Voices from the Other Side

Margi Griebling-Haigh composer
Arvo Pärt composer
Heitor Villa Lobos composer

Gabrielle Haigh soprano
Erie Coast Cellists | Steven Smith conductor

Release Date: September 6, 2024
Catalog #: NV6662
Format: Digital

VOICES FROM THE OTHER SIDE from composer Margi Griebling-Haigh is a collection of impressionistic chamber works. The album features an octet of cellists joined by soprano Gabrielle Haigh, resulting in arrangements that bear a striking, vocal quality. The title piece sets the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay and reveals the otherworldly voices of her work. Other works include the tintinnabuli-style Fratres as well as L’abbé Agathon, inspired by the remains of a 12th-century leper hospital near Beauvais, France. Griebling-Haigh’s compositions feature memorable melodies and strong rhythms, and her use of musical color and harmonic language have been compared to Barber, Ravel, and Poulenc.


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Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Voices from the Other Side: Some Things Are Dark Margi Griebling-Haigh Edna St. Vincent Millay, lyrics; Gabrielle Haigh, soprano; Erie Coast Cellists | Steven Smith, conductor; Ralph Curry, David Ellis, Khari Joyner, Julie Myers King, Robert Nicholson, Gabriel Ramos, Jeffrey Singler, Richard Weiss 5:47
02 Voices from the Other Side: Prayer to Persephone Margi Griebling-Haigh Erie Coast Cellists | Steven Smith, conductor; Ralph Curry, David Ellis, Khari Joyner, Julie Myers King, Robert Nicholson, Gabriel Ramos, Jeffrey Singler, Richard Weiss 3:33
03 Voices from the Other Side: The Curse Margi Griebling-Haigh Erie Coast Cellists | Steven Smith, conductor; Ralph Curry, David Ellis, Khari Joyner, Julie Myers King, Robert Nicholson, Gabriel Ramos, Jeffrey Singler, Richard Weiss 8:14
04 Fratres Arvo Pärt Erie Coast Cellists | Steven Smith, conductor; Ralph Curry, David Ellis, Khari Joyner, Julie Myers King, Robert Nicholson, Gabriel Ramos, Jeffrey Singler, Richard Weiss 10:10
05 Cantilena Margi Griebling-Haigh Erie Coast Cellists | Steven Smith, conductor; Ralph Curry, David Ellis, Khari Joyner, Julie Myers King, Robert Nicholson, Gabriel Ramos, Jeffrey Singler, Richard Weiss 13:20
06 L’Abbé Agathon Arvo Pärt Gabrielle Haigh, soprano; Erie Coast Cellists | Steven Smith, conductor; Ralph Curry, David Ellis, Khari Joyner, Julie Myers King, Robert Nicholson, Gabriel Ramos, Jeffrey Singler, Richard Weiss 15:37
07 Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5: I. Aria (Cantilena) Heitor Villa Lobos Gabrielle Haigh, soprano; Ruth V. Corrêa, lyrics; Erie Coast Cellists | Steven Smith, conductor; Ralph Curry, David Ellis, Khari Joyner, Julie Myers King, Robert Nicholson, Gabriel Ramos, Jeffrey Singler, Richard Weiss 6:27
08 Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5: II. Dansa (Martelo) Heitor Villa Lobos Gabrielle Haigh, soprano; Manuel Bandeira, lyrics; Erie Coast Cellists | Steven Smith, conductor; Ralph Curry, David Ellis, Khari Joyner, Julie Myers King, Robert Nicholson, Gabriel Ramos, Jeffrey Singler, Richard Weiss 5:13

Recorded August 15-17, 2023 at Federated Church in Chagrin Falls OH
Session Producer & Engineer David v. R. Bowles, Swineshead Productions
Editing, Mixing & Mastering David v. R. Bowles, Swineshead Productions

Executive Producer Bob Lord

VP of A&R Brandon MacNeil
A&R Chris Robinson

VP of Production Jan Košulič
Audio Director Lucas Paquette

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming
Publicity Kacie Brown
Digital Marketing Manager Brett Iannucci

Artist Information

Margi Griebling-Haigh


Margi Griebling-Haigh is an American composer based in Cleveland OH. Her compositions are driven by memorable melodies and strong rhythms, bound together by a cohesive formal structure. Her impressionistic use of musical color and harmonic language have inspired comparisons to Barber, Ravel, and Poulenc. Her music has been praised for its “rich and haunting personality” and “sinuous and impassioned conversations” (Gramophone Magazine) as well as for “zesty rhythmic shapes and exotic harmonic language” (Cleveland Plain Dealer). Her catalog includes numerous art songs and chamber music compositions, orchestral works, narrated dramatic works, and opera.

