Bard Conservatory, László Z. Bito Performance Space
April 16th / 8pm
Peace on Earth (2019) Juliana Hall (b. 1958)
William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
Haugtussa, Op. 67 (1895) Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Arne Garbourg (1851-1924)
“L’eraclito amoroso,” from Cantate, Ariette e Duetti, op. 2 Barbara Strozzi (1619 - 1977)
Apparition (1979) George Crumb (1929-2022)
Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
In the winter of 2020, I was given the best gift I’ve ever received, a collection of songs from my father, which he titled “A Garland for Katie”. It was comprised of songs either written for or dedicated to me from composers who have meant a lot to him, as well as a few of his own pieces. It was a deeply moving gesture from the community I had grown up in and a reminder of just how important that community is to me. In that spirit, the program begins with the premiere of a piece from that collection, “Peace on Earth” by Juliana Hall, a setting of the entrancing and mythological poem of William Carlos Williams. Having dedicated herself largely to vocal writing, Hall responds to Williams’ catalog of constellations through slowly shifting harmonies and smooth, swung rhythms. The composer imagines the night sky as though one is dreaming it, “...whether it’s really up there above us or just taking place within the sleeping person’s soul”. Through this luscious song, we are invited to daydream collectively and to come into a more unified consciousness.
Descending from the celestial poetry of the first song to the landscape of Scandinavia, we come to the Norwegian folk story of Haugtussa, ‘the mountain maid’. Edvard Grieg and the poet, Arne Garborg, shared a passion for the empowerment of Landsmål, an older language of the Norwegian people, which would come to be known as Nnyorsk. The movement fought for the standardization of the Norwegian language in schools, newspapers and government as well as the resurgence of a unique and nationalistic Norwegian culture after centuries of what was, to Garborg’s mind, Danish oppression.
Writing in Landsmål as a celebration of the traditional folklore of Norway, Garborg published his story in 1895. The first volume, Haugtussa, tells the story of a young girl living in the southwestern mountains of Norway with her mother and two sisters. A shepherdess gifted with second sight, she spends the winter months at home and the spring and summer months living outdoors with her flock. The young girl, nicknamed Veslemøy, lives in the earthly world but often has visions of a parallel universe full of trolls, hobgoblins and fairies. Due to her supernatural gifts, she experiences life more profoundly than those around her. She falls in love with Jon, a young boy from a neighboring village but is ultimately left broken-hearted when he leaves her for another woman.
Proud of his Norwegian heritage, Grieg sought to evoke the sounds of his homeland through use of traditional folk song and poetry. Discovering Haugtussa just after it was published, Grieg quickly began sketching settings of twelve songs for soprano, chorus and full orchestra in an attempt to break away from his reputation as a small form and, therefore, lesser composer. The initial idea for this grand cantata fell through, however, and three years later Grieg published eight songs for voice and piano, adapted from his original drafts. In spite of the smaller scale, one can still hear the grand intention of the original concept paired with the intimate, nostalgic sounds characteristic of the composer. All eight songs are either strophic or modified strophic form, which puts great emphasis on the text. Sounds of nature are heard in the piano: the rustle of grass in the gently rolled chords of “Det Syng,” the vast rays of sunshine in sweeping figures in “Blåbaer-Li” and the shimmering of the brook in the running 16th-notes of “Ved Gjaetle-Bekken”. Grieg depicts the young maiden’s innocence in the falling triplet motif heard both at the end of “Det Syng” as well as in the opening of “Møte”. He delves into sensuality through descending chromatic octaves in “Møte”, and “Elsk” as Veslemøy experiences love, and he reverses the gesture upward in “Vond dag,” when she is abandoned. The resemblance of the last song to the final movement of Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin is stark, as the young girl recalls her heartbreak on the banks of the friendly brook.
Though Grieg set poems only from Garborg’s first book, Veslemøy’s story continues in his second volume, I Helheim, wherein she has been abandoned by Jon and must cope with this betrayal. She travels home and falls into a two-week coma, descending into the underworld in a dream state. There she battles grief, anger and despair, ultimately finding salvation through belief in humanity and forgiveness.
