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Song of the Day: February 8

barrett

from NYFOS’s own Michael Barrett:

We have just had our first 2016 NYFOS Next concert at Opera America. The next two are Feb. 11 and Feb. 18. On Feb. 4, David T. Little curated a wonderful program that, along with excerpts from his brand new opera JFK (premiering Ft. Worth Opera this April), featured works by Kate Soper, Ted Hearne, Jeffrey Myers and Colin Read. The composers were so good, I’ve decided to give them each a little more attention by featuring each of them on Song of the Day. Each has their own voice, and Kate and Ted are both singers as well. But let’s start with our curator, David T. Little.

David has received a large amount of well-deserved attention recently for his opera Dog Days. It was just given three performances at the Prototype Festival in NYC this January, and has been performed almost 2 dozen times so far. It is a remarkable work. In fact, it is the best serious musical theater work I’ve seen many, many years. I won’t give a synopsis of the show (libretto by Royce Vavrek), but wanted to share with you an excerpt sung by the amazing Lauren Worsham. Lauren’s role of the young daughter/sister of a family in a not-too-futuristic (and believable) negative version of America, creates the  the heart of Dog Days. By the end of the show, she represents the one remaining shred of humanity. Here she befriends, in her way, a strange man, who has assumed the identity of a dog and hangs around near her home. In the theater, you buy into this conceit, because things are not  normal. Food is very scarce, there is an evening curfew, and no one has any work. David T.’s setting of the text captures all his characters in their vernacular. Lauren’s words are those of  a 12 or 13 year old girl. Her brothers, sing like the stoner adolescents they are, while their Father is pompous, self important, and delusional about his ability to maintain and provide for a family. In the background is Marnie Breckenridge who also did a fabulous job as Lauren’s Mother.

Song of the Day: January 29

unnamedThis week our SoTD curator is composer David T. Little who will host and curate the opening evening of NYFOS Next 2016 on February 4th. Little’s operas Soldier Songs and Dog Days have received wide critical acclaim, the latter having received performances this season at Fort Worth Opera and Los Angeles Opera and hailed by The Wall Street Journal as “one of the most exciting new operas of recent years.” Little’s “sharp, elegantly bristling” music (New York Magazine) is potent and dramatic, drawing as much upon his experience as a punk/metal drummer as his classical pedigree. Thank you and welcome, David!

Hazel Dickens (1936-2011) was a true treasure, and her soulful performance of this song is one of my absolute favorites. Written as a memorial to her brother Thurman, a coal miner who died of the eponymous disease, she sings of Black Lung as a manifestation of Death personified. Here, Black Lung/Death is the only one there for the dying miner after all others–the boss, the doctors–have turned him away.  “Well it seems you’re not wanted when you’re sick and you’re poor.”  He’s left to face Death alone, saying: “Black lung, black lung, your hand’s icy cold. / As you reach for my life, you torture my soul. / Cold as that waterhole down in the dark cave / where I spent my life’s blood, digging my grave.”  A 2001Washington Post article said of Dickens, she “writes songs about two kinds of pain: the kind you can fix, like economic injustice, and the kind you can’t, like heartbreak and death.”  This devastating song has some of each.

Hazel Dickens – Black Lung (1969)

 

Song of the Day: January 28

unnamedThis week our SoTD curator is composer David T. Little who will host and curate the opening evening of NYFOS Next 2016 on February 4th. Little’s operas Soldier Songs and Dog Days have received wide critical acclaim, the latter having received performances this season at Fort Worth Opera and Los Angeles Opera and hailed by The Wall Street Journal as “one of the most exciting new operas of recent years.” Little’s “sharp, elegantly bristling” music (New York Magazine) is potent and dramatic, drawing as much upon his experience as a punk/metal drummer as his classical pedigree. Thank you and welcome, David!

Somewhat like the Gillian Welch song from yesterday, Tom Waits’ Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen) has a slightly trance-like quality to it. Within a repetitive form, off-kilter and brilliant lyrics stumble and lurch forward, only to be caught each time and put upright by the chorus, a Waitsian interpretation of Australia’s unofficial national anthem “Waltzing Matilda.”  “Now I lost my Saint Christopher now that I’ve kissed her” is among my all-time favorite lyrics. Slightly cryptic, like the Welch, it perfectly sums up–for me–the dizzy feeling of falling head over heals in love. My personal affection for this song–admittedly sentimental–likely has something to do with the fact that my partner is Australian.

