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Meet the Composer Studio: Three City Dash – The Boston Concert
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This project is funded by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, through the generous support of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.




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+ About the Performance
This program was recorded 04/07/2011 at Symphony Space.

To launch Meet the Composer's Studio this season, MTC presents a one-time only festival: the Three-City Dash. In April, three concerts at three venues feature exciting young composers of three different cities. Symphony Space features Boston composers Kati Agócs and Yu-Hui Chang and the world premieres of their richly expressive works, played by Metropolis Ensemble and Music from China.

Meet the Composer Studio (www.mtcstudio.org) is a new website that provides a window into composers' creative lives. Visitors can observe the compositional process in all of its stages, support the creation of works-in-progress, and get an inside view of current musical trends.

 

PROGRAM

 

Zhou Jing

Stuck In The Middle (World Premiere)

 

Yang Yong

River Songs

 

Yu-Hui Chang

Pu Songling's Bizarre Tales (World Premiere)

I. Introduction - The Daughter from the House of Mei

II. Stealing a Peach

III. The White Peony (attacca)

IV. Interlude - The Snake Charmer (attacca)

V. The Accuser

 

Kati Agócs

Division of Heaven and Earth*

Awakening Galatea*

Vessel (World Premiere)***

+ About the Artists

Composer Kati Agócs was born in Windsor, Canada, of Hungarian and American background, and is on the composition faculty of the New England Conservatory in Boston. Bridging the gap between lapidary rigor and sensuous lyricism, her music is performed by leading musicians and ensembles and has been hailed as original, daring, and from the heart. The Boston Globe recently called it “moving and taut” and “music of fluidity and austere beauty,” while The New York Times has characterized it as “striking” and “filled with attractive ideas” and has described her vocal music as possessing “an almost 19th-century naturalness.” Fanfare Magazine recently called her violin-piano duet Supernatural Love “serene and unworldly, exploring space with sound in a way that seems to evoke the time before the universe hosted life.” A citation from the American Academy of Arts and Letters praised the “melody, drama, and clear design” of her music, its “soulful directness”, and its “naturalness of dissonance.”

Her orchestral work Perpetual Summer, commissioned for the 50th Anniversary of the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, was awarded Special Distinction in ASCAP’s Rudolph Nissim Prize for 2011, one of only three works selected by a jury of conductors out of over 260 anonymously-submitted new orchestral scores. Last season the Grammy-winning chamber ensemble Eighth Blackbird toured nationally with her quintet Immutable Dreams, which has been added to the repertoire of over eight different ensembles since its commission and premiere by the Da Capo Chamber Players in 2007. Recent commissions include works for the National Arts Centre’s 2010 Cultural Olympiad, CBC Radio Orchestra, American Composers Orchestra, Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, Chamber Ensemble of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Ensemble Contemporain de Montreal, and the Albany Symphony. Awards include the inaugural Brother Thomas Fellowship from The Boston Foundation (2010), the Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2008), and the ASCAP Leonard Bernstein Fellowship at the Tanglewood Music Center (2007). Kati Agócs earned Doctoral and Masters degrees from The Juilliard School, where her principal teacher was Milton Babbitt. She maintains a work studio in the village of Flatrock, near St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Composer Yu-Hui Chang is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, American Academy of Arts and Letters, Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, and commissions from the Fromm Music Foundation, Koussevitzky Music Foundation, Barlow Endowment for Music Composition, and Meet the Composer. Additional honors include the Aaron Copland Award, Yoshiro Irino Memorial Prize from the Asian Composers' League, and the Council for Cultural Affairs of the Executive Yuan. After graduating from the National Taiwan Normal University, Yu-Hui received her graduate degrees from Brandeis University (Ph.D.) and Boston University (MM). Now an Associate Professor at Brandeis University, Yu-Hui taught at the University of California-Davis between 1999-2006. As a dedicated promoter of contemporary music, she co-directed the Empyrean Ensemble, curated more than fifty concerts, and often performed as a conductor or a pianist. She is currently a Co-Artistic Director of the Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble, a leading exponent of contemporary music performance.