Gabrielle Haigh


Soprano Gabrielle Haigh enjoys a multifaceted career in art song, vocal chamber music, opera, and concert work. Her background in chamber music, in particular, has given her a passion for the collaborative process. Haigh’s extra-musical interests include the study of languages, classical history and philosophy, and lyric poetry. She holds degrees from the University of Cambridge, where she read Classics and served as a soloist and choral scholar in the renowned Choir of Clare College, and from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Haigh has appeared as a soloist with conductors including Nicholas McGegan (Philharmonia Baroque), Martin West (San Francisco Ballet), Christopher Wilkins (Akron Symphony Orchestra), Lars-Ulrik Mortensen (European Union Baroque Orchestra), Gerhardt Zimmermann (Canton Symphony Orchestra), as well as with Stephen Cleobury, Steve Gathman, Olaf Storbeck, Oliver Weder, Timothy Brown, and Graham Ross. Her solo concert repertoire has included Mozart’s Requiem, Bach’s St. John Passion and B Minor Mass, Dvorak’s Te Deum, selected songs with orchestra by Richard Strauss, the role of Benjamin in Handel’s oratorio Joseph and His Brethren, Brahms’ German Requiem, Handel’s Birthday Ode to Queen Anne, Vaughan Williams’ Hodie, and Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Haigh’s operatic roles have included Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Pamina in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Rosalinde in Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, Eurydice in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, Lady Billows in Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring, Diane in Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Actéon, and leading roles in Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance (Mabel) and The Grand Duke (Julia Jellicoe). She has given numerous full recitals of art songs and vocal chamber music spanning a wide range of repertoire from early Baroque to newly written works, often collaborating with members of the Cleveland Orchestra. She appeared as a Colburn Fellow at SongFest in 2019 and has also trained in historical performance practice. She has appeared in masterclasses and coached with Libby Larsen, Manny Perez, Jake Heggie, Margo Garrett, and Mark Trawka. Her voice teachers have included Manny Perez, Marla Berg, Sylvia Anderson, Nicola-Jane Kemp, Stephen Varcoe, and Barbara Rearick.

Hailing from a musical family, Haigh began her training in music theory, piano, and composition from early childhood with members of her unusual family of professional classical composers and performers. As an accomplished young composer, she won multiple international and national prizes from Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), ASCAP, MTNA, and NFMC. Her orchestral tone poem Poème Rituel was premiered by the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra and music director James Feddeck on her 18th birthday, and her Symphony No. 1, composed when she was 16 years old, was premiered by the Monterey Symphony Orchestra and music director Max Bragado Darman in 2011. Since then she has turned her musical attention towards vocal performance, but her early background in composition and her own family’s tradition of annual chamber music parties proved to be a compelling inspiration for continuing to explore the unique vocal chamber music included on this disc.


Steven Smith


Steven Smith has served as music director of the GRAMMY® Award-winning Cleveland Chamber Symphony since 2004, and since 2014 also as artistic director of NEOSonicFest, an annual festival of contemporary music and dance performances organized by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony. Smith concluded his acclaimed tenure as music director of Virginia’s Richmond Symphony in June 2019. Under his nine year artistic leadership, the Richmond Symphony enjoyed critical success, marked new records in both subscription and single-ticket sales, greatly expanded community engagement activities, important collaborations with universities, cultural institutions, and governmental bodies from the City of Richmond to the Virginia legislature. In 2013, he completed a 14-year tenure as music director of the Santa Fe Symphony & Chorus, a period recognized for its artistic growth, financial stability, and enthusiastic community support.

As assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra (1997–2003), Smith appeared on the subscription series and summer concerts at the Blossom Music Festival. Particularly interested in the role of orchestras in arts education, he assisted in the planning and conducting of the orchestra’s educational and family concerts, and hosted the annual broadcast videoconference, which won an Emmy Award in 2001. For five seasons he concurrently served as music director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, during which time they were invited to perform at Carnegie Hall. He has also served as associate professor at the Oberlin Conservatory, affiliate associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, and as director of orchestral activities at the Brevard Music Festival, leading both orchestral and operatic performances. At the Cleveland Institute of Music, he has appeared regularly in orchestral and operatic performances, including concerts celebrating composers Bernard Rands, David Del Tredici, Shulamit Ran, Melinda Wagner, and a memorial tribute to Pierre Boulez.

Guest-conducting activities include appearances with numerous orchestras around the world including the San Francisco Symphony, Puerto Rico Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Toledo Symphony, Houston Symphony, Mexico’s Orquesta Sinfónica de Xalapa, Taiwan’s National Symphony Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic, and several seasons with New Zealand’s Auckland Philharmonia. During summers he has performed at the Aspen Music Festival, and with the National Repertory Orchestra, Chicago’s Grant Park Symphony, and New York’s Chautauqua Symphony. In addition, he has conducted both opera and a variety of orchestral programs at Indiana University. Additional opera appearances include productions with the Virginia Opera, the Brevard Music Festival, and Lyric Opera Cleveland.

From 1996–1998, Smith was the Associate Conductor of the Kansas City Symphony and recipient of the Geraldine C. and Emory M. Ford Foundation Conductor Career Development Grant. Previously, he was assistant conductor of the Colorado Springs Symphony and concertmaster of the Grand Rapids Symphony for three seasons.

Smith is also an active ASCAP award-winning composer. Named Ohio Composer of the Year in 2008, he received a commission for a new string quartet, premiered in November 2008. Recent performances include Rondeau for solo cello, premiered in September, 2018, by Gary Hoffman in Kronberg, Germany; and Chromo-Synchrony, premiered in March, 2015 by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony. Additional works by Smith have been performed by The Cleveland Orchestra, Chautauqua Symphony, Eugene Youth Symphony, Grand Rapids Symphony, and solo artists. In December, 1995, Shake, Rattle and Roar, an interactive work for young audience and orchestra, was performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It had previously been given ten performances by the National Symphony on the Kennedy Center’s Educational Concerts and was featured on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and Performance Today.

A native of Toledo OH, Smith earned master’s degrees from the Eastman School of Music and the Cleveland Institute of Music, from which he received the CIM Alumni Association 1999 Alumni Achievement Award.


Ralph Curry


Before coming to the Cleveland Orchestra, Ralph Curry cut short his studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music to accept a one-year substitute cello position with the New York Philharmonic. He held the principal cello chair of the Colorado Philharmonic and performed as a member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra before joining the Cleveland Orchestra in 1978. Curry has appeared as a soloist with the Colorado Philharmonic and with the symphony orchestras of Detroit and Pittsburgh.

Curry attended Kent/Blossom Music and the Colorado Philharmonic (now the National Repertory Orchestra). Born in Pittsburgh, he studied with Stephen Geber (former principal cello of the Cleveland Orchestra), Robert Newkirk, and Allen Sher. He has participated in masterclasses given by Mstislav Rostropovich, Janos Starker, Zara Nelsova, and the Guarneri String Quartet. Formerly, Curry performed with the Severance Trio. Currently, he plays chamber music as a member of the Amici String Quartet.

David Ellis


A conductor, cellist, and viola da gambist, David B. Ellis has performed repertoire ranging from Renaissance to Contemporary. He received a Bachelor of Music degree in Cello performance, a Master of Music degree in Historical Performance, and a Master of Music degree in Orchestra Conducting — all from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music — where he studied with Raphael Jimenez, Tim Weiss, and Catharina Meints, and assembled and directed the Oberlin Baroque Orchestra. As a viola da gambist and baroque cellist, Ellis has performed in many ensembles in Ohio and throughout the United States, including The Newberry Consort, Catacoustic, Les Délices, Three Notch’d Road, Apollo’s Fire, Burning River Baroque, and the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra. As a modern cellist, Ellis has played in ensembles featuring a wide range of genres, including but not limited to the Akron Symphony and Cleveland Chamber Symphony. As a conductor, Ellis has served as director of the CWRU Case Camerata Chamber Orchestra and executive and artistic director for Earth and Air: String Orchestra. Ellis is a passionate teacher, and in addition to maintaining a small private studio of cellists and viola da gambists, he has taught classes on numerous topics and served as a faculty member at the Viola da Gamba Society of America’s annual Conclave. Ellis is a native of Solon OH, and currently resides in Cleveland.

