SHE features the music of two prominent contemporary American composers, Jake Heggie and Ricky Ian Gordon. Their music is beloved by singers, pianists, and audiences. Undoubtedly it is these composers’ understanding of the piano, its relationship to a singer, and their deep love of literature and poetry that have made them so successful.
Too Few the Mornings Be
I was first introduced to the music of Ricky Ian Gordon through his piece for soprano, clarinet, and piano, Orpheus and Euridice. I immediately fell in love with the way he uses melody as an extension of the text. Several years later I had the opportunity to sing in a master class for Mr. Gordon and chose to sing “I’m Nobody, Who Are You?” from Too Few the Mornings Be. At the time, I had two young children, was exhausted, and feeling that I had put my career on hold to raise a family. Working on that song with the composer was quite cathartic and he encouraged me to look at the rest of the cycle. Since that experience, I have performed Too Few the Mornings Be in recital across the country to warm reception. My favorite experience of performing the piece involved working with a choreographer and dancers, using movement to enhance the underlying theme of hope that is evident throughout the piece.
In Too Few the Mornings Be, Ricky Ian Gordon has set poems of Emily Dickinson which speak to our inherent thirst for a fulfilled life. His melodic writing for the voice is supported by the piano, which is often used to reinforce the underlying truths of the text. While Dickinson never provides the answer, she encourages us to approach life with an inquisitive and open mind as we experience all its trivial and profound moments.
In 2005, I attended Songfest as a vocalist and had the opportunity to meet and work with Jake Heggie. In prepping for that summer program, I researched his compositions and came across The Faces of Love. It wasn’t until three years later, that I fell in love with Eve-Song and performed it on a recital during my studies at the Hartt School. Over the years and dozens of performances, this work has proven its depth musically and poetically, while continuing to grow with my ever-evolving ideas of self and feminism.
Eve-Song is only one of four existing song cycles or monodramas which feature biblical Eve. In this particular rendition, poet Philip Littell has created a very human Eve. She is a woman full of questions, opinions, enthusiasm, and kindness, with a quick sense of humor. Throughout the cycle we hear melodies reminiscent of ancient chant, jazz influenced harmonies, and a soundscape created by the piano that allows the transparency of Eve’s complexity to overcome her traditional, misogynistic narrative.
Jake Heggie is the American composer of the operas Dead Man Walking (libretto by Terrence McNally), Moby-Dick (libretto by Gene Scheer), It’s A Wonderful Life (Scheer), Great Scott (McNally), Three Decembers (Scheer), To Hell and Back (Scheer), Out of Darkness: Two Remain (Scheer), At the Statue of Venus (McNally) and The Radio Hour: A Choral Opera (Scheer). He is currently at work on If I Were You (Scheer) a new opera based on the Faustian story by Julian Green, commissioned by the Merola Opera Program for Summer of 2019. Heggie has also composed nearly 300 art songs, as well as concerti, chamber music, choral and orchestral works, including the Ahab Symphony.
The operas – most created with the distinguished writers Terrence McNally or Gene Scheer – have been produced on five continents. In February 2017, Dead Man Walking received its 50th international production at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC in a new production by director Francesca Zambello. Since its San Francisco Opera premiere in 2000, Dead Man Walking has been performed more than 300 times and recorded live twice (Erato Records in 2001; Virgin Classics in 2011). In addition to major productions throughout the USA, Dead Man Walking has been seen in Dresden, Vienna, Sydney, Adelaide, Calgary, Montreal, Cape Town, Dublin, Copenhagen, and Malmö, with future production set for Vancouver, Madrid and London. Moby-Dick has received seven international productions since its 2010 premiere at The Dallas Opera with future productions in the USA and Europe. The San Francisco Opera production was telecast as part of Great Performances’ 40th anniversary season and released on DVD (EuroArts). Moby-Dick received its East Coast premiere at the Kennedy Center in 2014. It is also the subject of a book by Robert Wallace, titled Heggie & Scheer’s Moby-Dick – A Grand opera for the 21st Century (UNT Press). Three Decembers, Heggie & Scheer’s three-character chamber opera, has received nearly 20 productions internationally.
In 2016, Heggie was awarded the Eddie Medora King Prize by the UT Austin Butler School of Music. He was also the recipient of the Champion Award from the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus in a private concert that featured a performance by the great Patti LuPone. Heggie was the keynote speaker for the 2016 meeting of the National Association of Schools of Music in Dallas, and this year, he will give commencement addresses at the Eastman School of Music and Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music. A Guggenheim Fellow, he served for three years as a mentor for Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative. He is a frequent guest artist and master teacher at universities and conservatories, including Boston University, Bucknell, Cincinnati Conservatory, Cornell, Eastman, CU Boulder, Northwestern, The Royal Conservatory in Toronto, UNI, UNT, UT Austin, USC’s Thornton School, Vanderbilt University, and at festivals such as SongFest at the Colburn School, Ravinia Festival, and VISI in Vancouver.