Among the numerous commissions Yu-Hui received are those from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Earplay, Alea III, Volti, Triple Helix Piano Trio, Arts Council Korea, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, National Chiang Kai-Shek Cultural Center of Taiwan, Seoul International Festival of Women in Music Today, Monadnock Music Festival, cellist Rhonda Rider, and percussionist Chris Froh. Her compositions have been performed by the National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan, Taipei Symphony Orchestra, Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra, Kalistos Chamber Orchestra, Nieuw Ensemble, Lydian String Quartet, and Alexander String Quartet. In 2006, Works and Process at the Guggenheim Museum presented her works, highlighting Yu-Hui as a new talent of the younger generation.

The most essential aspect of Yu-Hui’s music communicates an aesthetic and philosophical view of humanity that is timeless and reaches beyond cultural boundaries. Her contemporary take on cross-cultural genres and topics has led her to an array of projects, including Wu and Toil, Live, and Sing. Each piece incorporates a Korean traditional instrument (gayaguem and ajaeng respectively) with Western strings. Her piano solo work Longbird was a reinterpretation of a Taiwanese political folksong of the Japanese Colonial Period. Yu-Hui also wrote the score for the Brandeis Theater Company for a play based on a Chinese folktale – The Orphan of Zhao, which was scored for erhu, yangqin, viola, cello, and percussion. Dou-Zhen, commissioned by the preeminent Taiwanese ensemble Ju Percussion Group, was staged for two competing groups of percussionists playing Chinese drums and Western tom-toms.

Zhou Jing is a Boston-based composer, pianist, and zheng performer. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in composition at the New England Conservatory of Music, where she studies with John Mallia and Michael Gandolfi. Previously she received her Bachelor’s degree in composition at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where she studied with Tan Jianping and XuChangjun.

Her composition Fission for percussion was a prize winner in the nationwide Music Creation Competition of China in 2005. In the following year, her vocal work Shangzong received the excellent achievement award at the Art Song Category of the Central Conservatory. In 2005 her String Quartet No. 1 was performed at the Beijing Modern Music Festival. In 2010 Four Winds was premiered by Sue Ellen Hershman-Tcherepnin at the New England Conservatory. Ms. Zhou performed guzheng in the Beijing Music Hall for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Central Conservatory.

Yang Yong’s earliest musical influence came from Peking Opera, folk songs, and many kinds of folk story telling in northern China. He received a Ph.D. degree in composition from Brandeis University and was on the faculty at the New England Conservatory and currently at Beijing’s Central Conservatory.

Music From China is a chamber ensemble that performs a dual repertoire of traditional and contemporary Chinese music. The group was founded in 1984 by Director Susan Cheng and is under the artistic direction of erhu virtuoso Wang Guowei. Performing on instruments of “silk strings and bamboo winds,” the musicians invoke the sonorities of age-old musical traditions and interpret the music of today. Music From China has performed at colleges and universities including Princeton, Duke, Pittsburgh, Yale, Wisconsin, Dayton, Bucknell, Vermont, Colgate, Indiana, Bard, Vassar, Dartmouth, Lafayette colleges, Peabody Conservatory, and Eastman School of Music. Other appearances include the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Weill Recial Hall at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, San Diego Museum of Art, Chautauqua Institution, 92nd Street Y, Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Boston Early Music Festival, American Folk Festival, and the Library of Congress. An annual Premiere Works concert series presents commissioned and new work by composers including such names as Chen Yi, Zhou Long, Bun-Ching Lam, Dorothy Chang, James Mobberley, Vivian Fung, and Tan Dun. Music From China is recipient of an Adventurous Programming special commendation from Chamber Music America and ASCAP for creative programs that combine the music of East and West.

Metropolis Ensemble is a nonprofit professional chamber orchestra and collective of the finest young artists performing today. Led by Grammy-nominated Artistic Director / Conductor Andrew Cyr, Metropolis Ensemble is dedicated to launching the next generation of outstanding composers and performers and has quickly established a reputation for presenting “new music played with the same kind of panache and bravura we usually experience only in performances of standard repertoire” (Esa-Pekka Salonen, Conductor, London Philharmonia).

Metropolis Ensemble is a major commissioner and creator of new works of contemporary classical music and a leading producer of unique, innovative, and interactive concert experiences. The orchestra attracts diverse audiences by engaging arts enthusiasts to be active participants in the creation, performance, and perpetuation of our music and organization. Metropolis is equally dedicated to making a difference in our community by collaborating with other cultural organizations, nonprofit partners, and schools to serve under-resourced populations.