I took Garborg’s sequel as inspiration for the second half of the program, which begins with an extended lamentation in Barbara Strozzi’s “L’Eraclito amoroso,” from Cantate, Ariette e Duetti. Living during the 17th century, Strozzi was one of exceptionally few women to have their compositions published. Supported and encouraged in large part by her father, Strozzi oversaw the “Accademia degli Unisoni,” a prominent Venetian intellectual circle devoted to music, in which she facilitated debates, awarded prizes and performed many pieces dedicated to her. Over the course of her life she published eight opuses, almost exclusively settings of Marinist love poetry in the forms of duets, songs and short cantati. In “L’Eraclito amoroso,” she employs recitative and varying dance forms to tell the story of a scorned lover who wallows in her sorrows and finds consolation in her tears, ultimately stating that she has been killed and buried by her afflictions.
For a musical rendering of Haugtussa’s journey through , I chose George Crumb’s genre-defining work, Apparition. Commissioned by and for mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani and pianist Gilbert Kalish in 1979, Crumb took text from the Death Carol of Walt Whitman’s 1865 poem, “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d.” The sixteen-part poem eulogizes the assassination of President Lincoln and expresses Whitman’s dismay at the violence of the Civil War. Whitman’s text is otherworldly. It speaks to the profound loneliness of grief and the exquisite nature of life and death through sadness, anger, relief, sensuality, wonder and transfiguration. For Crumb, who had been writing larger scale works with heavy use of electronics and extended techniques, Apparition marked a return to the intimate pairing of voice and piano. Having previously worked with the texts of Frederico García Lorca, the piece was also a turn towards Americana, a topic he would continue to explore throughout his seven volumes of American Songbooks (2003-2010).
While many composers have been drawn to Whitman’s “Lilacs,” Hindemith, Weill, Blitzstein and Ives to name just a few, Crumb’s setting is particularly profound. Though he uses only twenty lines of the poem, Crumb conjures a complete sound world, challenging both singer and pianist to employ the extremes of their expressive capabilities. The voice spans a two and a half octave range as well as a spectrum of dynamics from ppp to ffff, and articulates words, animal noises and open vowel sounds. Meanwhile, Crumb utilizes the keys of the piano as well as the inner body of the instrument, asking the pianist to strum, pluck and strike the strings. The resulting sound is ever-suspended and hovering, as though one can hear the air or, as the composer requests,“like the sound of nature”.
Whitman’s writing is motivic (a perennial lilac, song bird and falling star recur throughout the poem) and so is Crumb’s musical treatment. Death’s ghostly presence appears from the opening, upward glissando over the strings of the piano, while the night stars twinkle as an eerie quintuplet figure in “When lilacs…”. The voice welcomes Death through various recurring motifs. Falling major seconds appear as the cooing of a dove in the first vocalize, while a rising major seventh beckons to Death in “Dark mother” and “Approach, strong deliveress.” All the musical motifs of the cycle coalesce in the penultimate movement, “Come lovely and soothing death,” as the distant edges of the universe slowly come together. Illustrative of the cycle of life and death, Crumb ends the piece with a repetition of the first song, altered only in the vocal melismas. Apparition is sublime; a synthesis of light and dark, longing and acceptance, desperation and relief.
To Nomin and Ryan:
Thank you both so much for embarking on this journey with me, for making music and putting your wonderful selves into this program. You have both been extraordinary people to work with, and have inspired me through great days and tough moments.
To Kayo, Erika, Stephanie and Lucy:
Thank you for seeing me through these two (unbelievably fast) years in the Hudson Valley. Thank you for challenging me and celebrating me, for seeing me through meltdowns and smiling with me in times of success. You are all a model of strength, craft and musicianship and I will never forget the kindness, warmth and when necessary, the tough love you have shown me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
To my VAP colleagues:
Thank you all for being yourselves, for inspiring me with your music and lifting me up with your laughter. What a crazy journey we’ve been on. It really feels like yesterday that we were all sitting on that picnic blanket at Blithewood and suddenly we’re here! It’s been a true privilege learning and growing alongside you all and it is an even greater one to know that though we move on from this place, we are all part of the same musical community now.
