Celebratory Inaugural Concert
The Sheep Island Ensemble was founded in 2008 by James Blachly as a vehicle for the performance of his works and of other contemporary music. The singers form a versatile chamber chorus of fifteen, modeled after the virtuosic a cappella ensembles of the Renaissance, when highly adventurous work for choral ensembles represented the pinnacle of compositional craft. The group takes it's name from a tiny island in the Gulf of Maine where there is no running water or electricity, and where time stands still in the experience of deep natural beauty and the gentle light of the Aladdin lamp. It is the intention of the ensemble to perpetuate a similar experience of serenity, beauty, and strength through it's musical presentations. Director James Blachly, hailed by Chamber Music America as "vigorous and assured," is a composer interested in the intersection of literature, poetry, and composition. A graduate of Oberlin College, he studied with Robert Cuckson at Mannes for his MM in Composition. James is dedicated to music education. He currently works as a teaching artist with Carnegie Hall, the New York Philharmonic, and through commissions from the Academy ACJW. He loves facilitating the creative musical work of children, and has worked with innovators in this field, including Thomas Cabaniss and Jon Deak. For more information on James and the Ensemble, please visit www.jamesblachly.com NOTES ON THE PROGRAM The Motet Omnis Pulchritudo of the 16th-century Vatican composer Andreas da Silva has for many years been a great inspiration to me. Not just because of the intriguing modal mixture and adventurous harmonic implications, but, above all, because of the heroic counterpoint. The writing is rich and full of joy. It soars; it seems to me to be the apex of this triumphant time in choral polyphony. Perfectly shaped, and perfectly satisfying. In setting the 6th century text Christe, Qui Lux Es I wanted to use an ancient model, and naturally turned to the da Silva. This work is not a response, not a 21st century language responding to a 16th century work; rather, it is a parody anthem, taking the first 8 bars of Omnis Pulchritudo, and traveling somewhere new. Like the 16th century masterwork, I use five voices, with the quintus singing a Cantus Firmus. In this case, I chose the antiphon Rex Pacificus. In conceiving of a Christ figure in 2005 America, before criticism of the war became acceptable, I found this text particularly relevant. Magnificent King of peace, the entire world awaits your return. What would a king of peace be like? How very different from our experience on earth, where we perpetuate endless cycles of violence and greed, and where justice seems as unlikely to be realized as does a true democracy. Christe, qui Lux es et Dies, noctis tenebras detegis, Lucisque lumen crederis, lumen beatum predicans. Precamur Sancte Domine Defende nos in hac nocte, sit nobis in te requies quietam noctem tribue. Alleluia. (6th Century, anonymous) O Christ, you are both light and day, you drive away the shadowed night; as Day-star you precede the dawn, the Herald of the light to come. We pray you, O most holy Lord, to be our guardian as we sleep; bestow on us who rest in you the blessing of a quiet night. -trans. Charles P. Price (1982 Hymnal) In my reading of the bible, I was fascinated by the passage in Matthew in which Jesus says: "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I came not to bring peace, but the sword." It is an uncomfortable text; and when I have heard sermons that include this text in the lectionary, most preachers avoid the issue altogether. But this text spoke provocatively to me. What does religion do, but divide? "I will set father against son, mother against daughter..." Can it be that Jesus is speaking about his role in the world, knowing full well that not everyone will convert? There will always be, in any religion, those that are "in," and those that are "out." There never has been, and never will be "one church." The fraction of the eucharist is enacted daily. He broke bread, and said take, eat-his body, the communion, is by it's nature divided, broken, set against itself. If it is a literal interpretation we embrace, then how might we reconcile this statement with the King of Peace, with "turn the other cheek," with "treat thy neighbor as thyself?" Is it metaphorical, implying that religion will cut us to the core? As I investigated further, I found that in this text, Jesus is citing Micah. And I found in his words so fascinating that I began to read not just Micah and Isaiah, but all the prophets with a particular interest, seeing in them not only an outstanding collection of fearless writing, but as a model for those of us who see injustice in the world, and burn with a desire to speak out. (Interestingly, this text in Micah