Music & Memory
MUSIC & MEMORYJoin us for an evening that portrays the power of music, poetry, and art to evoke memories and show the transformation from youthful love and folly to mature nostalgia and regret. You’ll enter a visual landscape with the beautiful artwork of Thérèse Murdza, hear Northwest poets of several generations read from their poetry of memory, and experience the stunning singing of the expressive Resonance Ensemble in works including John Corigliano’s haunting Fern Hill, with mezzo-soprano Hannah Penn, known to local audiences for her work with the Portland Opera Studio. We’ll also be graced with a special appearance by Oregon Poet Laureate, Paulann Petersen.Come hear an ensemble that The Oregonian calls “genuinely compelling,” with “the city’s best choral talent,” as we create an unforgettable evening of Music and Memory.
John Corigliano's Fern Hill
with mezzo-soprano soloist Hannah Penn
featuring the artwork of Thérèse Murdza and readings by Northwest poets,
including honored guest, Oregon Poet Laureate, Paulann Petersen.
Friday, February 4, 2011 8pm - Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Lewis & Clark College
Saturday, February 5, 2011 8pm - First Presbyterian Church, Portland
Thérèse Murdza, Visual Artist
Portland, Oregon-based artist Thérèse Murdza builds bright, richly textured paintings for commercial and residential collections. Using an animated range of colors and a repeated, kinetic rhythm of familiar gestures – circles, rectangles, and lines – she creates large, multi-paneled works on canvas, and smaller works on canvas and paper. She recently completed a six-piece series of large paintings (60 inches x 372 inches total) for a newly built private residence in Cedar Rapids, IA, and installed a series of multipaneled paintings for the Mercy Cancer Center and Mercy Medical Center - West Lakes in Des Moines, IA. Her work is held in numerous private and commercial collections across the country including the Wellmark Blue Cross Headquarters in Des Moines, IA; the Duke University-UCLA National Center for Child Traumatic Stress in Durham, NC; and the Mirabella - South Waterfront in Portland, OR.
For more information about Thérèse, visit www.theresemurdza.com.
Hannah Penn, Mezzo-Soprano
As a member of Portland Opera’s Studio Artist Program from 2007 to 2009, Ms. Penn sang the roles of Thisbe (La Cenerentola), Mercedes (Carmen), Flora (La Traviata), and Nancy (Albert Herring). She also sang her first Carmen, under somewhat unusual circumstances; Ms. Penn was covering the role and went on with 24-hours notice, to critical acclaim. The next summer she had the chance to reprise the role while making her international debut at the Teatro National Sucre in Quito, Ecuador. Operatic engagements for the 2009- 2010 season include Giovanna (Rigoletto) and Diana in Cavalli’s La Calisto, both through Portland Opera, and Cherubino with Tacoma Opera. Ms. Penn will also give concert performances with the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra and with BodyVox, a modern dance troupe.
Ms. Penn received her Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees from Indiana University. She finished her coursework for the Doctorate of Musical Arts at New England Conservatory this fall.
Oregon Poet Laureate, Paulann Petersen
Petersen has received several awards, including Stanford University's Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Poetry, two Carloyn Kizer Poetry Awards, and Literary Art's Stewart Holbrook Award for Outstanding Contributions to Oregon's Literary Life. Her poetry is featured on TriMet public transportation in Portland as part of Poetry in Motion® as well as in many publications. Petersen is a committed teacher who has taught high school English and led dozens of workshops schools libraries, colleges, and writer's conferences across Oregon
The poet laureate position is a collaborative project of the state's five statewide cultural partners, Oregon Arts Commission, Oregon Heritage Commission, Oregon Historical Society, Oregon Humanities and State Historic Preservation Office. The position is funded by the Oregon Cultural Trust and managed by Oregon Humanities. More information on the poet laureate program and history is found at http://www.oregonpoetlaureate.org/.
Jon Stuber, Accompanist
The arts have the power to resonate with our own experiences. And when coupled together, music, poetry, and art can create a perfect storm of emotional provocation and reflection. Our hope for this evening is to allow the beautiful paintings of Thérèse Murdza to create a visual landscape that invites your contemplation from the time you enter the concert space. Then, against that stirring backdrop, we will pair musical settings of nostalgic and yearning texts with poetry readings by student and adult poets, including the Oregon Poet Laureate, Paulann Petersen, and students of Lewis & Clark College, under the guidance of poet Mary Szybist, winner of the 2009 Witter Bynner award given by the Poet Laureate Kay Ryan for the Library of Congress.
