Thoughts on the New Lullaby Project Premiere Concerts

On December 10th, I had the great honor of performing 12 New Lullabies:  five world premieres, seven Cambridge premieres.  It was fascinating!
The oldest lullaby was written in 2009 and the rest come from 2010-2011.  Also present at the recital were 7 of the 12 composers, a great honor, and a milk & cookies reception (thank you cookie composers and Catherine & Caroline!)  The program was repeated on 12/18/11 at Studio 99 in Nashua.  The Milk and Cookies were quite a wonderful treat.  Organic milk is always a must!   Read on for my thoughts on the pieces and some video.

The Program:

Wiegenlied (2011) by Thomas Schuttenhelm
The Moon Through The Window Shines Down (2009) by Thomas L. Read
Lullaby in Three Voices (2011) by Alan Fletcher
Song for Daddy* (2011) by Francine Trester
Cancion de Cuna* (2010) by Hayg Boyadjian
Upward* (2011) by John McDonald
Whispers (2011) by Canary Burton
A Lullaby for Restless Times* (2010) by Martin Schreiner
Little Dancer (2010) by Michael Veloso
After Many Days Without Rain (2011) by Patricia Julien
Lulubye (2011) by Jacob Mashak
A Child Sings at Thanksgiving *(2010) by Demetrius Spaneas
* World Premiere

Aaron and New Lullaby Project Composers: Trester, Boyadjian, McDonald, Schreiner, Spaneas, Julien, Mashak

Played without an intermission and a minimum of talking, relatively speaking, the concert was just about an hour.  I found the greatest challenge to the program to be actually creating an order to the program.  Though each piece was unique in its musical language of a lullaby the pacing of the concert was a concern.  A flashy start and finish was impossible, yet the basic of a program needed to be present:  beginning, middle and end.

I found myself creating rough descriptions of the pieces either in their harmonic qualities or their construction, i.e. 12-tone, contrapuntal, repetitive, tonal, warm vs. sparse.

My Thoughts (these are not final and do not represent the composer’s, see their program notes for that)

I opened with Wiegenlied by Thomas Schuttenhelm, as since its premiere in May 2011 it has received repeated performances, so I felt very comfortable, but also it has qualities that I love, harmonics, unusual harmonies, and a lulling middle section that I think exemplifies the New Lullaby Project: it is contemporary music and clearly a lullaby.  Thomas also writes some mean program notes (click here to read)

Thomas L. Read‘s lullaby received its premiere in 2010 and though simple in its construction (repetitive bass figure and heart breaking melody) it is actually quite a challenge.  In an effort to keep lines legato and the bass figure consistent the left hand does some wonderful acrobats.  Though I find the piece full of a restrained passion it is hypnotic.  A real gem.

Alan Fletcher’s Lullaby in 3 Voices is the most technically difficult of this program and possibly of the whole batch of New Lullabies.  I don’t say that as a criticism, for I find it quite beautiful and though I have heard the moments of magic they don’t always occur in the concert!  A mere 30 measures, the piece requires the performer to hear and respect each of the three voices (each singing a lullaby or do the three together make the lullaby or both?).  I look forward to the continued discoveries in this finger twister.

Song for Daddy is Francine Trester’s second New Lullaby.  The first being My Darling’s Slumber recorded on the New Lullaby CD.  I find it amazing to play a second piece by a composer especially soon after the first.  The language is understood from the start, signs and symbols are no longer a mystery but something to be fulfilled.  I also like to think that the composer is writing with their last experience of me in mind.

Song for Daddy on Youtube

Cancion de Cuna by Hayg Boyadjian is the second work I have played of his but the first lullaby.  (I recorded his Mi Tango for his Albany CD Vientos, 2010).  Hayg’s language is unique and playful.  Often using the guitar as a single voice the player moves quickly throughout the range of the fretboard with vibrato, thick sound and unusual rhythms.  As in every piece of Hayg’s, there is a moment of sheer difficulty.  Four bars of this lullaby took many, many hours.  The biggest challenge though was having to sing the finally melody, in Spanish, as I played.  The first time was rough but it creates an amazing effect.  To many more!