immediately precedes the famous "justice shall roll forth like a mighty river..." that Martin Luther King, Jr. cited so often.) The piece was written during the Bush era, when criticism was sparse. This was the era when the New York Times delayed reporting on the Abu Ghraib abuse until after the 2004 election, an era when criticizing an inept commander in chief was equated to being un-American. At the same time I was experiencing first-hand abuses of power in my local church, and felt particularly powerless to affect change. In seeing Jesus in the prophetic tradition, I paired this text with another excerpt from Matthew: "What I tell you in shadows, speak you in light, and what I tell you in your ear, proclaim it on the rooftops." When you know the truth, in other words, speak it. In this work, I use the soloists as prophets, the alto as Jesus, with texts in Latin; and the soprano and tenor citing Micah, and the horn a more abtract representation of a prophet. The chorus, in turn, recites Isaiah at differing times, creating a web of sound that stands for our own voices, tangled and interwoven, striving for truth and justice. Not Peace, But a Sword Alto: Nolite arbitrare quia quia venerim mittere pacem. Non veni mittere pacem sed gladium. Don't think that I came to bring peace. I came not to bring peace, but a sword. Matthew 10:34 Soprano: Don't trust your neighbor, don't have confidence in your friends. Keep your mouth shut, even when a woman is lying in your arms is in your arms. Micah 7:5 Tenor: The pious are vanished from the land. No upright men are left among all men. All lie in wait to commit crimes, one traps the other in his net. Soprano: For son spurns father. Daughter rises up against mother, daughter in law against mother-in-law. A man's own household has become his enemies. Tenor: They are eager to do evil. The magistrate makes demands, and the judge is bought for a fee: the rich man makes his wicked plea and they grant it. Micah 7:2-3, 6 Alto: Quod dico in tenebris dicite in luminis. Et quod in aure auditis, praedicate super tecta. What I tell you in shadows, speak in light. And what you hear in your ears, preach it upon the rooftops. Matthew 10:27 All other texts from Isaiah: 2:17, 5:18, 10:1, 11:12, 24:1, 26:9, 32:3-8, 46:5, 48:22, 55:6, 59:2, 62:1. A Riveder Le Stelle takes it's text from the very last lines of Canto XXXIV in Dante's Inferno. Depression is a disease that some never recover from. I see it as a descent into deep water. Artists are especially prone to it, the depth and weight being a profound element of the human experience. But it is not for us to dwell down there. We are able to not just descend to the greatest depths, but also to soar above. And one of the most fascinating aspects of the human experience is the capacity to rise again to the surface. William Styron, in Darkness Visible, cites these same lines as something that helped him recover from a nearly terminal depression. A Riveder le Stelle Dante Alighieri (1261-1325) Canto XXXIV of Inferno E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle. And so we exited [the depths] and once again beheld the stars. Und Fast ein Mädchen Wars Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) from Sonnets to Orpheus (1923) Und fast ein Mädchen wars und ging hervor aus diesem einigen Glück von Sang und Leier und glänzte klar durch ihre Frühlingsschleier und machte sich ein Bett in meinem Ohr. Und schlief in mir. Und alles war ihr Schlaf. Die Bäume, die ich je bewundert, diese fühlbare Ferne, die gefülte Wiese und jedes Staunen, das mich selbst betraf. Sie schlief die Welt. Singender Gott, wie hast du sie vollendet, daß sie nicht begehrte, erst wach zu sein? Sieh, sie erstand und schlief. Wo ist ihr Tod? O, wirst du dies Motiv erfinden noch, eh sich dein Lied verzehrte?-- Wo sinkt sie hin aus mir?...Ein Mädchen fast... And it was almost a girl who, stepping from this single harmony of song and lyre, appeared to me through her diaphanous form and made herself a bed inside my ear. And slept in me. Her sleep was everything: the awesome trees, the distances I had felt so deeply that I could touch them, meadows in spring: all wonders that had ever seized my heart. She slept the world. Singing god, how was that first sleep so perfect that she had no desire ever to wake? See: she arose and slept. Where is her death now? Ah, will you discover this theme before your song consumes itself?