Tom Waits (1949) – Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen) (1976)

Song of the Day: January 27

unnamedThis week our SoTD curator is composer David T. Little who will host and curate the opening evening of NYFOS Next 2016 on February 4th. Little’s operas Soldier Songs and Dog Days have received wide critical acclaim, the latter having received performances this season at Fort Worth Opera and Los Angeles Opera and hailed by The Wall Street Journal as “one of the most exciting new operas of recent years.” Little’s “sharp, elegantly bristling” music (New York Magazine) is potent and dramatic, drawing as much upon his experience as a punk/metal drummer as his classical pedigree. Thank you and welcome, David!

Entrancing and meditative, “I Dream A Highway” ends Gillian Welch’s 2001 album Time (The Revelator). I first heard it in 2004 or so, and it has been one of the most important pieces in my life ever since, in any genre. The song itself feels like a ritual. It repeats the same few chords for much of its 15-minute duration, with a repetitive form, but for an occasional and very brief deviation. But within this are infinite minor details: subtle orchestration changes, slightly evolving harmonies–both in voices and guitar–a tempo that gradually slows throughout, while it continually gets softer. It would be a perfect lullaby if it didn’t hold my attention so powerfully.

The lyrics are gorgeous, and play with images across time, in which the profound is drawn from the ordinary. I find lines like “Now you be Emmylou and I’ll be Gram,” “I’m an in-disguisable shade of twilight,” and “Step into the light poor Lazarus…Let me see the mark Death made,” to be beautifully mysterious and evocative, requiring certain keys to unlock their meaning. The fade-out at the end, usually a kind of songwriter cop-out, here feels like a suggestion that the work continues on into eternity, getting ever slower and ever softer.

Gillian Welch (b.1967) – I Dream A Highway (2001)

Song of the Day: January 26

unnamedThis week our SoTD curator is composer David T. Little who will host and curate the opening evening of NYFOS Next 2016 on February 4th. Little’s operas Soldier Songs and Dog Days have received wide critical acclaim, the latter having received performances this season at Fort Worth Opera and Los Angeles Opera and hailed by The Wall Street Journal as “one of the most exciting new operas of recent years.” Little’s “sharp, elegantly bristling” music (New York Magazine) is potent and dramatic, drawing as much upon his experience as a punk/metal drummer as his classical pedigree. Thank you and welcome, David!

I first encountered this song as part of Heiner Goebbels’ theater piece Eislermaterial, and later tracked down this version of Hanns Eisler singing and playing himself. I immediately fell in love with how perfect it feels: simple and straightforward–it is a patriotic song for children, after all–but highly sophisticated and elegant in its construction. The subtle harmonic shifts, slight changes in accompaniment, secondary melody that enters at just the right time make it, for me, a miniature masterpiece.

Hanns Eisler (1898 -1962) and Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) – Anmut sparet nicht noch Mühe (1950)

Mahler: Urlicht from Symphony No. 2

unnamedThis week our SoTD curator is composer David T. Little who will host and curate the opening evening of NYFOS Next 2016 on February 4th. Little’s operas Soldier Songs and Dog Days have received wide critical acclaim, the latter having received performances this season at Fort Worth Opera and Los Angeles Opera and hailed by The Wall Street Journal as “one of the most exciting new operas of recent years.” Little’s “sharp, elegantly bristling” music (New York Magazine) is potent and dramatic, drawing as much upon his experience as a punk/metal drummer as his classical pedigree. Thank you and welcome, David!

Picking five favorite songs is an impossible task. You have no choice but to omit giants, and in this case I’ve had to do just that. Were this a list of 20 or 30 favorite songs, there would be songs by Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Neil Young, Brian Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Dar Williams, Peter Seeger, Ani DiFranco, The Cure, Willie Nelson, Utah Philips, Nina Simone, Gram Parson, David Bowie, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Paul Simon, Marc Blitzstein, Bessie Smith, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and, and, and…so many others…not to mention, you know, Schubert.  But I’ve only got five slots, so we’ll stick to my absolute favorites, in no particular order, starting with an undisputed masterwork, which I’ll let speak for itself: movement IV from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, Resurrection, “Urlicht”

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) – Urlicht from Symphony No. 2 (1892/1894)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hboIxwiIrnQ

David T. Little will host and curate the opening evening of NYFOS Next 2016 on February 4th.

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