Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, member of Anonymous 4, served as guest artist and collaborator for the culminating activities of the Duke composers' seminar led by Stephen Jaffe and Daniel Thomas Davis. New works by graduate student composers Bryan Christian, D. Edward Davis, Vladimir Smirnov, Paul Sommerfeld and Dan Ruccia were presented as well as works by Professors Stephen Jaffe and Daniel Thomas Davis and selections from Ms. Horner-Kwiatek's current repertoire. The recital took place in the Nelson Music Room on the campus of Duke University in Durham.
Taming the creative exuberance, Ms. Horner opened the program with Dominick Argento's witty "Miss Manners on Music." While assuming the knowing look of Judith Martin, Horner projected a rich, velvety sound that filled the space like a welcoming cloak. The evening's program would, as Jaffe revealed, unfurl beginnings of compositions "hot off the press" with rough edges, missing pieces, unfinished but promising works of art. Mediating the artistic process, Ms. Horner breathed life into their creations so convincingly that each one was fulfilling and quite wonderful. This is the magic of performance. And for the composer, this is like sweet nectar.
But first, Christian, Sommerfeld and Davis briefly discussed their experiences with Ms. Horner. Whether tongue-tied or not, they were spare with words, but clearly inspired by the experience; the reiterated accolade "fantastic" rang true for each of them. The work of composers is so intensely cerebral I secretly wished I could have been a fly on the wall during their weekly discussions.
Bryan Christian began the set with Ero, a suite for voice and piano. His taut Latin text was transformed through extended vocal range, repetition, and widely spaced intervals that Horner traversed with the grace of an athlete. The piece gradually settles into a lovely mezzo range and with a falling major step, the singer's voice resonates with the piano. Jaffe's breath "haaa" signals the finish; her closing word "ero" (I will be) was simply perfect.
Paul Sommerfeld's setting of Jacques Prévert's "Dejeuner du matin" ("Breakfast") recalls a more traditional art song. The waltz-like piano part reveals, so beautifully, the unspoken dance of intimacy. It is well written, and from the sound of the audience's response it is very accessible. Two Songs ("il pleuut" text by Guillaume Apollinaire and "Merman" by contemporary poet, Gerard Wozek) and music by D. Edward Davis demand a wide vocal range, which Ms. Horner scaled with ease. This was an interesting pairing. Loosely connected with water imagery, they are written by poets separated by a century. Apollinaire's original figured poetry is visually beautiful and perhaps better left that way.
Between sets, Dan Ruccia and Vladimir Smirnov offered thanks to their guest artist and collaborator. She resumed the program with Gregory Spears' touching "Lady Taytiana: Ballad of a Russian Mail Order Bride." Dan Ruccia's "Movement O" with text by Christian Bök is part of a larger work for his Ph.D. thesis, Mondo Doloroso. The richly melodious text works well for voice and Horner's articulate interpretation is enchanting. I look forward to hearing the finished composition. Smirnov's Two Brodsky Songs ("Twilight. Snow. Silence." And "I Wish You Were Here" text by Joseph Brodsky) was, perhaps, the most adventuresome of the student works. Performing both piano and electronic synthesizer, Smirnov created a colorful, multi-textured soundscape. Horner's reading was powerful.
In a recent conversation with WUNC's host of "The State of Things," Frank Statio, Stephen Jaffe mentioned a bit of wisdom he imparts to his students — that the difference between the young composers and him was the number of times he had faced the "terror" of beginning a new piece. This group has crossed that hurdle with grace. It is a privilege to witness and hear the work of talented young composers.
Ms. Horner also performed Stephen Jaffe's art song, "The Reassurance" (1995) and Daniel Thomas Davis' "Atlantic Fire." Jung-Min Lee (piano), Susan Fancher and Mark Engebretson (saxophones) assisted.