- Where is she vanishing?...A girl, almost... -translation © 1982 Stephen Mitchell Amours in the Deep is the first song of a song-cycle that I've been developing for the past year with three close colleagues: sopranos Nacole Palmer and Molly Quinn, and pianist Bénédicte Jourdois. We are planning to perform the complete Moby Dick Songs in late summer of 2009, and plan an extensive tour of the Eastern Maritime Seaboard in 2010, performing in cities that flourished through the whaling era of past centuries. In all it will be a song cycle of 7 songs: 3 solo songs each, and one duet at the end. The total timing of the evening-length performance work will be around 54 minutes. The cycle is available for commission only in it's entirety; individual songs are not for sale. All texts are carefully excerpted from Melville's Moby Dick, and are exquisite gems of language. The first song to be completed, Amours in the deep, was premiered on January 10th, 2009. Amours in the Deep is the first in an evening-length song cycle we have planned with texts from Moby Dick. Melville's prose is so rich and poetic that my desire to set it in song caused me to reconsider the art-song paradigm of setting only poetry. The song-cycle will alternate solo songs for Molly and Nacole with several duets. When a whale breaches, flukes, and dives, it leaves behind it a 'footprint' on the ocean floor: a glassy-smooth surface of calm on the oceans turbulent waves. Melville, in a previous passage, describes a bizarre scene in which there is a huge circle of whales, two or three miles in diameter. On the outside, the whales were in a frenzy; but that center, there was a strange calm lake, at the bottom of which were whale mothers feeding their young, and amours in the deep, whales making love. In this inner sanctuary, the glassy-smooth surface of the water is not only calm, but crystal clear, so that one can look down several hundred feet below the surface and see this place of peace. I wrote this song during a personally turbulent time, and I used that time to reflect on the 'eternal mildness of joy' that we hold within ourselves. I envision this inner sanctuary as a small kernel of light, located physically below the solar plexus, directly in the center of the body. No matter how savage the storm gets, no matter how awful the inner turmoil of the mind and body may be, there is always , deep down and deep inland there, a sense of peace, calm, and joy. The text is as follows: But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve around me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy. Go, Lovely Rose was the first song I wrote while at Mannes studying under Robert Cuckson. There is an appealing innocence to the writing that complements the text, and I found in those words an implicit encouragement to create music, and to have it sound in the world, where it can be experienced. Collaborating on this song and it's first performances was the beginning of my treasured relationship with Daniel Molkentin and Bendedicte Jourdois, who have performed it many times over the years. Go, Lovely Rose Edmund Waller (1606-1687) Go, lovely rose, Tell her that wastes her time and me, That now she knows, When I resemble her to thee, How sweet and fair she seems to be. Tell her that's young, and shuns To have her graces spied, That hadst thou sprung In deserts where no man abides, Thou wouldst have uncommended died. Small is the worth Of beauty from the light retired: Bid her come forth, Suffer herself to be desired, And not blush so to be admired. Then die, that she The common fate of all things rare Might read in thee; How small a part of time they share That are so wondrous sweet and fair. Perché ti Vedi is set to an early rime of Dante. I found the text so exquisitely wrought, that it stayed untouched for many years before I finally felt ready to set it. It speaks of a young woman who has become aware of the power she has over the poet with her beauty, and his love for her. But because she knows him so well, and holds him so close, she has no care for his pain. Perhaps she hurts him just to see the effect she has over him; perhaps she just wants to know the extent of her power. I wish that she could know what she is really doing, he says. Possi tu spermentar lo suo valore. Maybe some day, you'll know the full value of love. Head of an Angel Perché ti vedi giovinetta e bella Rime 35 (LXXXVIII) Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) Perché ti vedi giovinetta e bella, tanto che svegli ne la mente Amore, pres'hai orgoglio e durezza nel core. Orgogliosa se' fatta e per me dura, po'che d'ancider me, lasso, ti prove: credo che 'l facci per esser sicura se la vertù d'Amore a morte move. Ma perché preso più ch'altro mi trove, non hai respetto alcun del mi' dolore. Possi tu spermentar lo suo valore. Because you now know that you are young and beautiful, And that I am in love with you, You have become proud, cold and distant. Your pride is hard for me to bear, Because by your absence you are killing me. I believe that you do it to see for yourself That Love can lead to death. But because I am closer to you than any other, You have no sympathy for my suffering. I wish that you could feel love's full power. -translation J. Blachly.