Jake Heggie has collaborated as composer and pianist with some of the world’s most loved singers, including sopranos Kiri Te Kanawa, Renée Fleming, Ailyn Pérez, Heidi Stober, Karen Slack, Talise Trevigne, Kristin Clayton, Ann Moss, Caitlin Lynch and Lisa Delan; mezzo-sopranos Joyce DiDonato, Susan Graham, Frederica von Stade, Jamie Barton, Suzanne Mentzer, Joyce Castle, Elise Quagliata, Catherine Cook and Sasha Cooke; Broadway stars Patti LuPone and Audra McDonald; tenors Ben Heppner, William Burden, Stephen Costello, Jay Hunter Morris, Paul Groves and Jonathan Blalock; baritones Keith Phares, Nathan Gunn, Morgan Smith, Rod Gilfry, Bryn Terfel, Michael Mayes and Robert Orth. He has also worked closely with extraordinary instrumentalists such as flutists Carol Wincenc and Lorna McGhee; violinists Leila Josefowicz, Aloysia Friedmann and Dawn Harms; cellists Matt Haimowitz, Emil Miland and Anne Martindale-Williams; pianists Jon Kimura Parker and Gustavo Romero; as well as the Brentano String Quartet and the Alexander String Quartet. Directors who have championed his work include Leonard Foglia, Joe Mantello, Francesca Zambello and Jack O’Brien. All of Heggie’s major opera premieres have been led by Patrick Summers; he has also worked closely with conductors John DeMain, Joseph Mechavich and Nicole Paiement. Jake Heggie lives in San Francisco with his husband, Curt Branom.
Ricky Ian Gordon (b. 1956 in Oceanside, NY) studied piano, composition and acting, at Carnegie Mellon University. After moving to New York City, he quickly emerged as a leading writer of vocal music that spans art song, opera, and musical theater. Mr. Gordon’s songs have been performed and or recorded by such internationally renowned singers as Renee Fleming, Dawn Upshaw, Nathan Gunn, Judy Collins, Kelli O’Hara, Audra MacDonald, Kristin Chenoweth, Nicole Cabell, the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Frederica Von Stade, Andrea Marcovicci, Harolyn Blackwell, and Betty Buckley, among many others.
A highly prolific composer, Ricky Ian Gordon’s catalog includes Morning Star (2014, libretto by William Hoffman, premiered by the Cincinnati Opera) about Jewish immigrants in New York’s Lower East Side in the beginning of the 20th century; 27 (2014, libretto by Royce Vavrek, premiered at Opera Theatre of St. Louis) about Gertrude Stein’s salons at 27 rue de Fleurus; A Coffin In Egypt(2014, libretto by Leonard Foglia, premiered by the Houston Grand Opera, The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, and Opera Philadelphia) a haunting tale of memory and murder, racism and recrimination; Rappahannock County (2011, libretto by Mark Campbell, premiered at the Harrison Opera House) inspired by diaries, letters, and personal accounts from the 1860s; Sycamore Trees (2010, libretto by composer) a musical about suburban secrets and family; The Grapes of Wrath (2007 and 2010, libretto by Michael Korie, 2007 premiere by the Minnesota Opera, 2010 premiered by The American Symphony Orchestra); Green Sneakers (2008, libretto by the composer, premiered by the Miami String Quartet) a theatrical song cycle for Baritone, String Quartet, and Empty Chair; Orpheus and Euridice (2005); My Life with Albertine (2003); Night Flight To San Francisco and Antarctica (2000) from Tony Kushner’s Angels In America; Dream True(1999); States Of Independence (1992); The Tibetan Book of the Dead (1996); Only Heaven(1995).
Upcoming and recent projects include the opera Intimate Apparel with Playwright, Lynn Nottage, commissioned by New York’s Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center Theater, The House Without A Christmas Tree (libretto by Royce Vavrek) commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, for a November 30, 2017 premiere, Private Confessions with Playwright, Richard Nelson, commissioned by The Goodman Theater in Chicago, Ellen West (libretto by Frank Bidart) commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects for a 2019 premiere, and an opera based on Giorgio Bassani’s novel, The Garden of the Finzi Continis with librettist Michael Korie.
Mr. Gordon has been a visiting professor at colleges and universities throughout the country including Yale, NYU, Northwestern, Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, Bennington, Vassar, Carnegie-Mellon, Elon, Michigan State, University of Michigan, Point Park (McGinnis Distinguished Lecturer), Texas Lutheran University, Eastman School of Music, Florida State University, Texas Christian University, and San Francisco Conservatory. He has been the featured Composer-in-Residence at Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, The Hawaii Performing Arts Festival, The Van Cliburn Foundation, Voices of Change, Santa Fe Song Festival, Songfest at Pepperdine University, Chautauqua, Aspen Music Festival, and Ravinia.
Among his honors are an OBIE Award, the 2003 Alumni Merit Award for exceptional achievement and leadership from Carnegie-Mellon University, A Shen Family Foundation Award, the Stephen Sondheim Award, The Gilman and Gonzalez-Falla Theater Foundation Award, The Constance Klinsky Award, The National Endowment of the Arts, The American Music Center, and many awards from ASCAP, of which he is a member.
Mr. Gordon’s works are published by Williamson Music, Carl Fischer Music, and Theodore Presser Company and available everywhere.
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