Metropolis Ensemble performs to capacity crowds, attracting diverse audiences by promoting an atmosphere of openness, discovery, and excitement about the process of creating and performing new music. Metropolis Ensemble has appeared with the Wordless Music Series, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Celebrate Brooklyn!, (Le) Poisson Rouge, and in broadcasts by WNYC Radio and National Public Radio. Learn more about Metropolis Ensemble and its programs by visiting www.metropolisensemble.org.

Grammy-nominated conductor Andrew Cyr is a leader in the rapidly growing contemporary classical music scene. His enthusiasm for connecting musicians and composers of the next generation to today’s audiences led him to create Metropolis Ensemble in 2006. His work as conductor has been described by Esa-Pekka Salonen as “...precise, rhythmically incisive and fluid. He made complex new pieces sound natural and organic. What a pleasure it is to hear new music played with the same kind of panache and bravura we usually experience only in performances of standard repertoire.” Cyr is a native of Fort Kent, Maine, and holds music degrees from Bates College, French National Conservatory (Etudes Supérieures), and Westminster Choir College. Cyr has appeared in performances at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, (Le) Poisson Rouge, and, in 2008, debuted with the acclaimed Wordless Music Series, conducting a remix of The Rite of Spring for a live audience of 10,000 people. Cyr’s work leading Metropolis Ensemble in their first studio album, which featured Avner Dorman’s Concertos, earned him a classical nomination in the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards, along with Avi Avital (soloist) and Metropolis Ensemble for Avner Dorman’s Mandolin Concerto. The album was released on the NAXOS label and was made in collaboration with GRAMMY-winner “Classical Producer of the Year” David Frost.

Hailed by The New York Times for her "delirious abandon" onstage, versatile soprano Melissa Fogarty's wide-ranging experience has taken her from leading child performer at the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera to the opera and concert stage where, as an adult, she made an auspicious debut at New York City Opera in the leading role in Mark Morris's production of Purcell's King Arthur. Fogarty has been featured in the past three seasons of VOX, New York City Opera's annual showcase of new American operas. A favorite of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Del Tredici, Fogarty has given world premieres of his works, including the demanding song cycle A Field Manual. Ms. Fogarty has also performed the world premiere of Christopher James's Five Sappho Fragments with North/South Consonance and Louis Andriessen's The New Math(s) with Sequitur. Fogarty has appeared with the Seattle Baroque Orchestra, Opera Omnia, Metropolis Ensemble, Concert Royal, St. Paul's Chamber Orchestra, Teatro Bacchino, Berkeley Early Music Festival, and the Yale Center for British Arts. She received a Bachelor of Music Degree in Applied Voice from the Eastman School of Music.

Pianist Conor Hanick‘s playing has been widely praised, described by the New York Times and Gramaphone Magazine as “excellent,” “brilliant,” “astounding,” and “colorful,” demonstrating “technical precision and musical conviction.” Conor has performed at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kennedy Center, Lucerne Hall, and Kyoto Concert Hall. He has collaborated with conductors Pierre Boulez, James Conlon, and David Robertson, and chamber ensembles Maia Quartet, AXIOM Ensemble, Chatter, NOW Ensemble, and Metropolis Ensemble, and composers John Adams, Barbara White, Pierre Boulez, Mario Davidovsky, Charles Wuorinen, Magnus Lindberg, and David Lang. Conor began the 2010-11 season playing with the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and the Missouri Valley Arts Festival. He joined James Levine and the MET Chamber Ensemble at Carnegie Hall in Pierre Boulez’s Sur Incises. In 2009 Conor was invited to perform in the inaugural concert of Alice Tully Hall’s reopening celebration, playing Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux Étoiles with the Juilliard Orchestra. Conor has also been a soloist with the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, Orchestra Iowa, the New Juilliard Ensemble, Des Moines Symphony, and the Eastern Symphony Orchestra.

