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In Tune

  • "Which comes first, music or words?" Celebrating National Opera Week with Henry Mollicone

    In honor of National Opera Week (Oct. 27 – Nov. 5), E. C. Schirmer explores the creative process behind writing and producing new opera. Join us as we commemorate the creativity, diligence, and hard work of the composers, librettists, and producers who bring those operas to life.

    Henry Mollicone

    Henry Mollicone's one-act operas, Emperor NortonStarbird, The Face on the Barroom Floor, and The Mask of Evil, commissioned by the Central City Opera, Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco Opera, the Kurt Herbert Adler Award Fund, and The Minnesota Opera, have been performed extensively. The Face on the Barroom Floor, a recipient of the American Composers' Recording Award, is one of America 's most oft-performed contemporary operas, and has also been produced in various European countries. Mr. Mollicone has guest-conducted at several American opera companies including those in Baltimore, Portland, Augusta, Lake George and Central City. In 1976, Mr. Mollicone was a musical assistant to Leonard Bernstein for the show 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and from 1971 to 1976 was an assistant conductor at the New York City Opera.

    What is your all-time favorite opera?
    La Traviata!

    What was the first opera you ever saw live?
    Rigoletto.

    If you could choose one artist to perform one of your operas, who would it be?
    Too many - can’t choose one!

    Who is your opera role model?
    Verdi (of course!)

    What’s something about composing opera that people don’t know?
    Interestingly, I find a lot of people who love opera ask the question “which comes first, music or words?" In opera, usually the words are written first, but sometimes a composer will give a librettist a melody, and a master librettist such as Sheldon Harnick  can handle the task very well.  A few times people have said to me, “It’s amazing how you could write the music and the librettist can find the words to fit it." That is, of course, an impossible task since the words are the foundation- the skeleton if you will- that sets the moods, structure, emotional content, etc., of the music.  In Broadway music, the answer is different: sometimes the words come first, and other times the music.

    What is the biggest challenge in composing opera?
    The commitment. The process is going on within the composer’s mind 24 seven, whether consciously or not.  Keeping up with the rest of your life while writing a large opera- or even a one-act- is a large task, and I find it takes serious effort to do so.  Opera just might be the most complicated musical form.  For me the most important elements are melody (which is of course married to harmony), and the emotional impact the work will have on the audience.

    What are three important things to keep in mind when producing an opera?
    Finding the best possible singers, director, and conductor; publicising the opera in a creative way so that audiences really want to see/hear the work; doing all you can to obtain with approval of the unions some kind of representative recording- audio or video, as getting new productions is an almost impossible task without having the ability to have other possible producers see/hear the piece.

    What is your greatest priority in creating new opera?
    Doing my best to reach the audience on an emotional level.  To me the greatest joy for a composer is to touch an audience in a positive way.  Composing music (as in writing, painting, etc.) is, or should in my opinion, come from a very deep place within the creator.  That’s why it is difficult sometimes  for me to sit through a premiere of my work.  Recently I was honored when Steven M. Crawford (a fine conductor from the Met) conducted the NYC premiere of a recent opera I wrote with librettist Sheldon Harnick, and told me that his wife was brought to tears in the finale of the piece.  Music should be written to bring pleasure and awareness to the audience!  This does not mean compromising what you are doing, but rather writing the best possible work you can while always keeping your audience in mind.  In the tough years of the 20th century, this was considered the wrong approach.  BALDERDASH!  It worked well for the master composers in the past!  I feel writing only for yourself and your colleagues is a selfish waste of time.