Khari Joyner


Described by the New York Times as “eloquently plangent, making a powerful impact,” Khari Joyner has a following as a versatile concert cellist, chamber musician, and artistic ambassador. His guest appearances have included performances of the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto in A Minor and Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, earning rave reviews.

Joyner is assistant professor of cello at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory. He has given masterclasses at the University of Georgia, Duke University, Bowling Green State University, Oberlin Conservatory, and the International Cello Institute.

In 2017, Joyner received a career grant from the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund. He has performed for Bill Clinton, and gave a private performance in the Oval Office for Barack Obama. A passionate advocate for 21st century music, he has collaborated with Tyshawn Sorey, Kaija Saariaho, Lowell Liebermann, Keith Fitch, Carman Moore, and Jessie Cox, and others. A founding member of the Altezza Piano Trio, Joyner has performed chamber music for the Ritz Chamber Players, Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia, Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival, Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival, Fontainebleau Music Festival, and as a guest with PinkNoise contemporary ensemble.

Joyner pursued a mathematics concentration in an exchange program with Columbia University, while studying in Juilliard’s Accelerated BM/MM program and later graduated from Juilliard’s Doctor of Musical Arts program. He collaborates across genres with choreographers, actors, and jazz musicians — including a world premiere with the Atlanta Ballet with his solo cello work Intransigence.

Julie Myers King


Julie Myers King is a member of the Akron Symphony, the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, Blue Water Chamber Orchestra, the Blossom Festival Orchestra, the Cleveland Pops Orchestra and the Athena String Quartet. She holds degrees in cello performance from Indiana University and Louisiana State University. She is an active freelancer in the Northeast Ohio area, and spent 13 winters as the assistant principal cellist of the Sarasota Opera Orchestra. In addition, she performs frequently at Cleveland’s Playhouse Square. She has been on the faculty of The Music Settlement since 1993. She resides in Cleveland Heights with her husband, Richard, their children Charlie and Amelia and miniature poodle, Ernie.

Robert Nicholson


Cleveland-based cellist Robert Nicholson has performed and taught around the globe. As a chamber musician, he has performed in Asia, Europe, and the United States, including as a founding member of both original and traditional ensembles, from historical performance practice to new commissions and chamber improvisation. A member of the Erie Philharmonic, he is in frequent demand as section member and principal by orchestras across the region.

Committed to the music of our time, Nicholson has premiered and commissioned numerous solo and ensemble works internationally. Local collaborations include Cleveland new music ensembles Ars Futura, Blue Streak Ensemble, FiveOne Experimental Orchestra, and the SheScores! Festival.

Nicholson maintains a private cello studio in the Cleveland area. Additionally, he has served as assistant director of the cello faculty at the Coda Mountain Academy Summer Music Festival, faculty of the MasterWorks Festival, and as a coach with the Erie Junior Philharmonic and local school orchestra programs. He holds degrees from Peabody Conservatory and the Orchestral Performance Program at Manhattan School of Music, studying with Alan Stepansky.

Gabriel Ramos


California native Gabriel Ramos is a member of the Louisville Orchestra and has also performed as a member of the Akron and Canton Symphony Orchestras, as well as the North Carolina and Charlotte Symphonies and New World Symphony in Florida. He has participated in the Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music, the Bowdoin International Music Festival, the Meadowmount School of Music, the Aspen Music Festival, and the Sitka International Cello Seminar.

Ramos earned his Master of Music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he studied with Charles Bernard and Si-Yan Darren Li, and exercised his passion for chamber music as a member of both the Intensive Duo and the Advanced Piano Trio Programs. He earned his Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Colorado Boulder. Ramos made his Carnegie Hall debut in a solo Bach recital after winning 2nd prize in The American Protégé International Piano and Strings Competition. He also captured 2nd prize in the North Carolina Symphony’s Kathleen Price and Joseph M. Bryan Youth Concerto Competition. In 2015 he won a position in a fellowship quartet sponsored by the North Carolina Chamber Music Institute and WCPE Classical 89.7 FM, and subsequently made several guest appearances with principal players of the North Carolina Symphony.