The poetry and musical selections that you will hear are grouped into sets by theme. In the first set, “Love Lost,” we open with an arrangement of the song “Down by the Sally Gardens.” The bittersweet text is by Irish poet William Butler Yeats, from 1889, and he described it as a completion of a folk song he once heard an old woman sing a few lines from. The sally gardens refer to willow tree gardens, and one can picture the narrator walking through the willow trees remembering the love that he lost. We’ll also hear the Renaissance composer Josquin des Prez’s elegantly simple “Mille regretz,” in which the narrator has a thousand regrets for ever having left his love.
In “Memories of Place,” we begin with a setting by Lewis & Clark College professor Michael Johanson of the William Stafford poem “Earth Dweller.” William Stafford, a former Oregon and national Poet Laureate, taught at Lewis & Clark College as well. He grew up in Kansas, and many of his poems reflect his connection to the land of his youth. He once described an experience camping as a high school student, “No person was anywhere, nothing, just space, the solid earth. . . . That encounter with the size and serenity of the earth and its neighbors in the sky has never left me.” Indeed, his poem “Earth Dweller” recalls the farm of his youth with nostalgia and humility.
We continue with a performance by Portland favorite Elizabeth Bacon, who sings “I Remember,” by Stephen Sondheim. Written for the 1966 made-for-TV movie Evening Primrose, this song describes a longing for the specific visual and touch imagery of a messy outdoors. The surprising original context of this song was a group of people who had decided to live their lives indoors, in a department store. But the song has always spoken to me with a more universal message, of the importance of staying connected with the outside world in all its beauty and chaos.
We end the first half with a set, “Loss and Comfort,” which describes memories of people we have lost and then the comfort we may receive through music. The devastating “Last Letter Home,” by Lee Hoiby, uses as its text the actual letter written by Pfc. Jesse Givens to his wife, son, and unborn child to be opened if he died. Sadly, in 2003, he died in Iraq, and his widow Melissa gave the composer Lee Hoiby permission to set Givens’s eloquent, soulful letter to music. Givens reminds his wife of the incredible joy he knew with her, hoping to provide her with comfort in their shared memories.
Another form of comfort, comfort through music, is provided in Steven Sametz’s composition “I Have Had Singing.” The text is taken from Ronald Blythe’s Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village. Blythe had traveled around Suffolk, England, in the 1960s, interviewing farmers and laborers about their lives dating back several generations. One farmer, called Fred Mitchell in the book, was an 85-year-old who had lived a life of poverty and difficulty. In the middle of his interview, though, he stopped and said, “But there was always singing: the boys in the fields, the chapels were full of singing. I have had pleasure enough: I have had singing.”
On the second half of the concert, we begin with John Adams’s mournful “Chorus of the Exiled Jews,” the prologue to the 1991 opera The Death of Klinghoffer. The opera tells the true story of the murder of Jewish tourist Leon Klinghoffer by Palestinian Liberation Front terrorists on board the ship Achille Lauro in 1985. The poet Alice Goodman wrote the libretto for the opera, including to this chorus in the prologue to the opera. The text describes the collective longing of the Jewish people for a homeland after many generations of suffering and transience, as well as a longing for a time of hope.
The major work of the concert is John Corigliano’s Fern Hill, a setting of Dylan Thomas’s 1945 poem by the same name. The poem begins with a description of visits to his aunt Annie’s farm Fernhill as a child:
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green.
It continues with pastoral images and a nostalgic tone. But by the end of the poem, the narrator’s perspective has shifted with age:
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
This shift from youthful innocence to worldly regret is reflected by the sensitive writing of Corigliano. The chorus interacts with the mezzo-soprano soloist in rhapsodic music that explores, as Corigliano writes, his own attempt to understand “why so much of what I wanted has brought me so little joy.”
We hope that tonight’s concert will indeed bring you joy and provide the chance for consideration of the mysterious ways in which the arts transport us back to our memories of the past while keeping us aware of our growth and metamorphosis into our present selves.