    How did you come to create your first opera?
    Interesting question!  I fell in love with the voice in high school, as my high school girlfriend (Carleen!) was a soprano.  I wrote a lot of things for her to sing so that our conservative parents would let us spend more time together to rehearse!! The girlfriend disappeared after our short romance, but the love of the voice continued, and I began coaching for the opera dept. at the New England Conservatory, where I decided it was time for me to write an original opera based on Hawthorn’s Young Goodman Brown.  I learned so much doing this, and learned even more when I got a job as a pianist at the New York City Opera after graduating college.  THAT was an education!  Thanks to two great men, composer Gunther Schuller and conductor Julius Rudel, I was able to receive my first opera commission.  Unfortunately I was going through writer’s block, as the accepted style was twelve tone music, and that must was not in my blood, so the piece didn’t turn out well as I was attempting to make my style sound more “modern.”  Thank God tonality (to my surprise) came back and was acceptable again— at that point I began to find my real compositional voice, and my next opera was the 25 minute The Face on the Barroom Floor, which still is my most performed work in that genre.

    For more information about Henry Mollicone and his catalogue, click here.

  • "The greatest priority in creating a new opera is finding a story and characters that need music.” Celebrating National Opera Week with David Conte

    In honor of National Opera Week (Oct. 27 – Nov. 5), E. C. Schirmer explores the creative process behind writing and producing new opera. Join us as we commemorate the creativity, diligence, and hard work of the composers, librettists, and producers who bring those operas to life.

    David Conte

    David Conte (b. 1955) is the composer of over one hundred works published by E. C. Schirmer Music Company, including six operas. He is Professor of Composition and Chair of the Composition Department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. In 2010 he was appointed to the composition faculty of the European American Musical Alliance in Paris, and in 2011 he joined the board of the American Composers Forum. In 2014 he was named Composer-in-Residence with Cappella SF, a professional chorus in San Francisco.

    What is your all-time favorite opera?
    I have two:  Verdi’s Othello, and Janacek’s Jenufa.

    What was the first opera you ever saw live?
    Carmen, at the Masonic Auditorium in Detroit, 1976.

    If you could choose one artist to perform one of your operas, who would it be?
    Krzysztof Urbanski, one of the most gifted and exciting young conductors working today.

    Who is your opera role model?
    Puccini, Janacek, and Conrad Susa

    If you could have dinner with any composer, opera or otherwise, who would it be?
    Stephen Sondheim

    What is the biggest challenge in composing opera?
    Finding the right subject for your particular gifts, and working with the librettist to get the libretto you need.  There is a trend now, partly because of supertitles, which are indispensable, for libretti to be more like screenplays than true librettos.  The result is that the music is merely accompanying the dramatic unfolding, rather than animating it and illuminating the characters and their motivations.  Also, the audience is always being told in literal terms what is going on, but librettos, while they don’t have to be “high poetry,” need to have a tone of language that invites singing.  There can be a poetry “of” the opera, rather than “in” the opera.  This means that the language and structure of the libretto serve the music, in providing both varying tempos, which reflect the emotional tempo of the character at a given moment of his or her existence, and that there are opportunities for various kind of rhetorical composing, including music that both is “vertical,” in that the emotion of a situation is explored in a deep way, as in an aria, or “horizontal,” meaning that the plot actions are being advanced in a more practical sense.

    What is your greatest priority in creating new opera?
    Finding a story and characters that need music.  W. H. Auden said: “In order to sing, the characters have to be a little mad.”  One can make an analogy between high mass and low mass; what is sung, and what is spoken. Opera is sung. Fashioning a quality of language that “lifts of the page,” meaning that needs to be sung, and whose message is intensified when sung.  Building into the libretto a variety of tempos that reflect exactly the “rise and fall”  of the dramatic unfolding.  This is also a reflection of the dramatic structure of the work, which for me is best when it affirms classical Greek dramatic structure, with its clear climax and resolution.  When this is present, the audience can experience, again in the Greek sense, a true catharsis, which for me is the purpose of art, and is what leads both performers and audiences to bond with a work.  The most important quality to build into the libretto is what Somerset Maugham called “direction of interest.” It is the method by which an author causes you to concern yourself with the fortunes of certain people under certain conditions and keeps you attached to them until he has reached his solution.