Jeff Singler


Cellist Jeff Singler regularly appears with the Columbus Symphony and the Erie Philharmonic, and as principal cellist of Ashland Symphony and Warren Philharmonic. He also performs regularly with the West Virginia Symphony, Akron Symphony, and Youngstown Symphony.

Singler is an avid chamber musician, performing as a member of the Lake Effect Piano Trio, Ashland Symphony Quartet, Obsidian Quartet, with Prism Jazz Ensemble, and on the She Scores! Festival. He holds a Master of Music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, and has taught at both Youngstown State University and Ohio University. He maintains a private cello studio and teaches throughout northeast Ohio, as well as at The Music Settlement in Cleveland.

Richard Weiss


Richard Weiss is first assistant principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra. While in high school, he was first prize winner of the Music Teachers National Association competition and was concerto soloist at the Tanglewood Festival. Admitted to the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester on full merit scholarship, he was chosen to perform in the cello section of the Rochester Philharmonic while attending school. He won an audition to join the Cleveland Orchestra during his senior year at Eastman. Weiss is a founding member of the Cleveland Orchestra Piano Trio. He has performed many times as concerto soloist with the Cleveland Orchestra and several other orchestras.

In the summer, Weiss teaches at the Kent/Blossom Music Festival, the Cleveland Institute of Music International Academy, and the Sphinx Performance Academy. He also coaches the cello sections of the Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra and is often asked to coach cellists in other ensembles, including the New World Symphony in Miami FL. He is Head of the Cleveland Institute of Music cello department, teaches the Cello Orchestral Repertoire class, and works with students in the Conservatory and in the Young Artist Program. Weiss has served as president of the Cleveland Cello Society. When not performing and teaching, he enjoys riding his horse, an Arab Appaloosa named Razzmatazz.


Voices from the Other Side [Lyrics by Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892–1950] was written in 1999 at the request of Richard Aaron for the Cleveland Institute of Music Cello Ensemble, Cellobration! It was given its premiere at the College of Wooster in 2000 by that ensemble (all 23 of them!) with soprano Andrea Bargabos, and has barely been heard since. I am thrilled that it is finally being presented in its intended form, with a mere eight cellists and a soprano — only seven years old at the time of composition — who has now developed the perfect voice and dramatic make-up for these songs. All three of the poems are either addressed from or to otherworldly voices. “Some Things Are Dark” is in the voice of a nightmare, and was written late in the poet’s life when she stoically passed a lonely year after the death of her husband, working on a new book of poems. The volume, Mine the Harvest (1954), was published posthumously and edited by Millay’s sister, Norma Millay Ellis.

In the second, “Prayer to Persephone,” the singer implores the Queen of Hades for kindness and mercy. From a series of short poems called “Memorial to D.C.,”  it was written much earlier in Millay’s career for her Vassar schoolmate Dorothy Coleman, who died in the 1918 influenza epidemic. It is included in Millay’s third collection of poetry, Second April (1921).

The third poem, using the literary device prosopopoeia in the voice of a curse, takes on a playfully threatening tone. “The Curse” is included in her fourth collection, The Harp-Weaver, and Other Poems (1923), of which the centerpiece is her famous ballad, “The Harp-Weaver,” which earned Millay — as the first woman to win this accolade — the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

— Margi Griebling-Haigh

Cantilena (1998) was commissioned by Richard Aaron for the Cleveland Institute of Music Cello Ensemble, Cellobration! and premiered at C.I.M. in 1999. Cantilena is a darkly lyrical octet that plays with cross rhythms, metric modulation, and many moods and colors. The languid, melancholy, and somewhat boozy opening allows each of the eight cellists an individual voice before launching into — and alternating with — a strict, syncopated, mixed meter allegretto. About two-thirds of the way through the work, a labored, confused, and tortured fugato builds tension before finally bursting free with a great sense of relief into the now expanded and much more joyful allegretto. The opening material returns, this time with one lone cellist obstinately playing in four against the prevailing three. Eventually, majority rules — and the piece ends surprisingly with a relentless, repetitive chord progression of ever louder pizzicato chords.