To Mom, Dad, Grammy, Anna and Colin:
To my family, thank you for surrounding me with love and support, for telling me when to calm down and when to push on. Thanks for picking up the phone when I call to say everything has fallen apart, and thanks for texting back, “Yay!!!” when I say everything is great. I really, truly would be nowhere without you.
*Very special thanks to Lisa Kruegger, Marc Mancus, Ann Gabler and Renee Louprette for helping make this recital happen!*
Soprano Katherine Lerner Lee has enjoyed a lively and varied journey as a graduate student at Bard Conservatory. This season, Katherine sang the second book of songs from Messages of the Late R.V. Troussova, as part of Bard’s Kurtag Festival and performed the role of “Leila” in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe at the Fisher Center. In May, Katherine will perform Olivier Messiaen’s Poèmes pour Mi with The Orchestra Now at Symphony Space as the winner of the 2021 concerto competition.
During her time at Bard, Katherine has performed art song, contemporary and chamber music, opera and orchestral works. Highlights include portraying the role of “Gold-Spur” in Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen and performing the orchestral premiere of John Musto’s Shadow of the Blues with conductor Colin Roshak. Continuing a long-standing collaboration with Colin, Katherine has performed Berio’s Folk Songs, Kaija Saariaho’s Tempest Songbook, and read the Narrator in Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat under his baton. She has also appeared twice with the Broad Street Orchestra in Kinderhook, NY, under the direction of David Smith, singing Fauré’s Requiem and “Eve” in Haydn’s Creation. She has collaborated on numerous concerts with her wonderful VAP colleagues, including appearances in French and German cabaret programs, Handel’s Messiah and song recitals at Beattie Powers as well as on Bard’s campus. Upon graduating from Bard, Katherine will return to her hometown of New York City, but hopes to be back in the Hudson Valley frequently for much more music making!
Born into a family of musicians, Nomin Samdan made her first public appearance at the age of 7 in her native Mongolia. Since then she has performed as a recitalist and chamber musician in Russia, Italy, Slovenia, Shanghai, France, US, Austria, Lithuania and Mexico. She has won top prizes from piano competitions in Mongolia, Russia, France and Spain. Ms. Samdan started her education at the Mongolian Music and Dance College where she studied with Prof. Zanaa Gombojav. She later received an International Baccalaureate diploma, after attending the United World College of the Adriatic in Italy. There she had the privilege of studying with Alberto Miodini and Igor Cognolato as well as being coached by the prestigious Trio di Trieste and the Trio di Parma.
In 2008, Ms. Samdan entered the Boston Conservatory under the guidance of world renowned pianist and pedagogue YaFei Chuang and received her bachelor’s degree (summa cum laude) in 2012, and in 2014 she completed her graduate performance diploma studies at the same institution. And in 2017, Nomin received her master’s degree in collaborative piano from Boston University.
In 2013, Ms. Samdan was invited to “Vivace Vilnius International Music Festival” in Lithuania to perform with faculty and students, and in 2014 she was a guest artist in Leon Chamber Music Festival in Mexico. She has served as a piano faculty at Mongolian State Conservatory and as a pianist at the Mongolian State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet. She is currently a fellow of the Bard’s Collaborative Piano Program.
Pianist Ryan MacEvoy McCullough has developed a rich musical life as soloist, vocal and instrumental collaborator, composer, recording artist, and pedagogue. Ryan’s growing discography features many world premiere recordings, including solo piano works of Milosz Magin (Acte Prealable), Andrew McPherson (Secrets of Antikythera, Innova), John Liberatore (Line Drawings, Albany), Nicholas Vines (Hipster Zombies from Mars, Navona), art song and solo piano music of John Harbison and James Primosch (Descent/Return, Albany), and art song by Sheila Silver (Beauty Intolerable, Albany). He has also appeared on PBS’s Great Performances (Now Hear This, “The Schubert Generation”) and NPR’s From the Top. As concerto soloist Ryan has appeared as concerto soloist with major orchestras including with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and has collaborated with such conductors as Gisele Ben-Dur, George Benjamin, Fabien Gabel, Leonid Grin, Anthony Parnther, Larry Rachleff, Mischa Santora, and Joshua Weilerstein. He lives in Kingston, NY, with his wife, soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon.
For additional information and curios, visit www.RyanMMcCullough.com.