A native of Bolivar, New York, soprano Joélle Harvey is the recipient of a 2011 First Prize Award from the Gerda Lissner Foundation, a 2009 Sara Tucker Study Grant from the Richard Tucker Foundation, and a 2010 Encouragement Award from the George London Foundation. Ms. Harvey bowed at Glimmerglass Opera in the summer of 2010 as Seleuce in the U.S. professional stage premiere of Händel’s Tolomeo, where critic David Shengold declared she “dazzled physically and vocally.” The soprano’s 2010-2011 season includes a return engagement with the San Francisco Symphony as the soprano soloist in Carmina Burana, performances of Handel’s Messiah in Spain with Harry Bicket and the English Concert, Belinda in Dido and Aeneas at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Sophie in Werther with Washington Concert Opera, and creating the role of Miranda in the world premiere of Death and the Powers at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo. In the summer of 2011, Ms. Harvey makes her role and company debut with Festival d’Aix en Provence as Galatea in Acis and Galatea.

Harpist Bridget Kibbey is a winner of the 2007 Concert Artists Guild International Competition and recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant. 2007-08 highlights include a US tour with eighth blackbird and Dawn Upshaw, concerto appearances with the Westmoreland Symphony and Vermont Mozart Festival Orchestra and the American premiere of Elliot Carter’s harp concertino Mosaic at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall. Kibbey makes chamber music appearances at Atlanta’s “Fringe” Chamber Music Series and ICE-Fest of Chicago, and she is in residence at the University of Oregon with America’s Dream Chamber Artists. Kibbey has been featured as soloist with the Juilliard Symphony, Israel Youth Philharmonic, Haddonfield Symphony, Eastern Philharmonic Orchestra, America’s Dream Chamber Artists, and the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra. As an orchestral harpist she has appeared with the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Toronto Symphony, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. A leader among harpists active in contemporary music, Ms. Kibbey has premiered works by both emerging and prominent living composers, including Kati Agocs, Harrison Birtwistle, Pierre Boulez, Kaija Saariaho, Augusta Read Thomas, Charles Wuorinen and Benjamin Yusopov. She is the founding harpist of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) and has been a featured soloist in New York’s Music at the Anthology, Sonic Boom, and Juilliard FOCUS Festivals.

Soprano Nell Snaidas has been praised by the New York Times for her “beautiful soprano voice, superb sense of line” and “vocally ravishing” performances. A graduate of the Mannes College of Music, Nell has been a featured soloist at Lincoln Center Summerfest, Alice Tully, Town Hall, Regensburg Tage/Alter Musik Fest, Internacional Festival de la Zarzuela in Mexico, and L’Internazionale Festivale di Scarlatti in Sicily. Operatic performances include Lisetta in Gli Equivoci nel Sembiante at the Teatro Garibaldi in Palermo, Despina in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte at Caramoor with the Orchestra of St. Luke and Valletto in Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea with Festival Vancouver under the direction of Stephen Stubbs/Paul O’Dette. Favorite projects include creating the role Princess Olga in the world-premiere of the Boston Early Music Festival’s production of Boris Goudenow, giving recitals throughout Italy with Ex Umbris, touring Canterine Romane with lutenist Paul O’Dette and Tragicomedia, singing John Adams’ Grand Pianola Music with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, and sharing the bill with The Buena Vista Social Club on a tour of Mexico with her own all-female Baroque ensemble, reconstruction. Nell Snaidas starred internationally as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, has been seen on Broadway in Hair and On the 20th Century and can be heard in Mel Brooks’ The Producers.

Lance Suzuki has been described as “an unusually passionate flutist who captivates an audience” by the New York Concert Review. He has appeared as a soloist with Paula Robison in Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Flutes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and additionally with the Manhattan School Philharmonia, Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchetra, New York Metamorphoses, and Young Soloists of New York chamber orchestras. As a chamber musician, Mr. Suzuki has been heard at Marlboro Music Festival, Weill and Merkin Halls, 92nd St Y, Bargemusic, The Stone, National Public Radio’s Performance Today, and Music from Aspen. He has also premiered numerous works with composer Lisa Bielawa, Metropolis Ensemble, and in Carnegie Hall workshops with Dawn Upshaw, John Harbison, and Osvaldo Golijov. Suzuki holds degrees from the Manhattan School of Music and the University of Southern California. He has studied with Linda Chesis, Michael Parloff, Nadine Asin, Gary Woodward, Jean Harling, and in masterclasses with Paula Robison.

