Butterfly Effects (2009) began with a quotation from the Chinese philosopher, Zhuangzi: “Am I a human who dreamt of being a butterfly or am I now a butterfly who dreams of being human?” Like the philosopher’s dream, the piece seeks to explore the sense of oneness with all living beings.
The instrumentation is flute and harp, but each of the seven movements is for a different member of the flute family. "Mourningcloak", is for a somber alto flute, while "Banded Blue Pierrot" is a short and glittering movement for concert flute. "Common Jezebel" (alto flute) is a sultry tango, but "Question Mark" employs beat-boxing on the bass flute. "Monkey Puzzle" (alto flute), in a kind of mimicry of its confusing antennae, flutters along to the middle of the piece and then proceeds backwards to the beginning. "Karner Blues" adopts some of the riffs of blues in the only movement for piccolo. "Psyche" (concert flute) quotes the previous movements and reminds us of the Zhuangzi dream and the oneness of all living beings.
Described by the Flutist Quarterly as “an artful exploration of the instruments and a wonderful addition to the chamber musician’s library,” Butterfly Effects was written for the Duo “2” for premiere in Thailand and later published by Noteworthy Sheet Music (www.noteworthysheetmusic.com).
Peter H. Bloom, multiple flutes, and Mary Jane Rupert, piano and harp, have toured the globe as the Duo “2”. Called “the very best players at the height of their powers” (University of Canberra, Australia), they have performed Elizabeth Vercoe’s music in the U.S., Asia, New Zealand, and Australia. “2” is managed by Americas Musicworks (www.americasmusicworks.com).
This is my letter to the World (2001) is a dramatic cycle of six songs based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson. The poems tell of Dickinson’s delight in nature, her first losses, her ambivalence about marriage, and finally both the intensity and exhilaration she finds in her writing.
The music for the opening title song is full of flute trills and flourishes over a legato vocal part. In contrast, the humorous text of "Bee!" is set to music that is rapid, staccato, and over in moments. In "Snow" the poet mourns the death of a young friend. The song opens with the gentle trickling of a rain stick that calls to mind the hush of falling snow. "Title Divine" is the longest and most dramatic piece, concluding with an explosive fortissimo. "A Spider sewed at Night" evokes Dickinson’s secret industry of stitching her poems together alone at night. Lastly, "I taste a liquor never brewed" closes the cycle with exuberant waves of piano sound and soaring lines in piccolo and voice.
The Dickinson songs were commissioned by flutist Patricia Harper for premiere at Connecticut College. Residencies at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Umbertide, Italy and the Virginia Center of the Creative Arts provided additional support. The music was revised in 2017 for the Duo “2” and mezzo-soprano D’Anna Fortunato. A three-time Grammy nominee and soloist with major American orchestras, Fortunato has performed the songs with “2” throughout the United States.
Elegy for viola and piano (1990) is a short, powerful movement described by the Boston Globe as “poised and soulful.” It is the fifth in a series of introspective pieces for solo instruments.
In the Journal of the American Viola Society critic Thomas Hall calls the piece “broody and attractive” and adds: “This is a moody, somber interesting work with moments of real beauty, couched in a late twentieth-century idiom that is fresh.”
The recording is taken live and unedited from the premiere performance by former BSO violist, Patricia McCarty, and pianist Ellen Weckler. The piece has also been performed by the composer’s daughter, Andrea Vercoe, and has appeared on festivals at the University of Colorado and Connecticut College. In 2014 Elegy was chosen for a concert to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the American Music Center at Bruno Walter Hall at Lincoln Center.
Herstory I (1975) is the first in a series of song cycles by Elizabeth Vercoe on texts by women. The words relate a woman’s life experiences and are highly expressive poetry by contemporary Americans who are sometimes known as confessional poets.
The opening song, "Noon Walk", is full of wide leaps and high contrasts, befitting the madness of a woman who can find ‘no safe place.’ "Her Kind" finds strange exuberance in a kind of wild freedom. Here, each of the three stanzas is set to similar music and ends with a slightly varied refrain. "Side by Side" is a quiet and fairly light-hearted look at a couple over time. "The Crib", the only song for soprano alone, is the voice of a mother horrified by her child’s nightmare. Proceeding without a pause, "Morning Song", opens with soft, arpeggiated chords in piano and vibraphone. "Mirror" is metronomic, atonal, and relentlessly staccato with an angular vocal line, and continues without a break to "Old" which begins with a quiet vibraphone tremolo and whispered voice as an old woman dreams of her youth. The final song, "Sleep", is a lullaby for all three performers that fades away to nothingness at the end.
Herstory I received its premiere at the Brookline Public Library with the composer at the piano. In 1979 the cycle won a competition sponsored jointly by WGBH-FM and the renowned new music ensemble, the Boston Musica Viva. In the subsequent recording, members of the Boston Musica Viva (Cheryl Cobb, soprano, Randall Hodgkinson, piano, and Dean Anderson, percussion) performed under the direction of Richard Pittman.
— Elizabeth Vercoe
Photos, from top to bottom: Mourningcloak, Banded Blue Pierrot, Common Jezebel, Question Mark, Monkey Puzzle, Karner Blues, and Psyche.
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