Canciones de Agua was composed between 2009-2012 for the German alto Ingeborg Danz and violinist Peter Stein as an anniversary gift, commissioned by Peter Stein’s father, Rolf Stein. The work was commissioned to accompany a series of paintings by Rolf Stein on the subject of water. The poems, all selected from Pablo Neruda’s posthumous The Sea and the Bells, were selected for their resonance or contrast with the paintings. They are set in the original Spanish. “Trino el Zorzal” is a description of a sunset, but the imagery is strangely martial, which I highlight in the setting, only resolving into peace at the conclusion of the song. “Perdon” is an ars poetica disguised as an apologia for the poet’s lack of vision and monotony. The setting seeks to highlight the monotony expressed in the text through a repeating, despondent accompaniment; however, the vocal line refuses to succumb, instead soaring above in increasingly graceful lines. “Gracias, violines” is a simple homage to the violin, and the setting seeks to do it justice. “Hoy cuantas horas” depicts the remorselessness of time and the eventual dissolution of all things. The accompaniment echoes that of “Perdon”, but now transformed into the upper register of the violin. It suggests the mechanical nature of time and slowly sinks along with the poetic imagery. The finale, “Un rio”, describes a river, starting small in the mountains and descending through wild rapids into a broad slow river as it reaches the sea. The movement is a tour de force for the violin, which characterizes the river in all of its transformations, from the gurgling stream to the wild youth to the mature river, finally evaporating into a shimmering mist.
Griffiths Songs was composed between January and March 2004. It is a set of three songs, the texts for which were taken from the first book by the English poet Jane Griffiths. “The Skater” is a poem of contrasts–in particular the contrast between the bustle of the crowd and the stillness of nature. “Parallel Motion” contrasts the vertical motion of a grandfather clock ticking in an apartment (the gradual descent of the weight) with the horizontal motion of the river snaking through the town. “Metamorphosis” is a poem about the difficulty of relationship and intimacy. Griffiths Songs is dedicated to Ingeborg Danz and Peter Stein, who gave the first performance on April 30, 2004.
“Joy” was composed between December, 1998 and February, 1999. It is a setting of a poem by Virginia poet Thomas Gardner, whom I met when we were both living in Finland as Fulbright Fellows. Upon hearing a reading of the work, Dr. Gardner wrote the following, which captures the piece far more eloquently than I can:
“What I liked about “Joy” was the way you controlled the emotional tempo–for want of a better phrase. I could hear in the starts and stops, the pauses, the rises in volume, the way the speaker hesitates, then tries to get through to the lover; the almost thrusting madness of trying to step or burst through; then the calm at the end, which feels almost won or earned by the effort, and by the putting aside of the effort. The last line seems very lovely to me, now–brand new when I first heard the piece; I didn’t really recall writing it.”
Three Songs is a short cycle of settings of poems by Robert Frost. “The Rabbit Hunter” explores the sudden and inexplicable savagery of nature. “Design” is a humorous description of a spider that has caught a moth. “Acquainted with the Night” describes the loneliness of the poet, wandering in the night.