The 2016 soundSCAPE Festival has come to a close, and my ears are buzzing with the sounds of two weeks of intense music making and teaching. Of course the highlight for me was last night’s premiere of my complete Sandburg Songs, a five-movement song cycle for soprano and seven instruments with texts from Carl Sandburg’s Chicago Poems. Selections from the cycle were performed last summer at soundSCAPE and earlier this spring at Oberlin, but this was the first time all five movements came together. Under the direction of the unflappable Tim Weiss, soundSCAPE faculty instrumentalists were joined by five sopranos, a unique experience, which added a certain drama to the performance as each vocalist rose from her chair to take her place behind the music stand and perform. One by one, sopranos Tara Khozein, Jocelyn Fekel Zelasko, Hillary LaBonte, and Felecia Chen sang movements one through four, each bringing her own ideas and interpretations to the score and leading seamlessly to the fifth-movement finale, Passers-by, which was sung by their teacher, Tony Arnold. It was a pleasure to work with each of these talented vocalists, Tim, and the soundSCAPE faculty instrumentalists in bringing this grand vision—over a year in the making—to life.
Another highlight of this year’s festival for me was the chance to work one-on-one with eighteen composition students from many of the world’s top music programs. In our lessons I was impressed with the breadth of interests and the seriousness of purpose that these young composers brought to their work.
There were several dozen works performed in rapid succession over the course of the festival, so it would be difficult to single out one performance…but I can mention four: Varese’s Octandre, conducted by my old friend, Daniel Pesca; Ligeti’s Violin Concerto, complete with ocarinas and whistling in the cadenza, with the incredible violinist Mark Fewer; and works of two of my soundSCAPE faculty colleagues, Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon’s scenic cantata, Comala, and Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez’s Diaries, which also featured pianist Daniel Pesca.
Thanks to everyone who made this year’s festival the best ever and for all the memories—musical and otherwise!