A “New Songs Concert” displaying the work of Brevard Music Center composition students was held in Searcy Hall, a small concert space on the campus, at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday. Introducing the program, composition professor Robert Aldridge explained that the students had been given the same text – a poem by Dorothy Parker – on the previous Thursday. Parts were delivered to the singers (students from the Janiec Opera Company of BMC) on Monday, and to the collaborative pianists (and other instrumentalists) no later than Tuesday. Thus everyone – composers, singers and accompanists – operated under pressure.
The text was “Epitaph for a Darling Lady,” which has three four-line stanzas describing how the lady made sand castles out of her time, how these sand castles were sent “spinning down the gutter,” and how we should not mourn because,
“She is happy, for she knows
That her dust is very pretty.”
The fourteen composers ranged from four high schoolers to those in doctoral programs. The variation in treatment of the text was thought-provoking. One composer (Alex Blank) chose to provide a narration against an instrumental work using violin, flute, piano, double bass and percussion. Three composers chose male vocalists (two tenors and one baritone). Eight composers chose sopranos while the other two chose mezzo-sopranos. Personally, I felt the text was best suited to a mezzo-soprano voice, but each composer had his own take on the material and several of the soprano treatments were convincing.
Igor Santos skillfully used mezzo-soprano and piano in one of the best compositions on the program. The piano part was impressionistic, and the mezzo seemed to muse about the deceased lady, ending in a subdued fashion. The composer chose to treat the first two stanzas as a single continuous vocal part, with a clear interlude before the third stanza. The music was fragmented at the end, giving an indication of the “dust.” The performance by mezzo-soprano Julia Snowden and pianist Cindy Graeler showed a good grasp of the composer’s intentions and was one of the strongest of the day. Mr. Santos has just completed a master’s degree in music composition at Eastman School of Music, studying with Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon and Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, and will pursue a doctorate at the University of Chicago beginning this fall. This was an assured composition, and I suspect that while he may make minor revisions, this “quick-study” lied will have a place in his permanent repertoire.
Joseph R. Bozich is a senior at the University of Puget Sound, majoring in music education. He has studied composition with Robert Hutchinson there. Soprano Summer Hassan and pianist Ya-Ju Chung were the very strong performers of Mr. Bozich’s “Epitaph for a Darling Lady.” The composer began with repeated notes and jazz chords, a sort of flip commentary on the apparently foolish woman. The repetition that had been established at the beginning continued throughout. The phrases “all her hours,” “shiny day” and “down,” among others, were repeated in the presentation of the first two verses. The music took the text seriously; there was no indication of irony. (The various treatments on this program varied a lot in being everywhere from light-hearted irony to “sturm und drang” hand-wrenching.) Mr. Bozich’s version has a piano interlude leading into the third stanza, which very effectively fades away, with repeated words “pity,” “dust” and “pretty.”
Collectively, the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. A listener would have enjoyed Mr. Santos’s and Mr. Bozich’s compositions had they encountered them in diverse concerts, but they were even more interesting in the midst of fourteen different treatments of the same text. The audience was at least half BMC students, and I suspect that they learned a lot.