the mirror.
    There won’t be a world so quiet.
    I have ears in the mirror.
    I have two pathetic ears that don’t understand me.
    I am left-handed in the mirror,
    who don’t know how to accept my handshake and who don’t know what handshake is.
    Although I couldn’t touch myself in the mirror because of the mirror,
    how could I have met myself in the mirror if it wasn’t for the mirror?
    I don’t have a mirror now, but there is always me in the mirror.
    I have no idea about this but I will concentrate on a lonely business.
    I am the opposite of myself in the mirror, but I am truly much the same.
    I am very sad that I cannot worry and examine myself in the mirror.

    Translated by SangUn Kang

    • Minjin Ko, voice and wine glass
    • Sujin Kim, voice and wine glass
  5. Fang Xue: Let life be beautiful like summer flowers


    Life, thin and light-off time and time again 
    Frivolous tireless 

    I heard the echo, from the valleys and the heart 
    Open to the lonely soul of sickle harvesting 
    Repeat outrightly, but also repeat the well-being of 
    Eventually swaying in the desert oasis 
    I believe I am 
    Born as the bright summer flowers 
    Do not withered undefeated fiery demon rule 
    Heart rate and breathing to bear the load of the cumbersome 

    I heard the music, from the moon and carcass 
    Auxiliary extreme aestheticism bait to capture misty 
    Filling the intense life, but also filling the pure 
    There are always memories throughout the earth 
    I believe I am 
    Died as the quiet beauty of autumn leaves 
    No over no chaos, smoke gesture 
    Even wilt also retained the clear and the proud  

    I hear love, I believe in love 
    Love is a pool of struggling blue-green algae 
    As desolate micro-burst of wind 
    Years stationed in the veins 
    I believe that all can hear 
    Even meet discrete, meet another oneself 
    Some can not grasp the moment 
    Left the East go West to look at the passing of the inevitable extraordinary  
    Look at me, with flowers on my head a long the way in full bloom 
    Frequently omitted, but also deeply moved by wind, frost, snow or rain 

    Prajna Paramita, soon as soon as 
    life is florid summer flowers death an sere autumn leave  
    What do you care about having

    Rabindranath Tagore, from Stray Birds

    • Xiao Xiao, voice
    • Xiaojie Ji, percussion
  6. Kristian Josifoski: Le Vampire


    Toi qui, comme un coup de couteau,
    Dans mon coeur plaintif es entrée;
    Toi qui, forte comme un troupeau
    De démons, vins, folle et parée,
    De mon esprit humilié
    Faire ton lit et ton domaine;
    — Infâme à qui je suis lié
    Comme le forçat à la chaîne,
    Comme au jeu le joueur têtu,
    Comme à la bouteille l’ivrogne,
    Comme aux vermines la charogne
    — Maudite, maudite sois-tu!
    J’ai prié le glaive rapide
    De conquérir ma liberté,
    Et j’ai dit au poison perfide
    De secourir ma lâcheté.
    Hélas! le poison et le glaive
    M’ont pris en dédain et m’ont dit:
    «Tu n’es pas digne qu’on t’enlève
    À ton esclavage maudit,
    Imbécile! — de son empire
    Si nos efforts te délivraient,
    Tes baisers ressusciteraient
    Le cadavre de ton vampire!»

    • Tyler Bouque, voice and percussion
  7. Kati Agócs: Hyacinth Curl, For 2 High Voices/4 Hand-bells (2015)

    In Hyacinth Curl I transformed the essence of a ghazal (roughly speaking, the Persian equivalent of highly structured sonnet) into a song in English for two female singers and hand-bells that they play themselves. The hand-bells contribute to the purity of the sound world, playing a ceremonial role and helping the singers to stay in tune. The text, which I wrote myself, paraphrases a ghazal by Bibi Hayati, an early nineteenth-century noblewoman from Bam, in the Kerman province of Iran. Hayati embraced the principles of Sufi Gnosticism, although she adhered to the external principles of Islam, and her poetry reflects her ecstatic communion with God. I set the entire Ghazal in the original Farsi language in 2014, on commission by the Canada Council for the Arts for soprano Anne Harley, as Divani Hayati. I loved the exotic and pure sound world of this piece and wanted to make a version that more singers could perform. Hyacinth Curl was premiered on Hub New Music’s portrait concert of my chamber works in Boston’s Jordan Hall in January 2015. It is seven minutes in duration.

    - Kati Agócs


    Is this then the night of Power
    Or merely your hair,
    Is it the dawn-break, or your radiance?
    In Beauty's divan
    Is it an eternal first line?
    Or just a couplet transcribed from your inky eyebrow?

    Is this rose-breath (oh is it rose-breath)
    Or your ambrosial perfume?
    Is it the tuba tree in paradise (in paradise)
    Or your elegant, empathic stature? 

    Is it a cypress grove?
    Mongolian musk?
    A chalice of the red wine of dawn-tide?

    Is this scorching lightning,
    Or fire from Mt. Sana'i? 
    An earthly paradise,
    Or Heaven’s garden?  
    Is it your hyacinth curl (hyacinth curl)?
    Your Narcissus-eye?
    My own burning sigh?

    Everyone turns to pray
    at a man-made shrine
    My soul is a shrine
    And it turns towards your face.

    Text by Kati Agócs; English paraphrases of Bibi Hayati: Ghazal #96, originally in Farsi

    • Emily Siar, voice and hand-bell
    • Elaine Daiber, voice and hand-bell