Hailed by Opera News as “among the more distinctive and accomplished artists of her generation,” with a “distinguished, lovely timbre,” Leah Wool is rapidly garnering critical acclaim for her performances across the country. Wool’s 2010-2011 season includes a return to Gotham Chamber Opera as the title role in Montsalvatge’s El gato con botas, as well as a return to Utah Opera as Hansel in Hansel und Gretel; the Mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors with the Little Orchestra Society at Avery Fisher Hall, and Rosina in The Barber of Seville at Opera Louisiane. On the concert stage, she returns to Avery Fisher Hall for Copland’s In the Beginning and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the National Chorale, and debuts with the San Francisco Symphony. Future seasons include appearances with Central City Opera, Kansas City Symphony, and the San Francisco Symphony.

+ About the Music

Stuck in the Middle plays on the idea of boundaries, whether cultural, musical, or psychological. The piece was formulated as a play on masculine/feminine identities, or yin yang, with the zheng and erhu opening the piece, representing female and male, respectively. The erhu’s entrance imitates the vocal warm-ups of a Peking opera singer, known as diao sang zi.

The clarinet represents a third confused identity that wavers between the other two instruments, and is bound musically through register, pitch, and other musical elements. Throughout the piece the zheng and erhu attempt to converge, but these instances the clarinet acts as a sort of barrier to their union. The clarinet also alternates pairings with the zheng and erhu throughout different sections of the piece.

While the zheng starts out low, and the erhu high, over the course of the piece, they gradually morph until the piece ends with their registers reversed. Throughout all this, the clarinet, as in the title, remains stuck in the middle.
--Zhou Jing

River Songs is a blend of both avant-garde and popular styles. The work is inspired by Hequ, a county in Shanxi province at the tip of the Yellow River delta where the inhabitants are renowned for their vocal ability. River Songs offers three lyrical glimpses into the lives of these people, beginning with “The River Spirit,” a revered figure in the local culture. Second comes “Da Shosho,” the local slang for flirting, after which the piece concludes without pause with the farewell song, “To the Western Frontier.”
--Yang Yong

Pu Songling’s Bizarre Tales – for erhu, pipa, yangqin, piccolo/alto flute, bass clarinet, and percussion was commissioned by Meet the Composer for Music From China.

Pu Songling, a Chinese writer from the Qing Dynasty, completed “Liao Zhai Zhi Yi” at the end of the 17th century. This famous literary work is a collection of nearly five hundred short stories written in Classical Chinese. Though most of these stories involve supernatural beings such as ghosts, devils, and nature or animal spirits, they are in fact incisive commentaries on humanity. They honor love and loyalty, ridicule human weaknesses, and criticize the injustice that permeated the feudal society of the time.

My piece, Pu Songling's Bizarre Tales, takes inspiration from these tales and their short-story format. Five stories from Liao Zhai Zhi Yi are chosen as the themes for each of the five short movements. "The Daughter from the House of Mei," which musically functions as an introduction, is about a ghost and her sixteen-year long revenge. "Stealing a Peach" vividly describes a pair of father-and-son street performers and their incredible stunt. "The White Peony" is about the faithful love between a young scholar and a beautiful white peony spirit. "The Snake Charmer" is a touching story about the affectionate friendship between two snakes. "The Accuser" gives account of a son's fruitless attempt in seeking justice for his wronged father in the infernal world, which unfortunately is just as corrupted as the living one.
--Yu-Hui Chang

Division of Heaven and Earth was written for the Swedish pianist (and neuroscientist) Fredrik Ullén, who premiered it in Stockholm in 2006. Since I first heard Fredrik play for the first time in 1999 in New York, I had wanted to write a solo piece for him. It took seven years—until my Fulbright year in Budapest, 2005-2006–for this to come to fruition. Although I am half Hungarian and my father lives in Budapest, I had never spent extended time in Hungary prior to that year. In close proximity to places where Liszt had lived and worked, I was studying music by Hungarian composers, much of which was new to me. As I wrestled with the influence of that music, I grew more and more aware of an innate Hungarian ‘DNA’ present in my own music, which it became alluring to develop. Division is something of a pianistic working-out of this process, and more specifically a kind of ‘battle’ with the Transcendental Etudes of Liszt. The Liszt, present in the guise of quotations which are never direct, but always subtly modified with the addition of chromatic tones and ‘bending’ of their rhythms and figurations, represents the idealized music of the past (‘heaven’), which I could feel as a vibrant force around me—yet its echoes were dusky, somehow always slightly overripe, on the way to dying. I needed to figure out what they meant to me, and to find a place for them in the present. The piece is conceived as a single 14-minute melodic trajectory over an arch. It starts as an ‘empty shell,’ slowly filled by fragmentary echoes of the Liszt. In the ‘battle’ of the piece, the non-quoted music (‘my’ music) prevails, as a rhapsodic chordal melody enters in the mid range and slowly blossoms, finally descending to ‘earth’ in the work’s final measures.
--Kati Agócs