    For more information about David Conte and his catalogue, click here.

  • "Human beings are hard-wired for narrative..." Celebrating National Opera Week with Libby Larsen

    In honor of National Opera Week (Oct. 27 - Nov. 5), E. C. Schirmer explores the creative process behind writing and producing new opera. Join us as we commemorate the creativity, diligence, and hard work of the composers, librettists, and producers who bring those operas to life.

    Libby LarsenGrammy award-winning composer Libby Larsen (b. 24 December 1950, Wilmington, Delaware) is one of America’s most prolific and most performed living composers, whose music has been praised for its dynamic, deeply inspired, and vigorous contemporary American spirit. Her opera Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus was selected as one of the eight best classical music events of 1990 by USA Today. In 1973, she co-founded (with Stephen Paulus) the Minnesota Composers Forum, now the American Composers Forum, which has been an invaluable advocate for composers in a difficult, transitional time for American arts.

    What is your all-time favorite opera?
    Alban Berg’s Lulu, absolute favorite.

    What was the first opera you ever saw live?
    Dominick Argento’s Postcard from Morocco.

    If you could choose one artist to perform one of your operas, who would it be?
    Nicholas Phan, superb artist.

    Who is your opera role model?
    Beverly Sills; artist, entrepreneur, leader.

    If you could have dinner with any composer, opera or otherwise, who would it be?
    Dinner séance with Hector Berlioz.

    What is your greatest priority in creating new opera?
    Human beings are hard-wired for narrative. I keep this as my top priority when I work in opera.  I challenge myself creatively to create and maintain a strong narrative – linear, non-linear, mobilesque – whatever the narrative form I use it must be clear throughout the work. Within this, my priorities are to tell a good story with interesting characters and music that involves the audience in their stories and character development.  A “character” can be as abstract as an idea or as concrete as a person.  Whatever or whoever it is the character needs to be deeply interesting and worked out on many levels.

    What are some of the differences between your first opera and your most recent one?
    One other noticeable difference (at least to me…) is the way in inhabit my characters and their stories. Over the years and the fifteen or so operas I’ve composed, I’ve changed  in how I think about and work with my characters. I used to set them in motion, watch them and respond with music.  Now I put them inside me, live with them, and let the music come through them. I’ve also evolved in the way I set text on character and circumstance.  In my early operas I tended to set text for each character in pretty much the same way.  For instance, if the meter of the score was 4/4, every character’s text was set 4/4.  I now create a customized rhythmic profile for each character as well as a customized tempo map for each’s character development throughout the opera. I’ve found that this way of working allows a character to transcend meter while coordinating naturally with it and with the other characters in the work.

    Tell us about how opera inspires or energizes you.
    I LOVE that the medium of opera allows a person to dwell deeply, over a long span of time, in an abstract, essential human emotion – love, death, grief, greed, jealousy, lust, avarice, power- lust, etc., When  we attend opera, we are more than willing to take ourselves to the subject at hand and GO THERE emotionally, trusting that we are welcome and belong in this particular world created of music/words/movement/lighting/costumes – maybe best of all, we BREATHE the same air along with the musicians so for this span of time we move together, musically, psychologically and spiritually.

    For more information about Libby Larsen and her catalogue, click here.

  • Gwyneth Walker visits Ohio University Choirs for masterclass & concert

    The Voice and Choral Departments of the Ohio University School of Music present visiting American composer Gwyneth Walker for a concert at First United Methodist Church, featuring Ohio’s choral ensembles and student vocal soloists. A public vocal masterclass occurs before the concert.

