Celebrating The Edith Poems
It took five years from inception to premiere and on March 10, 2016, composer Bryan Page and poet E. Louise Beach heard the first rate performance of The Edith Poems. Page, a Dallas-based church music director, wrote the lyrical music specifically for New York City-based performers baritone Mischa Bouvier and pianist Yegor Shevtsov. The 90-minute program with a 20-minute intermission opened the series Music in the Mansion at Strathmore Arts Center of North Bethesda, Maryland. While the intimacy of the Music Room in the Strathmore Mansion was a perfect acoustical environment for Page and Beach's meditative and emotionally moving song cycle and the room was satisfyingly filled with a rapt audience, the Dresser thinks that aficionados of new classical music missed an extraordinary event, which got minimal publicity.
The sixteen poems of The Edith Poems were presented as the first half of the Bouvier-Shevtsov program and paired aptly with a second half of art and caberet songs from Paul Bowles, Russell Platt, and William Bolcom. The evening concluded with a question-and-answer session featuring Bryan Page, E. Louise Beach, and Mischa Bouvier.
The first things the Dresser noticed about the music was its tonality and accessibility which meshed with an overall subject theme of love--love of the natural world, the world of a working farm, and the farmer for his deceased wife Edith. Despite the darkness of death, the music is filled with renewal like Page's notes progressing up the musical scale as if water were running. The opening poem bares full disclosure because it fully captures the broad scope of the love themes and subtly indicates death of the beloved.
The Dresser particularly loved the settings of "The train is loaded full" and "Banjo." "Train" has a musical resonance accentuated by the image of Edith running out of the house with flour on her face to see a packed train roll by as the cow Banjo grazes in a field first watching and then bending to eat grass. The music of "Banjo" features syncopation, that musical timing that inserts an unexpected pause before completing the musical expression. In the poem, what stops Banjo's life is a calf too big to be born. In the scheme of life on this farm, the oversized stud King Bull stands in his pasture "bowed and indifferent" while Banjo suffers in the failed birthing and then is buried in the swamp behind the barn. All of this just part of the cycle of life.
What made this premiere so exquisite was the precise delivery of the words and expressive body language by Mischa Bouvier as well as the showmanship of Yegor Shevtsov.
The Dresser was exceedingly pleased to hear four Tennessee Williams poems from Blue Mountain Ballads jazzily set by Paul Bowles who was a musical protégé of Aaron Copland. Bryan Page's phrasing in The Edith Poems made her think of Copland's opera The Tender Land. Page said in a one-on-one conversation that love of the land was a strong connector.
The Dresser loved Bouvier's presentation of "Cuba," a Paul Muldoon poem set by Russell Platt and the 11 short sassy pieces from cabaret songs and Minicabs by William Bolcom.
In case, Dear Reader, you think a small music room located in an arts center in the suburbs of Washington, DC, as is the case with Strathmore, is not on anyone's radar, think again. An audience member of the March 10 program wanted everyone to know that some years ago, William Bolcom had performed in this space. Music in the Mansion at Strathmore Arts Center continues this spring with 5 more programs.
"Dusk" copyright © 2016 E. Louise Beach