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Name of Work

Harbison, John (1938-)
North and South (Six Poems of Elizabeth Bishop) (2003)

Movements:
Ballad for Billie (I)
Late Air
Breakfast Songs
Ballad for Billie (II)
Song
"Dear, My Compass..."

Performances:


Feb 02, 2003



Susanne Mentzer, Mezzo-Soprano (vocal)
Larry Combs, Clarinet
Michael Henoch, Oboe
David McGill, Bassoon
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Christopher Costanza, Cello
Bradley Opland, Double bass


Feb 03, 2003



Susanne Mentzer, Mezzo-Soprano (vocal)
Larry Combs, Clarinet
Michael Henoch, Oboe
David McGill, Bassoon
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Christopher Costanza, Cello
Bradley Opland, Double bass

HARBISON-North and South (Six Poems of Elizabeth Bishop)

Composed in 2000

Though based in the East, John Harbison has held residencies with ensembles and festivals nationwide: the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Tanglewood, Marlboro, and Santa Fe, plus working at the American Academy in Rome. His Four Psalms, commissioned by the Israeli Consulate of Chicago in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the state of Israel, was premiered in 1999 by the Chicago Symphony and its chorus.

Writing in the early 1980s, Steven Ledbetter of the Boston Symphony said: “John Harbison’s music is inclusive. He has grown in an environment that encouraged familiarity with virtually every kind of music imaginable, and he has not been bashful about drawing together gestures or ideas from different musical worlds in his pieces, where the work seemed to call for it. His work has always been expressive, though never with a heart-on-sleeve emoting of personal angst.”

“Expressive;” “ideas from different musical worlds.” We’ll hear these characteristics in North and South, which shows us Harbison’s sensitive reaction to poetry he greatly admires, and his masterful use of a variety of vocal styles, drawing on blues, pop tunes, and the jumping intervals of 20th century art-song construction. When Elizabeth Bishop penned Four Songs for a Colored Singer, she commented that she had blues great Billie Holiday in mind. Ballad for Billie I has a definite bluesy feel: downcast, almost fatalistic. A little jazz riff open up Late Air, a musing on loneliness that finds no tonal or emotional center. The string passage at the end of this song recalls the scat-singing of jazz artists. Then Breakfast Song takes us closer to the realm of pop ballads; the wandering melody conveys its sadness in half-tone intervals with a sinuous accompaniment.

The blues echoes return in Ballad for Billie II, but not that fatalistic echo: this time the singer is resolute, not indecisive. Spiky motives convey her agitation as she sings: “God drink your wine and go get tight.” Song is less angry and more contemplative; its melodic meanderings evoke the poet’s roaming, impressionistic thoughts. To end we have the enigmatic Dear, My Compass: there are vivid colors and temperatures in this poem, conveyed through the insistent, repeated melodies and rhythms the strings play to support the cries and whispers of the voice.

Program notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performance date: February 2, 3, 2003



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