Upward is John McDonald’s second New Lullaby as well.  His first being You Are Alone To Sleep recorded on the New Lullaby CD.  Probably the sparsest of this set of new lullabies, John has each phrase move in a lulling rhythm from the lowest notes upward to three octaves above harmonics all in the space of 4 or 5 notes.  A great effect and I got to work on my LH thumb technique à la cello.  I found the sparse textures of this work to be a good compliment to follow Hayg’s. (His program note is beautiful)

Whispers is a sweet work by Canary Burton that reminds me of Provincetown and how the wind can whip by or massage your face.  From a single melodic line the music takes on unusual phrasing and odd intervals before relaxing on harmonics and lulling arpeggio.  The tossing and turning of an exciting dream or not deep sleep almost finishes the piece but just at the last moment calm returns, much as the sun on a summer afternoon on the Cape.  (I can’t say this is what she  imagined but as a performer I can take liberties.)

Martin Schreiner’s lullaby is the 2nd of the contrapuntal lullabies though it comes in and out as the restlessness of the title is due the contra-rhythms of the voices 3/4 and 6/8.  Sometimes the voices move together and then they quickly move apart to return to each other.  I find the dynamics of his writing be just right with the repetitiveness complimented but the color and dynamic changes.  Though the piece begins simply each new section, in essence, expands on the melody and harmony: a new bass note, larger dynamic.  All said, I found the harmonic section though all natural harmonics to be quite challenging in the balance of the harmonics and accompanying strings.  This lullaby will continue to grow and be explored.

Michael Velosos’ Little Dancer, as its title suggests contains both the lullaby aspects of the genre and a bit of dance.  The lullaby starts sweet with fleshy chords and a nice wide melody before the 4th string motif begins, but then a little dance sneaks in, and before we know it we are accelerating and moving along in an accented 6/4.  The climax of this section though is followed by some ultra-sweet harmonies and an awesome melody on the second string.  The coda has us back in a lulling rhythm though are melody still moves throughout 2-2.5 octave range.  I found the extra movement in this piece very helpful in making the program move to the final three works.

After Many Days Without Rain is the first 12-tone lullaby on the program.  As testament to Patricia Julien’s abilities the work is so much more than just a mere theory exercise.  It is beautifully written, not a note needed to be changed, lush in its voicing, free in its positioning and also demanding.  The rhythm is 5/4 and the resolution of sleep is a wonderful find.

Lulubye is the 3rd submission by Jacob Mashak, and my favorite.  Also a 12-tone lullaby, Jacob’s varies greatly from Patricia’s.  In two voices most of the work, the work begins quite quietly with short phrases.  Each section has a similar figure that grows in notes and harmonically before coming back down to pp.  The shape of the whole work being a big hairpin < > .  One of the listeners on Sunday 12/18 in Nashua was particularly moved by this work.

A Child Sings at Thanksgiving by Demetrius Spaneas came to me as the closer of the main program for a number of reasons.  Its repetitive and great harmonies, lulling rhythms, singing melody and a second half of beautiful harmonics.  It also re-imagines the” Thanksgiving Hymn “We Gather Together” in an abstracted and fleeting way, the work perhaps evokes an adult’s distant memories of holidays past.”  I have not received many work that are arrangements or re-imagining (see Trester and McDonald’s first lullabies) and I found that quality quite becoming.  A Child Sings is brief, sweet and beautiful, and a lot of fun to play.

VIDEO A Child Sings At Thanksgiving, 12/10

As an encore I performed Toru Takemitsu’s Summertime by George Gershwin.  This work inspired the New Lullaby Project back in 2006 and so I found it to be a fitting end for this one.  I also just recorded it:

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