    Widely performed throughout the country, the music of American composer Gwyneth Walker is beloved by performers and audiences alike for its energy, beauty, reverence, drama, and humor. Dr. Gwyneth Walker (b. 1947) is a graduate of Brown University and the Hartt School of Music. She holds B.A., M.M. and D.M.A. degrees in Music Composition. A former faculty member of the Oberlin College Conservatory, she resigned from academic employment in 1982 in order to pursue a career as a full-time composer. For nearly 30 years, she lived on a dairy farm in Braintree, Vermont. She now divides her time between her childhood hometown of New Canaan, Connecticut and the musical communities of Sarasota, Florida and Randolph, Vermont.

    Gwyneth Walker has been a proud resident of Vermont for many years. She is the recipient of the Year 2000 "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the Vermont Arts Council as well as the 2008 "Athenaeum Award for Achievement in the Arts and Humanities" from the St. Johnsbury (VT) Athenaeum. In 2012, she was elected as a Fellow of the Vermont Academy of Arts and Sciences.

    Walker's catalog includes over 300 commissioned works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, chorus, and solo voice. A special interest has been dramatic works that combine music with readings, acting, and movement.

    Source: OHIO College of Fine Arts - MUSIC: Visiting Artist Gwyneth Walker with Ohio University Choirs

  • Ragnar Bohlin conducts music by David Conte: Taiwan & San Francisco

    Taiwan

    Grammy award-winning Ragnar Bohlin conducted the Formosa Singers in concert in Taipei, Taiwan. As part of the performance, David Conte's work The Waking was performed. Commissioned in 1985 by the Music Parents Support Organization (Lakewood, OH), this work was written for Conte's alma mater. The composer writes, "I was attracted to the American poet Theodore Roethke's work because of its powerful evocation of his own youth in the Midwest. In his poem The Waking I found a gentle mysticism and an acceptance of the paradoxical nature of life which seemed a poignant message for young people."

    Here is a performance of The Waking by the Salt Lake Vocal Artists:


    San Francisco

    On October 28-29, Bohlin led Cappella SF in a performance of Conte's The Kingdom of God for SATB Chorus, Children's Chorus, and piano. They were joined by the Young Women's Choral Projects under the direction of Susan McMane.

    Nicholas Jones wrote in a San Francisco Classical Voice review: "At the end of the concert, the young women returned to the stage to join Cappella SF in a moving piece by David Conte, The Kingdom of God, written in memory of those killed at Newtown, and beautifully fitted to both the freshness and vigor of a youth choir and the virtuosity of a professional choir." Click here to read the full review.

  • Elena Ruehr piano concerto premiere - A Far Cry

    Heng-Jin Park

    Pianist Heng-Jin Park premieres Elena Ruehr's Piano Concerto in a program exploring human migration, hosted by Boston-based A Far Cry. The work was commissioned by AFC and is based on Park's own immigration story. Also included in the concert is Georg Phillip Telemann's Ouverture, "les nations," and Mieczyslaw Weinberg Symphony No. 10.

    A Far Cry stands at the forefront of an exciting new generation in classical music. According to The New York Times, the self-conducted orchestra “brims with personality or, better, personalities, many and varied.” A Far Cry was founded in 2007 by a tightly-knit collective of 17 young professional musicians, and since the beginning has fostered those personalities. A Far Cry has developed an innovative process where decisions are made collectively and leadership rotates among the “Criers.” For each piece, a group of principals is elected by the members, and these five musicians guide the rehearsal process and shape the interpretation. Since each program includes multiple works, this multiplicity of leaders adds tremendous musical variety to the concerts.

    Source: Music in Migration — A Far Cry

  • Juliana Hall named winner in art song festival competition

    Juliana HallJuliana Hall has been named one of seven winners in One Ounce Opera's 2nd Annual Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Art Song. Over fifty art songs and cycles were entered from the United States, Canada, Australia, and England.

