Missy Mazzoli - Death Valley Junction (2010) 

Death Valley Junction is a sonic depiction of the town of the same name, a strange and isolated place on the border of California and Nevada. The "town" is home to three people and consists of a café, a hotel, and a fully functional opera house. Death Valley Junction is dedicated to Marta Becket, the woman who resurrected and repaired the crumbling opera house in the late 1960's and performed one-woman shows there every week until her retirement last year at age 86. The piece begins with a sparse, edgy texture — the harsh desert landscape — and collapses into a wild and buoyant dance. Marta Becket once compared herself to the single yellow flower that is able to, against all odds, flourish in the desert. This piece attempts to depict some of her exuberant energy and unstoppable optimism, and is dedicated to her. 

‐ Missy Mazzoli
 

Eric Nathan - Ommagio a Gesualdo (2014)

"Omaggio a Gesualdo" (2013) is inspired by Gesualdo's madrigal "Ahi, disperata vita" from Madrigali a cinque voci Libro terzo (1594). It uses Gesualdo's work as a model, recasting his gestures and musical motives in my own language, while loosely adhering to the form of his work. I have long been an admirer of Gesualdo's music, especially his use of harmony and jarring chord progressions that keep his work sounding as modern today as it did four hundred years ago. In revisiting Gesualdo's music for this homage, I noticed a kinship in Gesualdo's approach to harmony with my own – he frequently links distantly related chords in succession, while I frequently combine disparate chords in superimposition, creating new composite harmonies. My homage features these superimposed harmonies at the forefront.

The music of Gesualdo’s madrigals are inseparable from the texts he sets, as Gesualdo is known for his frequent use of “text painting.” Similarly, my work is inspired by the images, gestures and meaning of the text. Please find the text reprinted below: 

"Ahi, disperata vita" 

Ahi, disperata vita, 
Che fuggendo il mio bene, 
Miseramente cade in mille pene! 
Deh, torna alla tua luce alma e gradita
Che ti vuol dar aita! 

English translation: 

Ah, desperate life, 
Which, whilst fleeing from my loved one, 
fallst miserably into a thousand torments! 
Oh, turn to your sweet and gracious light which wants to give you comfort.

The work is dedicated to Tera Younger in loving memory.

 

Fantasia on the Theme of Plum Blossom (2007)

The musical material of this piece is loosely derived from a popular Nankuan melody, Plum Blossoms. Nankuan, a traditional style of southern Chinese/Taiwanese music, dates back to Han and Tang Dynasty. This melody serves as a basis for all three movements. In the fantasia like first movement, the Nankuan melody is first subtly introduced in a fragmented and motivic way. By the end of movement, a longer continuous melody appears. The second scherzo- like movement takes the faster and active passages from the first movement as a basis for playful and energetic music. The rich and elegant Nankuan melody is most apparent in the lyrical, contrapuntal final movement.

 

Fantasia on the Theme of Plum Blossom for string quartet is dedicated to Nai-Yuan Hu and the Formosa Quartet. This commission was made possible, in part, by support from the Caramoor International Music Festival; it received its World premiere on June 28, 2007 at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts.

 

Aaron Jay Myers - I'll Swallow Your Soul (2017)

For a long time, I have been fascinated by the occult and the macabre. This interest manifests itself in my music, often serving as inspiration during the composition process. It has resulted in pieces based on mystical and alchemical ideas, and an unofficial demon series based on various ancient demons, creatures, and spirits. I am also a fan of cult and classic horror films.

I’ll Swallow Your Soul is titled after a phrase said by a possessed character in Sam Raimi’s classic film Evil Dead 2. In the film, evil spirits of the dead are accidentally summoned by reciting words from the book of the dead known as the Necronomicon. The spirits desperately want to live again, but can only manifest physical form by possessing the living. Not only was I inspired by the idea of evil spirits struggling to exist again in the physical world, but I also felt drawn to the title because of the other ways it could be interpreted which I will leave up to your imagination. I also embrace both raw and refined sounds as beautiful equals in my music.

I’ll Swallow Your Soul was commissioned by Semiosis Quartet and composed in late June through September of 2017.

 

Steven Snowden - Appalachian polaroids (2012)

Appalachian Polaroids was initially inspired by the controversial portrait photography of Shelby Lee Adams (b. 1950). Though sometimes criticized for perpetuating the hillbilly stereotype of rural Appalachia, I feel that his photographs often illuminate the quiet resilience of these remote mountain communities. As a native of the Ozark Mountain countryside, I have always felt a strong connection with my neighbors to the East. In Appalachian Polaroids, I chose to create my own musical portrait of the unique mix of hardship and joy that comes with living an isolated rural life.

This piece begins with a 1976 field recording of Sheila Kay Adams (no relation to Shelby Lee) singing the popular folk song Black is the Color in Asheville, North Carolina. The quartet quietly enters as an integrated component of the recording, playing with the wood of their bows to create a slightly noisy effect, similar to the tape hiss present in the old equipment used to record Sheila’s stunning voice. Their sound gradually becomes more brilliant until the group finally emerges with crowing figures reminiscent of Appalachian fiddle playing. However, they also carry with them remnants of Sheila’s own unique singing style. These attributes, (which include sliding/scooping to and from certain pitches and a subtle yodeling effect at the ends of phrases) expand as the piece progresses and eventually exert their influence on large-scale aspects of melody, rhythm and even form.

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