— Margi Griebling-Haigh

Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) was born in Estonia, and was raised by his mother and stepfather. He began his musical studies at age 7, and by his early teenage years was starting to compose, but only seriously studying in Tallinn beginning in 1954. After fulfilling his military service by playing oboe and percussion in the army band, he attended the Tallinn Conservatory. As a composition student of Heino Eller, Pärt produced music for film and the stage. From 1957 to 1967, he worked as a sound producer for Estonian public radio. During the 1960s he composed music for the Estonian State Puppet Theatre and also attended the Warsaw Autumn festival of contemporary music. He struggled with inconsistent but often disapproving messages from the Soviet regime about the content of his work, which had been atonal, avant garde, and/or religious, and was therefore considered unacceptable. This led to a creative crisis and period of silence during which he focused on early music in an effort to find a new musical language.

Pärt re-emerged in 1976 with a radically different new style which he named “tintinnabuli” — from the Latin for “little bells.” The music is characterized by simple rhythms, unchanging tempos, and tonal harmonies. He employed sacred Latin or Orthodox church text settings in his vocal works. Pärt is commonly identified with “mystic” minimalism and is considered a pioneer in that style. Due to the continued religious content of his music, he was forced to emigrate in 1980 to Vienna and then to Berlin, where he was to reside for 30 years. While in Berlin in 1984, his collaboration with Manfred Eicher, founder and producer of ECM Records, resulted in the release of recordings which brought Pärt great recognition. His music was soon included in programming of renowned orchestras and ensembles, festivals, and broadcasts.

After the dissolution of the Soviet regime in 1991, Pärt was able to reestablish ties to Estonia. He is celebrated as something of a national hero with birthday celebrations, festivals, and “Pärt Days,” and has also received an astounding number of international awards, titles, and accolades. He has lived permanently in Estonia since 2010 where he has continued to compose new works as well as to rearrange older ones. The Arvo Pärt Centre, whose mission it is to create and maintain his archive, was also established in 2010 by Pärt and his wife Nora.

— Margi Griebling-Haigh

Fratres (1977) presents a textbook example of Arvo Pärt’s tintinnabuli style of composition. The work has no fixed instrumentation; it has been performed in at least nine solo arrangements with accompaniment and eight chamber music settings. Its mesmerizing and repetitive sets of eight chord sequences, generated by a simple mathematical formula, are separated by a two bar recurring percussive motif called the “refuge.”

Fratres is driven by three moving voices. The low and high voices are each restricted to playing notes from the c harmonic minor scale, and the middle voice is restricted to the notes of the g minor triad. In this version for 4, 8, or 12 cellos, the first three of the eight chord sequences feature ethereal false harmonics which create an otherworldly sound; each presentation of the motif is scored in a lower tessitura than the last. The entire piece is accompanied by a G and D open string drone in the lowest cello part. The two bar “refuge” motif makes use of simultaneous pizzicato (plucked) and col legno (strings tapped with the wooden part of the bow) to achieve the intended percussive effect. The presence of both B-natural and B-flat, resulting in a G major or minor, creates tension and harmonic ambiguity.

— Margi Griebling-Haigh

Written for soprano and eight cellos and commissioned and premiered by L’Octuor de violoncelles de Beauvais with soprano Barbara Hendricks in 2004, L’abbé Agathon takes its inspiration from the remains of 12th century leper hospital Maladrerie Saint-Lazare, near Beauvais, France. The storyline originates from a 4th century legend that relates the meeting of the hermit Agathon and a leper, who tests him several times. Only after Agathon successfully passes these trials does the leper reveal himself to be an angel sent by God. According to Arvo Pärt, “St. Agathon is associated with several legends involving lepers. Three musical situations dominate the piece: Agathon on the way to the market, characterized by his gait heavy with the leper on his shoulders, the dialogues between the leper and Agathon, and the life at the market. The coda is a surprising dramaturgical turning point — but also a logical conclusion to the idea which brings the entire notion of Agathon to a head.” L’abbé Agathon has also been arranged for soprano with four violas and four cellos, and for soprano, alto, or baritone with female choir and string orchestra.

