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2014 | SEASON 21 | The choral ecologies


OCEANA:  Music of the oceans, lakes, and seas

2 7 8 9 March 2014

The Esoterics sets sail into its third decade, inspired by songs about the open water.  Opening our twenty-first season is OCEANA:  Music of the oceans, lakes, and seas.  This concert will be the first in a series of three “choral ecologies” that feature music about three components of the Earth’s biosphere: the ocean, the forest, and the atmosphere.  In OCEANA, The Esoterics bring to the concert stage four modern works whose texts are narratives of our relationship with the most abundant natural resource on our planet. The ocean was a common theme for Swedish composer Gösta Nystroem (1890-1966), who often went to the shore near his Gothenburg home to paint. In Nystroem’s Tre havsvisioner (Three sea visions), composed in 1956 for eight-part chorus, the constancy of the sea inspires the contemplation of life’s ebb and flow. To conclude his 1996 choral/orchestral symphony Oceana, Argentinean Osvaldo Golijov (b 1960) penned his Coral del arrecife (The coral of the reef) for double chorus, setting the poetry of Pablo Neruda in an undulating homage to the eponymous goddess. British composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012) is well known for his film scores and his performances as a jazz pianist.  Setting poems by Marvell, Spenser, and Shakespeare, Bennett’s Sea change captures the mystery of the sea and its islands, and includes a fantastic, ferocious roster of sea monsters! These oceans vast, by founding director Eric Banks (b 1969), sets six nautical poems by Herman Melville that draw on Melville’s voyages on whaling ships in the South Pacific. These poems trace the emotional journey of sailors: from the optimism of setting forth; through the fear, abandon, longing, and delirium during the trip; to the relief and wonder upon arriving at “the enviable isles.”


SYLVANA:  Music of the forests, flowers, and trees

3 9 10 11 May 2014

The Esoterics goes deep into the woods to present its next choral ecology, SYLVANA. In Sphragis [The seal] by the German composer Heinrich Poos, we hear Ovid’s account of the mourning forest after the death of Orpheus, and celebrate the reunion with his beloved Eurydice. In trees, by the Swede Lars-Johan Werle, we witness the majesty and whimsy of e. e. cummings’ inimitable poem. With the Canadian Stephen Chatman, we head Due north, into a choral universe evoked by his titles: mountains, trees, woodpecker, varied thrushes, and mosquitoes. With Founding Director Eric Banks, we meditate on Twelve flowers, setting haiku by Yosa Buson that follow the different blooms through the months of the year. Seattle composer Greg Bartholomew provides yet another devotion in his setting of Jones Very’s profound poem The tree; and Maurice Ravel’s Trois chansons [Three songs] retell the tale of Nicolette (Little Red Riding Hood gone awry), pay homage to three wistful birds of paradise, and give a frenzied warning to the children of Ormonde: avoid the fierce monsters in the forest!


AETHERIA:  Music of the sky, air, and atmosphere

3 4 5  October 2014

The Esoterics will conclude its series of three “choral ecologies” with AETHERIA, a concert of music that draws its inspiration from the ever-changing breath of the earth and the creatures who inhabit our skies.  During this concert, The Esoterics will also give voice to the winners of its 2014 POLYPHONOS competition, premiering new works by each of the three winning composers, who will be in attendance to meet our audience and talk about their creative process. Each of three POLYPHONOS composers was required to choose and set a text that resonates with the “airy” theme of this concert.  For her piece entitled Lyft, Stef Conner, this year’s International prize winner (from Surrey, England) has set three riddles in medieval English from the Anglo-Saxon Exeter Book (Codex Exoniesis).  For his commission, this year’s National prize winner Greg Simon (Ann Arbor, MI) set poetry by his wife, Jodi-Renee Giron.  Simon’s work, Pneuma, contemplates breath as a metaphor for the spirit.  Dale Trumbore (Los Angeles, CA), winner of this year’s Young Composer prize, set Barbara Crooker’s poem, After the storm passes, which describes a sinuous journey on the wind following the rain. Other works in AETHERIA will include The Beaufort scale,a humoresque by the Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen.  The text for this work is taken from descriptions in the Beaufort wind force scale, which relates wind speed to observed conditions on land or sea.  The group will also perform Winging wildly, a triptych of avian poems (by Sara Teasdale, Paul Dunbar, and Siegfried Sassoon) set by the celebrated San Francisco composer Kirke Mechem.  The Esoterics will also reprise Nine sunset watercolors by Finnish composer Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, an atmospheric commission in which a constellation of vocal quartets surround the audience and sing haiku-like vignettes in sequence. Former POLYPHONOS winner Zachary Wadsworth will be heard again on this concert with his work To the roaring wind, which was composed for HARMONIA composer Dominick DiOrio’s Contemporary Vocal Ensemble at Indiana University. In Wadsworth’s setting, every phoneme of this four-line stanza by Wallace Stevens is stretched beyond recognition, into a “storm” of extended choral sounds.   Finally, Founding Director Eric Banks’ four-movement work, The Syrian seasons, will be performed in its complete form for the first time.  Each movement is based on ethereal lines from Nizar Qabbani’s One hundred love letters, and will be sung in both Arabic and English.


FINE:  Irving Fine Centennial

5 6 7 December 2014

In keeping with its tradition of celebrating the centenaries of modern composers, The Esoterics will commemorate the music and life of the American composer Irving Fine (3 December 1914 –  23 August 1962.) Fine, a member of the “Boston School” was a contemporary of Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Lukas Foss, and a friend to Igor Stravinsky.  His pedigree as a musician was extraordinary, having studied composition with Walter Piston and Nadia Boulanger, as well as conducting with Serge Kousseviztky.  He taught at Brandeis University, and was known for his contributions to the Tanglewood Festival, where he taught composition. This program will feature Fine’s entire choral oeuvre, including his notable cycle The hour glass (1949) and six choruses from his two Alice in wonderland suites.  The hour glass sets six poems of love and loss by Ben Jonson for a cappella chorus and soloists, including Have you seen the white lily grow and Against jealousy.  Between 1942 and 1953, Fine set six poems in two suites from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in wonderland, each successive poem more ridiculous than the next. (You might recognize such poems as Lullaby of the duchess and the turtle’s Beautiful soup!) These accompanied works are among some of his most well-remembered choral music. The texts from The Choral New Yorker (1944)are based on poems from the magazine of the same name.  The four accompanied pieces in the set are intense and virtuosic, capturing the witticism and sardonic nature of the poetry. (Included in these pieces are the infamous poems Hen party and Caroline Million.)  For this cycle as well as his Alice in Wonderland suite, The Esoterics will be joined by pianist Kevin Johnson.  In a nod to his Jewish heritage, Fine’s An old song (1953) is the musical recollection of a sword smith crafting a weapon for a Japanese samurai. The text is a translation from the Yiddish poem by the Lithuanian-American Yehoash (Solomon Blumgarten). Finally, the men’s and women’s ensembles of The Esoterics will perform separately to perform A short alleluia (1945) and McCord’s menagerie (1957).  Written for three-part women’s voices, A short alleluia is an quick and lively anthem that has become part of the standard repertoire for female choruses.  McCord’s menagerie was written for the 100th anniversary of the Harvard Glee Club, which Fine conducted while he studied there.  This bizarre bestiary for men’s voices includes poems about the vulture, jerboa, mole, and clam.