|Transient Glory™ Concert|
New York Times Review, Transient Glory 2004
April 28th 2004
Generations and Traditions Intersect in a Musical Week
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
Talk about premieres, the Young People's Chorus of New York City presented a program at the Ethical Culture Society of New York with seven new works, all written for the ensemble, six world premieres and one New York premiere. The concert was titled "Transient Glory," which signifies that children's voices, though glorious, are fleeting, and before long become adult voices. For proof you only needed to see the makeup of this choir of soprano and alto adolescents (the chorus fields several constituent groups): 44 singers, all but seven of them girls.
If you wonder why a musician as accomplished as Francisco J. Núñez, who founded the chorus 15 years ago, is so gratified to work with children, you should have been there. The young choristers performed demanding new works by Samuel Adler, Richard Rodney Bennett, Benjamin Lees, Judith Weir, Tod Machover, Bright Sheng and Jim Papoulis, as well a 1996 work by Morton Gould (composed with the songwriter Phil Galdston), and performed them all with impeccable pitch, luminous sound and palpable energy: and all from memory, including texts in Chinese and Greek. I was most struck by Ms. Weir's wistful, harmonically tart "Little Tree" (to texts of E. E. Cummings) and Mr. Sheng's exuberant "Boatman's Song," a setting of a Chinese poem, for which many of the choristers had to shout, clap hands and smack sticks together as they sang. It's a rare night that a major professional orchestra performs with such engrossing involvement.
Transient glory commissions and featured works 2004
Following are the composers who were featured in the 2004 Transient Glory concert.
Richard Rodney Bennett
The Ballad of Sweet William—World Premiere/YPC Commission
The Ballad of Sweet William by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett is a seven-minute work on a setting of an 18th-century Scottish ballad, which tells of the lost soul of Willie, coming to visit the mortal Margret. Among present-day musicians, there can be few more versatile than British-born Sir Richard Rodney Bennett: composing for concerts and films, playing the piano in contemporary music and in jazz idioms, and singing and playing classic show tunes in cabaret. With a strong gift for melody, of late, Mr. Bennett has settled into a freely tonal idiom, composing music of genuinely broad appeal.
Little Tree—World premiere/YPC Commission
British composer Judith Weir says she wanted to select poetry for her YPC compositions that the choristers would carry in their minds for a long time. She selected three poems of e.e.cummings—‘little tree,’ which speaks of compassion; ‘i carry your heart with me,’ which speaks of love; and ‘now is a ship,’ which speaks of potential. The music is challenging and includes a complicated rhythmic interplay of voices in ‘little tree,’ and six-part singing in ‘now is a ship.’ A wide-ranging composer, Ms. Weir’s interest in theater, narrative and folklore has resulted in three full-length operas, collaborations with theater companies and playwrights, a song cycle, and orchestral, concerto, chamber, and recital works.
The Boatman’s Song—World premiere/YPC Commission
Boatman’s Song is based on a folk song from northern Shaanxi Province in China, a simple rhythmic towing song sung by boat-trackers along the river. Bright Sheng says he loves the song for its vivid reflection of the tempestuous turbulence of the river. By adding guiros (a hollowed-out gourd), handclapping, and emphasizing the nonsense words (originally to synchronize the movement of the boat hauling), he hoped to evoke the now-lost scene of hundreds of boatmen pulling large boats against the rage of the river—a hazardous task, he notes, which claimed thousands of lives through history. Born in Shanghai, Bright Sheng is an important leader in exploring and bridging musical traditions in works that transcend conventional aesthetic boundaries. For his work, Bright Sheng is a recipient of the coveted MacArthur Foundation fellowship, commonly known as the “Genius Award.”
The Nervous Family—World premiere/YPC Commission
The Nervous Family is the first choral work for young people ever written by American composer Benjamin Lees. In researching a text, he decided that a text rooted in humor would be a natural medium for a young chorus. He had always admired the wit of English poet Edward Lear, and found this poem about a nervous family that even includes a dog, hilarious. Mr. Lees said that when he had written the last note of the piece he had a feeling of total exhilaration. “In my mind’s eye,” he said, “I already saw and heard the young choristers giggling with delight at their task.”
I Dreamt a Dream!—World premiere/YPC Commission
Tod Machover is an American composer well known for breaking traditional artistic and cultural boundaries and offering innovative syntheses of acoustic and electronic sound. I Dreamt A Dream! is a setting for treble youth chorus and electronics of “The Angel” from William Blake’s Songs of Experience, in which two young people meet an angel and are utterly transformed, as is the angel by them. The drama is compact and the moods change abruptly, from calm reassurance to deep sorrow to conscious conviction to resigned regret, leaving the listener feeling as though awaking from an unsettling dream.
Panta Rhei ‘All Things in Flux—World premiere
Of Greek descent Jim Papoulis, whose music combines contemporary and world sounds with traditional and futuristic styles, culled the text of Panta Rhei from the works of several Greek philosophers. Mr. Papoulis says that Panta Rhei is reflective of our current society and the choices we make individually and culturally as people in a constant state of flux. This state of flux was also experienced by ancient cultures—the day-to-day pulls and tugs of desire, of nature, mood changes, thought changes, etc. over a lifetime—but has become accelerated today.
Songs of the Season—World premiere
Commissioned by YPC, Songs of the Season is a brief suite for children’s chorus consisting of four songs—Fall, The Late Year, Rain, and Summer-- based on the words of Janet Freeman, chair of the English Department at Denison University. Samuel Adler selected the poems especially for urban children who don’t often think about the way the year develops in nature. Samuel Adler was born March 4, 1928, Mannheim, Germany and came to the United States in 1939. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in May 2001. He is the composer of over 400 published works, including 5 operas, 6 symphonies, 12 concerti, 8 string quartets, 4 oratorios and many other orchestral, band, chamber and choral works and songs, which have been performed all over the world.
Canticle: In Remembrance—New York premiere
Commissioned by the Ithaca College Women’s Chorus, Canticle was given its world premiere this past February in Boston. It is based on three passages in the book of Revelation and an Old Testament passage, which together reveal an image of the continuum upon which God places the good works of the individual believer.
Gould & Phil Galdston
There are (No) Children Here—Children’s Aid Society Commission
Commissioned by the Children’s Aid Society, There are (No) Children Here was premiered at the Ethical Culture Society on June 10, 1996 by the Children’s Aid Society Chorus under its Artistic Director Francisco Núñez. When asked to compose a work for the chorus, Morton Gould was immediately enthusiastic and asked Phil Galdston to write the text under strict instructions from Mr. Gould, “We don’t want anything namby pamby. No cute animals, no childish things.” The resulting text was inspired by a book about life in the Chicago ghetto. Sadly, Mr. Gould did not live to see his final composition premiered, as he died on February 21, 1996.