Former students and colleagues bade posthumous farewell to Roger Durham Hannay (1930-2006) during a moving celebration of his life and works in Hill Hall on the afternoon of April 9. The composer passed from the scene on January 27, but not before working up a farewell or two of his own. Among the participants were a batch of folks Hannay called FSNCs (former students, now colleagues), pronounced (more or less) "fuznicks" – these included baritone and composer Michael Kallstrom (of Western Kentucky University), clarinetist and composer Nickitas J. Demos (of the Georgia State University School of Music), Robert Simon (director of the Piedmont Wind Symphony), and pianist and composer Thomas D. Brosh (formerly of the Community College of Aurora [Colorado]). The participants encompassed colleagues who hadn't formally been students, several of whom are or had been Chapel Hillians – trumpeter and director James Ketch, pianist Marmaduke Miles, distinguished violist of the New York Philharmonic (and daughter) Dawn Hannay, violinist Richard Luby and his student Hannah Mark, and cellist Brent Wissick. Rounding out the participants were composer H. Gilbert Trythall, who offered remarks, flutist Alma Cabeza-Coefman, and – via tape – former colleague and choral director Robert Porco and Hannay himself.
For many Hannay friends and admirers, the concert was probably the largest single dose of the master's music ever consumed at one sitting. That's a great shame, for it was a powerful musical journey that encompassed pieces composed between 1947 (yes, when he was still in high school) and the end of 2005; but – typically – Hannay was a life-long advocate of new music by everybody, so programs with which he was involved often included only a token work or two from his own pen. (All this brings to mind the importance of doing retrospective programs before major figures – like Hannay – depart from our midst!)
The music began with that 1947 recording of "Schoharie March," played by the Schoharie High School Band. It sounded a bit Ivesian – the fingerprints were there from the outset. "Festival Trumpets" (1978) involved ten of UNC's finest, led by Ketch; much more than a plain-old fanfare, it's full of variety and spice and often remarkably introspective, reflecting the fact that Hannay was always doing surprising, unexpected things in his music. Kallstrom and Miles offered arias from two operas (The Journey of Edith Wharton  and "The Fortune of St. Macabre" ), both of which are long overdue for new productions. Demos performed "Pied Piper," one of Hannay's meticulously created works for pre-recorded electronic tape and (in this instance) clarinet. It was made in 1975 when every minute of music took hours and hours of studio time – in this field, as in so many others, Hannay was among our great pioneers. It was appropriate for Hannay to "return" to this venue in "Dream Sequence" (1980), for piano and pre-recorded tape; this recording of a performance and a recording... reminded all present of his spectacular skills with keyboards of all kinds. To end the first half, members of the UNC Wind Ensemble performed the serene slow movement of the Symphony for Band (1963) – the afternoon's sole "live" example of one of Hannay's many, many large-scale works – in an edition prepared and premiered in 1999 by guest conductor Simon.
What impressed this writer was how incredibly listenable all this music was. We tend to remember Hannay's wild streak and some of the outrageous things he did, his many unusual combinations of performers, instruments, and sounds, the great juxtapositions, and the fact that he was at once a jolt and a breath of fresh air in Hill Hall, which its conservative denizens, even, would have had to admit was pretty musty when he got there. But hearing all these bits and pieces underscored the astonishing lyricism and beauty of everything, really, that graced the program. And beyond the music, the master was almost with us, thanks to the many quotations from the frequently irreverent tome, My Book of Life, that were read by Kallstrom and paraphrased by Trythall.
There was more of the same in the generous second half, but it started with Brosh's remarkable tribute to Hannay, premiered on this occasion: "Peace for Piano: to RDH." It is at once an homage, a reminiscence, and a bit of a joke, ending with the tune of the oft' repeated farewell exchange they shared – "Happy trails to you!" It bridged wonderfully to the afternoon's longest work, "O Solo Viola" (1976), written for and performed by Dawn Hannay.* Chamber music was represented by "Volatile," from Modes of Discourse (1988), composed for the Mallarmé Chamber Players but realized here by Luby and Wissick and guest flutist Coefman. Miles returned for "Luminere" (1988), giving a reading that glowed from within – as indeed all the performances did. A recording of "Passing the Visions, Passing the Night," Whitman's Lilacs text from Hannay's richly-scored, achingly beautiful 1961 Requiem (which he himself joked that even Howard Hanson would have liked), encored a Baldwin Auditorium performance led by Porco in 1976.
As it happened, Hannay worked to the very end, completing several scores – a commission for the NC Symphony's 75th anniversary season that will be premiered on October 12 in Chapel Hill and then his grand finale, the orchestral work that ended this afternoon of music. It is called "Farewell, Be Well" (2005), and the music says as much as the title. It was arranged for piano quintet by former student James Mobberley (now of the University of Missouri, Kansas City) and performed by Miles, Luby, Mark, Dawn Hannay, and Wissick. At the end, one was loath to leave.
The "well-known unknown composer" (to borrow a handle said to have been coined by former student Jackson Hill) was represented by some exceptional scores played (and sung) reverentially and with great fidelity. Hannay's time will come – and all who knew him will, in due course, say "Amen!"
*"O Solo Viola" became the viola part of Hannay's String Quartet No. 4, titled "Quartet of Solos," which will be premiered by the Ciompi Quartet at the NC Museum of Art on December 10.
Notes: The NC Symphony has established an endowment fund in Hannay's memory, honoring NC composers. Contributions may be sent to:
NC Symphony, Suite 105, 4361 Lassiter @ North Hills Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27609 ATTN: John Mitterling.
For the composer's obituary, click here.
For a tribute to Hannay by composer J. Mark Scearce, click here.
And for this writer's brief tribute to Hannay, prepared on the occasion of the 4/9 concert described above, click here.