    Last year, the Inaugural FSOAS earned One Ounce Opera two Austin Critics Table Award Nominations, and was named to TRIBEZA Magazine’s Insider’s Guide to Austin’s Hidden Gems:

    “Long before the three-minute pop song arose there was the classic art song — a short segment of poetry sung to piano accompaniment. (Imagine Brahms and Debussy as Bieber predecessors.) Bringing back the art song…, One Ounce Opera presents brand new pieces from emerging composers….take in the soaring vocals and unique creations.”  –TRIBEZA, Nov 2016

    Hall's Music Like a Curve of Gold is a setting of poetry by Sara Teasdale for soprano and mezzo-soprano. Rebekah Smeltzer Staley, soprano, and Julie Silva, mezzo-soprano perform the work on November 3, 2017.

    Click here to read One Ounce Opera's interview with Juliana.

  • The Quiet Center: Keesecker's introspective piano music "resonates" 

    The Quiet CenterThe Quiet CenterTom Keesecker's new collection of piano music for Advent and Christmas, is refreshing in its introspection and is already resonating with players and listeners alike. From the composer:

    "I began composing The Quiet Center in November 2016. I finished the collection on January 20, 2017 and recorded it in February. It was my way of seeking a quiet haven amidst the turbulence affecting our country, although I sincerely hope that by turning in, I can—through my music—reflect out. The uncomplicated piano solos are mostly quiet, introspective pieces, suitable for the quietly joyful expectation of Advent and Christmas. "

    Keesecker's treatments of hymn tunes for Advent and Christmas are set both individually and in combinations. For example, Creator of the Stars of Night mixes CONDITOR ALME SIDERUM with HYFRYDOL, a tune many congregations sing with the Advent hymn “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” There is also an original piece, "The Quiet Center," to round out the collection.

    A complete CD recording is available as well as the printed collection.

    In 2018, MorningStar Music will be releasing a second collection of Tom's piano music for Lent called The Quiet Journey: Piano Music for Lent and Holy Week. Here is a preview of one of those pieces, Attende Domine.

  • Liturgical Planning Guide: Help is just a click away!

    Are you looking for new music for worship but don’t have time to search through catalogs? Our Liturgical Planning Guide has a variety of resources to help.

    We’re excited to share our recently updated website, renovated with you in mind. This handy tutorial will walk you through this new part of our site and give you access to the planning resources.

    To start, click on the Planning Guide button found on the homepage.

    Homepage

    On the Planning Guide page, there are three large buttons, two for Lectionary and one for Downloadable Liturgical Music. Our Lectionary planning pages are the most popular part of our website! Here you will find a Sunday-by-Sunday list of appropriate choral titles as well as monthly, seasonal, and special resources that include organ and instrumental titles. The Revised Lectionary section includes suggestions for readings and congregational hymns, referencing matching tune selections.

    The Downloadable Liturgical Music Portal is where you’ll find an increasing number of resources that are available for download, with the option to filter the results with your particular criteria. Stay tuned!

    The Planning Guide page also allows you to filter our liturgical music by a set of Categories. Click on a specific denomination or category of hymn resources to access a list which can be filtered further by sub-categories specific to that denomination. Or simply skip those Categories and use the filters below.

    E.g., clicking SAB under “Voicing” will give you all of the SAB titles found in this planning section. Customize your search further with additional filters as desired.

    Planning Guide Homepage

    We hope you will take advantage of these new features. Don't forget to take advantage of our viewing samples and demo recordings, which will further streamline your planning!

    To get started, click here.

  • Northwest Art Song features music of Juliana Hall & Libby Larsen

    Northwest Art Song

    Northwest Art Song partnered with The Ensemble of Oregon to share a concert series titled "Nevertheless, She Persisted: Voices of Women in Music & Verse." In addition to music by Juliana Hall (Music like a Curve of Gold) and Libby Larsen, the concert features music by Abbie Betinis, Stacy Garrop, and Kati Agócs.

    Northwest Art Song was founded by soprano Arwen Myers, mezzo Laura Beckel Thoreson, and pianist Susan McDaniel in 2015 to promote the art of the song recital in the Northwest. They believe in creating engaging programs that foster interest and excitement in the art song repertoire.

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