Libby Larsen composer
Curtis Macomber violin; Norman Fischer cello; Jeanne Kierman piano
Susanne Mentzer mezzo-soprano; James Dunham viola; Craig Rutenberg piano
Deborah Dunham bass
Trailblazer. Advocate. Innovator. All of these descriptors apply to Grammy Award-winner Libby Larsen, but at the core is the most important title of all: Artist. As the first woman to serve as a resident composer with a major orchestra and one of the most performed and prolific composers of our time (she has over 500 works in her catalog, including 15 operas), Larsen has established a permanent place in the annals of American concert music.
Her new Navona Records album CIRCLE OF FRIENDS in many ways highlights a number of musicians with whom she has developed lasting relationships over the years. The performers on the album – Deborah Dunham (bass), James Dunham (viola), Jeanne Kierman (piano), Norman Fischer (cello), Curtis Macomber (violin), Susanne Mentzer (mezzo-soprano), Craig Rutenberg (piano) – are all Larsen’s colleagues and associates from various points in her career.
“It occurred to me that although I’ve worked with all these superb, inspired players many times over the years, we’d never actually all collaborated on a project together,” says Larsen. “And this seemed like the perfect time and opportunity to do it.”
Produced by 4-time Grammy-winner Judith Sherman, the album opens with the 3-movement Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano, an agile, nimble jazz-inspired piece that takes a gentle breather in the middle movement. Sifting Through the Ruins, a 5-movement work for mezzo-soprano, viola, and piano, was composed in memory of the events of September 11, 2001; the music and words are designed to be without artifice, focusing instead on simplicity and directness of expression.
Larsen’s Viola Sonata moves away from the expansive scope of dynamics normally found in the composer’s scores and substitutes a more restrained sense of color and texture. The vocal qualities of the viola are emphasized in this 3-movement work. The final work on the program, Up Where the Air Gets Thin, is perhaps the most adventurous piece on the album, a poetic imagination of sound at extreme altitudes in extreme environments.