Sunday, May 13, 2012

Celebrating 30 Years with Words of a Poet

This season, Market Square Concerts celebrates its 30th Anniversary with a special concert on Wednesday night at the Rose Lehrman Center of Harrisburg Area Community College, beginning at 7:30, which will include performances by the present directors of Market Square Concerts, artistic director and violinist Peter Sirotin and executive director and pianist Ya-Ting Chang playing Brahms' 2nd Violin sonata (then joined by their colleague, cellist Fiona Thompson, to complete the Mendelssohn Trio for a performance of the Piano Trio by Maurice Ravel) as well as the world premiere of songs by three composers setting words by Lucy Miller Murray, the founder of Market Square Concerts who, thirty years ago, thought it would be fun to bring much-needed live performances of chamber music by world-class artists to Harrisburg.

After the Premiere of the Glass Sonata
While there would be so many concerts to mention, one immediately comes to mind – the world premiere of the Violin Sonata by Philip Glass, one of the leading composers in the world today, commissioned by her husband, Martin, as a surprise birthday present for Lucy.

(You can read about the premiere in these earlier posts, here and here.)

Listen to Cary Burkett’s interview with Peter, Ya-Ting and Lucy as well as Ellen Hughes (the previous director of MSC) and composer Jeremy Gill in this installment of WITF’s “The Creative Zone.”

After the last concert, I chatted briefly with Lucy, in addition writer of program notes not only for Market Square Concerts but also of the collection of program notes, Adams to Zemlinsky: A Friendly Guide to Selected Chamber Music and who had been seen turning pages for pianists at many a concert, and joked about her being “the supplier of words” for the Anniversary Concert. She laughed but thought it brought to mind the image of someone shoveling words out onto the stage. Perhaps “Purveyor of Words” would have been more graceful but then I started thinking about a poet standing behind a counter, pouring words out of a bottle… (it should be so easy).

So let’s just say there will be seven of Lucy’s poems set to music by three different composers, all receiving their world premieres:

Jeremy Gill: Three Songs About Words
Jake Heggie: Ode to Image
Paul Moravec: Three Songs of Love

They will be performed by soprano Sarah Wolfson and pianist Renate Rohlfing.

Jake Heggie is perhaps best known for his opera, Dead Man Walking, completed in 2000, and after three more operas, completed Moby Dick in 2010. He’s written over 200 songs in addition to chamber music and instrumental music, and singers who’ve performed his music include RenĂ©e Fleming, Frederica von Stade, Audra McDonald, Patti LuPone, Joyce DiDonato and Bryn Terfel, among others. As a pianist, he has accompanied many of these artists in recitals.

Technically, Lucy mentioned the other night, she hadn’t heard any of the songs yet but said how, shortly after he’d completed Moby Dick, Heggie came over to show her his setting of her poem, sat down at the upright, then played and sang through “Ode to Image” for her.

Not always the way every poet gets to hear her words turned into music for the first time!

Paul Moravec, described as a “New-Tonalist” (“neither embarrassed nor paralyzed by tradition”), received the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his “Tempest Fantasy” which Trio Solisti and clarinetist David Krakauer played in Harrisburg around that time. Sort of a break-through piece for him, it more or less officially put him on the map, though he’d written a great deal of music before and since.

Jeremy Gill, a Harrisburg native now based in Philadelphia where he is now focusing on composing and conducting, is well-known to Harrisburg audiences through performances of works on Market Square Concerts including a work composed for the Parker Quartet to celebrate MSC’s 25th Anniversary, and by the Harrisburg Symphony (most recently, his Symphony No. 1). A recent CD on the Albany label includes his “Book of Hours” with pianist Peter Orth (another name familiar to Market Square Concerts regulars – he played on the very first concert in 1982) and a powerful song cycle “Helian” which Jeremy and baritone Jonathan Hays (another Harrisburg-area native) performed just this past Friday at Pine Street Presbyterian Church.

After identifying the composers she wanted to include in this commissioning project, Lucy selected 15 of her poems, spanning the years but which have always been kept “in dusty drawers,” and sent them out to composers, asking them to choose which ones they’d like to set.

For instance, as he explained to Cary Burkett, Jeremy Gill chose three poems “reflective in some way on the act of writing or on the personality or the philosophy of the writer.” He described the middle song, “On Hearing a Very Famous Man Speak Profoundly” as a young student (presumably Lucy) sitting in a lecture hall listening to this man droning on and on and she’s not the least bit interested in what he has to say – more interested, actually, in the bird outside the window. If the first song is nervous, a young poet concerned about being heard, about finding her voice, the third is a plea by a poet to take her words and turn them into songs.

So in addition to having been the founding Director of Market Square Concerts, writer of program notes, frequently page turner and occasionally stage hand, Lucy Miller Murray now helps celebrate the organization she so innocently started in 1982 by taking on the role of Poet.

Which, now that I think of it, she has always been – as someone choosing the artists and suggesting the repertoire, bringing performances to life (as much an act of creation as anything), eloquently advocating for the arts, even filling out grants, not to forget everything else that goes unseen behind the curtain – except now, finally, it’s official.

- Dick Strawser

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In the 2nd photo, taken following the world premiere of the Violin Sonata by Philip Glass: L-R with pianist Jon Klibonoff, Ed Harsh from Meet the Composer who was instrumental in arranging the commission, Martin Murray and Lucy Miller Murray (holding the score of the sonata), and violinist Maria Bachmann.

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