Awakening Galatea, composed for the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival (where I was a composer in residence) in 2009, is a setting of Ovid’s poem from Metamorphoses on the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea. This myth, in which an artist falls in love with his own creation, has fascinated dramatists through the ages. More recent versions include George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion and the musical My Fair Lady. Ovid’s poem, the oldest version, tells how the artist Pygmalion vows to shun the company of women because he finds too many faults in them. Yet he uses his miraculous skill to carve an ivory statue of a woman that is more beautiful than any living woman could possibly be and, awestruck, he falls in love with it. He caresses it, showers it with attention, brings it gifts - - yet no adornment makes it any more beautiful than the original statue. Finally, the goddess of love, Venus, who up until that point had thought that she had seen it all, takes pity upon him. Pygmalion is praying to find a woman just like his statue, because he does not dare ask for the actual statue. But Venus knows what he really wants, and she answers his prayer by making the statue come alive. The statue, Galatea, awakens to see Pygmalion with her very first glance. She is brought to life by the strength of his love (and the gracious intervention of Venus).

There were stories in Greek times of people falling in love with statues, but it was most probably Ovid who made this archetypical tale into an allegory for artistic creation. At the same time, the basis of the story that Ovid inherited from bronze-age myth is also a somewhat circuitous explanation of how the Greek sanctuary site of Paphos got its name. I have set the poem in the original Latin, cutting it extensively to serve my musical purposes - -- although the opening and ending stanzas maintain the phrase structure of the original verse. Thanks are due to my older brother Peter Agócs, a fellow in Classics at Christ’s College in Cambridge, for his assistance with the translation, and for helping me to perceive and appreciate the nuances of the great fun that Ovid had with the story.
--Kati Agócs

The sonic world for Vessel (2011) builds upon a vocal sound that I have been developing in two earlier works—the trio Awakening Galatea and By the Streams of Babylon, a psalm setting for two sopranos and orchestra. Both works feature high voices singing in straight tone, with through-running ostinati (repeated patterns) in the instrumental parts. In the psalm setting the two sopranos sing together as a combined voice, both intimate and collective.

Vessel’s instrumentation, one that arose specifically for this commission, uses three soprano voices, each embodying a different side of a lover addressing her beloved. Each sings a distinct text in a distinct language, and each text is a different manifestation of the idea of a Vessel. Let us imagine that the beloved is from another culture; in an attempt to forge a rapprochement, she adopts her beloved’s language, learns to speak in his tongue. The three poems in English, Hebrew, and Latin complement each other and enlarge each other’s resonances. The setting of each text has its own rhythmic metabolism and intervallic palette. In the well-known Cummings text ‘i carry your heart (i carry it in)’ the poet becomes the physical vessel. The Jehuda Halevi text functions as a vessel itself, rhapsodically enticing the beloved into his garden, and culminating in a Song of Songs quote (‘my beloved is mine, and I am his’). The Latin text, a fragment from a Catullus poem, brags about the speed and reliability of a sea vessel—a boat which can be viewed as a symbol of love and prowess as it carries the man from faraway foreign lands back to where his woman dwells.

The texts overlap subtly with one another, answering, responding, and amplifying one another in unexpected ways. A pulse runs through the piece—a heartbeat, or stars—specifically, the ones in the Cummings poem where it says, ‘and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart.’ This structure of delicate pulses unfolds as a single uniform tapestry, ending with Tibetan prayer bowls that are themselves resonant vessels. The result is a polytextual motet --in the spirit of Renaissance Macaronic motets that used simultaneous settings of texts in multiple languages, often to mask hidden meanings. Vessel was commissioned for the Metropolis Ensemble and Andrew Cyr, conductor, by Meet the Composer for their Three-City Dash festival.
--Kati Agócs

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