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Uniting Heaven & Earth: Violinist Brings New Classical Music to Rural PA

How does new musical work happen? The Dresser poses this question because lately she has come into contact with musicians who have commissioned compositions from composers whom they feel can bring some attention to the musicians' technical abilities. For example, clarinetist Todd Palmer commissioned Ricky Ian Gordon to write him some music and not only did Palmer get a featured clarinet part, he was cast as a character in Gordon's pocket opera Orpheus and Euridice.

MarkHartman.jpgOn April 10, 2011, the Dresser attended a concert entitled "Bach and Inspired by Bach" done in the style of Leonard Bernstein that opened up on several levels a work commissioned from composer Janet Peachey by violinist Mark Hartman. Hartman is Assistant Professor of Music and Director of the University-Community Orchestra at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. The original commission from Hartman resulted in Night Songs for Violin and Piano, which was premiered by Hartman and Peachey (on piano) in Waterloo, Ontario in June 2009. The April 10 concert premiered the work in an expanded format--Night Songs for Violin and Orchestra, a three-movement work. As Dr. Peachey explained to an audience nearing 700 members, the "night songs" quoted in her compositions are the evening hymns "Now the Day is Over" by Joseph Barnby (1868) and "Der Tag mit seinem Lichte" ("The Day with its Light"), originally attributed to J. S. Bach and included in his collection of sacred songs, but actually written by Jakob Hintze in 1670.

Preceding the performance of Night Songs for Violin and Orchestra, "Now the Day is Over" was sung by the Shippensburg Concert Choir, which was stationed in the balcony facing the stage where the orchestra was positioned. Since the audience was seated in front of the stage and not in any balcony areas, the surround-sound effect of choir and orchestra performing at cross currents over the audience was quite dramatic in the way someone attending a service in a large cathedral might experience such sacred music. Also preceding Peachey's extended composition was an intimate performance of "Der Tag mit seinem Lichte" which featured soprano Elizabeth Shoenfelt, harpsichordist Margaret Lucia, cellist Barbara Lewis, and violinist Mark Hartman.

The composer also moderated musically demonstrated examples of what the audience should listen for. Peachey.jpgThis included her use of the famous B-A-C-H motive. Here the Dresser spells out BACH to reinforce that this melodic pattern, using Bach's name, translates according to the German music convention as musical notes B flat, A, C, and B natural. What the Dresser found inexplicably compelling was hearing the violin play the BACH motive over a portion of "Der Tag mit seinem Lichte." Overall, Night Songs for Violin and Orchestra, a predominantly tonal work which begins with bright, almost twinkling, percussion produced by glockenspiel and vibraphone riffs, is mysterious both in its landscape of sound and how it can quote well-known music and still achieve its own voice and character. Probably part of the mystery involves the complicated pattern of time signature changes. The Shippensburg University-Community Orchestra, under the baton of Dennis Ritz and featuring Mark Hartman on violin, did an admirable job in delivering a substantially challenging work.

While not religious, there is clearly something prayerful and spirit-filled inhabiting Janet Peachey's Night Songs for Violin and Orchestra. It seems fitting that this work premiered in the rural community of Shippensburg PA where so many community members took time to hear not only three selections by Johann Sebastian Bach--Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, "Sheep May Safely Graze" (from Cantata No. 208), and Fugue in G Minor--and Felix Mendelssohn's 4th Movement of Symphony Number 5 in D Op. 107 ("Reformation Symphony") but also an unknown new work based on familiar church songs. Melissa Stein's poem "The Night Orchard" captures the atmosphere of this world premiere work that seems to address both heaven and earth.


I. Losing Gravity

Someone is saying the body
is an irredeemable thing
. Don't tell me how
to pray. I'm stripped like wallpaper, weak
gum and sweet glue. I've seen whole
houses arranged by the colors of their roofs.
Behind these lids a stippled orchard
revolves in the sun's decrease. Fruit
refuses to fall. Swelled walnuts split
like words, hulls still propped in branches of
their beginning. Steady myself with handfuls
of air. Over that wall I know it's winter,
some saying the taste of your tongue
in your mouth is the only poem

II. The Night Orchard

Wound through Winters, past
the old graffitied Stevenson bridge,
in the headlights, ghost imprint, orchard
retina repeating: angel-bright trunk
and the black sweeping tail...
film-frame symmetries. Then a crook
in the road struck like a snake
I never saw.
......................(What I mean to say is this:)
White stitches pulled the lanes together.
The road curved, but I was all angles.

VII. Telling

In this incomprehensible, alphabet light
I'll step down from silence: what's in my mouth is that
I still want to lay you down in that slatted orchard
light, to tuck us there, thin husks between air-breathing
roots and earth-bound branches. What sweeter than
watered hay steaming off the fields? Crows stutter
by the road's haunches. Tractors chug, slow till
of chaff-dulled blades. Over the wall we find
it's summer, we live on less.

by Melissa Stein
from Rough Honey

Copyright © 2010 Melissa Stein


Comments (2)

Was this interesting occasion at the University?

The Dresser:

Yes, indeed this concert took place at the Shippensburg University H. Rick Luhrs Performing Arts Center. Thank you for asking. Short of a barn, the Dresser wonders if there is any other place in this community of 5,000 people where such a large gathering of people could assemble. The Dresser heard that this same auditorium seated 1500 people at Christmas for a performance of The Nutcracker. Regional performing arts centers are amazing places to premier new works because they often attract large appreciative audiences.

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