Fruitful Collaboration Brings about the World Premiere of the Orchestral Song Setting of My Poem “Thorn Tree”

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The opening measures of Jacob Reed’s orchestral song setting of my poem “Thorn Tree.”

After months and months of preparation, dozens of conversations, a bevy of emails, and a whirlwind of ideas catalyzed by an inspiring and fruitful creative collaboration, the orchestral song setting of my poem “Thorn Tree” was given its world premiere along with those of two other new orchestral songs yesterday afternoon at the McConnell Arts Center in Worthington.

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Antoine Clark conducts members of the McConnell Arts Center Chamber Orchestra in William Walton’s Façade Suite No. 2, while I recite Edith Sitwell’s offbeat poetic texts.

The song settings were composed by Columbus composer Jacob Reed as part of “The Poet’s Song,” a project Reed created to unite poems and music in new art songs.

On a concert program entitled “The Words Beneath the Sound,” featuring musical works with sung or spoken texts, McConnell Arts Center Chamber Orchestra artistic and music director Antoine Clark conducted the world premieres of Reed’s songs, the world premiere of Christopher Weait’s orchestral song settings of Emily Dickinson poems Emily’s Bees and Bells, Walton’s Façade Suite No. 2 – with poetry by Edith Sitwell, and, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of its world premiere, Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat, with a text adaptation I wrote specially for this performance. Soprano Chelsea Hart Melcher was featured as soloist in the Reed and Weait songs, and, in my role as midday host of WOSU Public Media’s Classical 101, I narrated the Walton and the Stravinsky.

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I narrate my own text adaptation of Stravinsky’s iconic L’Histoire du Soldat with members of the McConnell Arts Center Chamber Orchestra.

Funded jointly by the Johnstone Fund for New Music, the McConnell Arts Center of Worthington, and the Worthington Educational Foundation, “The Poet’s Song” project brought together many throughout the Worthington community.

As a guest artist, I worked with Thomas Worthington High School students on reading and writing poetry in two class visits. Students were also encouraged to participate in a poetry contest, which was judged by other members of the Worthington community, and the winner of which had his poem set to music by Reed and performed in yesterday’s concert. Poems by all of the MACCO programentrants in the school poetry contest were displayed along with musical sketches by Reed and Weait, on a “Wall for Sharing” in the lobby at the MAC. The project’s culminating performance, “The Words Beneath the Sound,” yesterday at the McConnell Arts Center brought a rich program of poetry and music before the Worthington community.

This project hit home deeply with me. I grew up in Worthington and attended the Worthington Schools, and I know how committed this community is to quality in education and cultural enrichment. Yesterday’s concert brought a rich offering of poetry and music before the Worthington community in combinations that had never before been experienced in that way. I left the performance with the feeling that we all had experienced something unique and exciting.

From its dissonant opening “thorn” chord to its intentionally unsettled conclusion, Reed’s setting of my poem “Thorn Tree,” like his settings of the poems by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi and Worthington student poet Nat Hickman he selected for “The Poet’s Song,” explores the text’s emotional depth in rich, dramatic harmonies and sparkling orchestral color.

My deep gratitude to composer Jacob Reed for believing in my poem “Thorn Tree” enough to give it this sumptuous orchestral setting, to Antoine Clark for bringing me into “The Poet’s Song” project, and to the staff of the McConnell Arts Center for making the center an inspiring locus of creativity.

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Christoper Weait, me, Antoine Clark, Chelsea Hart Melcher, and Jacob Reed onstage in the McConnell Arts Center’s Bronwyn Theatre.  Photo: Jon Cook

A Standing Ovation for the Ohio Premiere of Melissa Dunphy’s Song Cycle “Hervararkviða”

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Photo: Søren Niedziella/Creative Commons/Flickr

It was a great honor to sing the Ohio premiere of Philadelphia-based composer Melissa Dunphy’s song set Hervararkviða – The Incantation of Hervor – with harpist Jeanne Norton and violinist Laura Koh Sunday afternoon at Capital University’s Huntington Recital Hall, Columbus.

Commissioned by mezzo-soprano Maren Montalbano for her recording Sea Tangle: Songs from the North, the three songs in Hervararkviða tell the story of Hervor, a young Viking woman who dresses up like a man, changes her name to its male equivalent – Hervarth, and leaves her village to journey to the burial mound where her father was laid to rest after dying in battle and claim his sword as her birthright.

Scored for Montalbano’s specified instrumentation, Dunphy’s songs treat the voice and each of the instruments in unconventional ways to stunning dramatic effect.  They are an extraordinary contribution to the art song repertory.

Yesterday’s performance of Hervararkviða was presented by Women in Music Columbus and was the conclusion of a concert consisting of works selected from among those submitted in response to Women in Music Columbus’ biennial Call for Scores from women composers.

I was greatly touched by yesterday’s generous audience, which gave our performance of these incredible songs a standing ovation.

For more about Hervararkviða, listen to my interview with Melissa Dunphy which I conducted for Classical 101, WOSU Public Media.

My collaborators and I are planning future performances of these songs.  Keep watching Inner Voices for details.