— Margi Griebling-Haigh

Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos [1887–1959] was one of the foremost Latin American composers of the 20th century; his music combines indigenous melodic and rhythmic elements with Western classical music. His father was a librarian and an amateur musician, and under the influence of weekly musical get-togethers, Villa-Lobos became interested in music. He learned to play cello at age 6 and was inspired by music from Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier. While traveling with his family to various regions of Brazil, he developed an interest in the native folk music. Upon returning to Rio de Janeiro, Villa-Lobos began to associate and perform with the city’s popular musicians. He became a musical vagabond, playing cello and guitar to support himself while traveling throughout the country, absorbing Brazilian folk music and composing his own pieces.

Villa-Lobos enrolled briefly at the Instituto Nacional de Música in Rio de Janeiro, but instead of remaining there he continued his travels for three years. He eventually returned to the city with a large collection of manuscripts and deep knowledge of the Afro-Brazilian music of the country’s northern and northeastern regions. He began to seriously study the works of Bach, Richard Wagner, and Giacomo Puccini, whose influence can be noted in his compositions. In 1915 a concert in Rio de Janeiro featured his compositions, and that same year the firm of Artur Napoleão began publishing his music. Initially attacked by critics for the dissonance and modernity of his work, he persisted in his efforts to merge Western music and the Brazilian vernacular tradition.

In 1919 Villa-Lobos met pianist Artur Rubinstein, who helped advance his reputation by performing his music in concerts throughout the world. He composed ceaselessly, and by the time of his first — and very successful — trip to Europe in 1923 he had produced a long list of compositions in every form, from solo pieces for guitar to trios, quartets, concerti, vocal music, and symphonies. For the remainder of the 1920s, Villa-Lobos made Paris his home base, organizing and performing in a number of concerts. During this period he published more of his work and solidified an international reputation. Having returned to Brazil for a performance in 1930, Villa-Lobos presented a plan for music education in the São Paulo school system and was appointed director of music education there. In 1932 he took charge of music education throughout Brazil. He established a conservatory for choral singing in 1942 and, with fellow composer Oscar Lorenzo Fernandez, co-founded the Brazilian Academy of Music in 1945. Between 1944 and 1949 he traveled widely in the United States and Europe, where he wrote music for several films, received many honors, and was much in demand as a conductor.

— Margi Griebling-Haigh

One of Villa Lobos’s best-known groups of works is Bachianas Brasileiras, a set of nine compositions written for various combinations of instruments and voices written between 1930 and 1945. The pieces fuse Brazilian folk and popular music with the style of Johann Sebastian Bach, in an attempt to adapt a number of Baroque harmonic and contrapuntal influences to the lyrical quality of Brazilian song, the energy of Brazilian dance, and the dissonance and expression of early 20th century Brazilian modernism — all mixed together in a compositional style unique to Villa-Lobos.

Scored for soprano and orchestra of cellos, Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 is composed of two movements and is the composer’s best known work. “Ária” (1938) incorporates intertwined, pizzicato (plucked) cello chords and running patterns which mimic guitar playing, all introduced by a typical Baroque ground bass chord progression. The soprano’s achingly beautiful vocalise floats above, eventually taken up by a solo cellist. The middle of the movement features a poem about the moon, full of drama and yearning. “Dança” (1945) is composed in the embolada (lit. “tangled”) form and is a poem of longing (saudade) for the birds of the Cariri Mountains, in the state of Ceará in northeast Brazil. The lyrics list several species of indigenous birds: ben-te-vi (Pitangus sulphuratus: Great Kiskadee), sabiá (Turdus fumigatus: Cocoa Thrush), juriti (Leptotila rufaxilla: Grey-fronted Dove), irerê (Dendrocygna viduata: White-faced Whistling Duck), patativa (Sporophila leucoptera: White-bellied Seed Eater), and cambaxirra (Odontorchilus cinereus: Tooth-billed Wren). The music imitates birdsong: “La! liá! liá! liá! liá! liá!”

— Margi Griebling-Haigh


Various Texts and Lyrics

By Edna St. Vincent Millay, Ruth V. Corrêa, and Manuel Bandeira