Reviews of Between Twilights: Seven Songs on Poems of Marsden Hartley
I really loved [these] new songs - such imagination and brilliant text-painting and such an original harmonic and beautiful melodic language. Fantastic!
- David Deveau: Senior Lecturer in Music, MIT
By Keith Powers
Composer David Alpher, co-founder of the festival in 1981, returned to the Shalin Liu Performance Center Saturday evening, June 24, to present “Between Twilights,” his settings of seven poems by Marsden Hartley.
The premiere featured baritone Robert Osborne, who brought the songs to life with a straightforward, facile style and musical insight. Alpher accompanied at the piano.
The songs are not a cycle, in the sense of a narrative. Chosen from Hartley’s large, lifelong output, Alpher set texts that ranged from intimate views of nature — a nesting mouse, pipers and eagles — to broader sweeps, like the introductory and concluding poems, which focus on evening light (thus the title).
As a unit, “Between Twilights” is a modest group, quiet and tuneful. Appropriate in every manner, the music explores drama when the words explore drama, humor when the words do also, horror and mystery when the text does as well.
There are no frills in Hartley’s poems. That doesn’t mean they don’t have sensibility, and character, or generosity. Rising to a crescendo in the opening “Summer Evening,” the score picks the exact moment when the sun peaks, then disappears, to proclaim its musical drama. In “The Eagle Wants No Friends,” a stuck rest at “isolation” silently emphasizes the raptor’s elegance and solitary dominion.
Humor creeps in — a lighthearted, trilled accompaniment, Osborne singing sprechstimmewith an antic air — in “Salutations to a Mouse,” in which Hartley finds, to his delight, that a mouse has wintered over in a sheaf of Hartley’s own poems.
“Wingaersheek Beach” finds anguish in simplicity — the seeming comparison of a single white seashell on the beach to terror and abandonment. The words and music do the same, with Osborne at his dramatic best in this setting.
The concluding “Robin Hood Cove” sums up the set with Hartley’s words: “I receive my width of grace from you.” Following the poet’s lead, Alpher has set these texts with integrity and clarity. No verses were repeated — avoiding excessive interpretive emphasis. The accompaniment supported the singer’s artistry, and shunned ostentation.
World premiere of composer's piece set to Marsden Hartley's poems
By Gail McCarthy Staff Writer Gloucester Times Jun 28, 2017
Alpher has set seven of Hartley’s poems to music. He learned about such poetry from fellow Vassar College colleague Robert Osborne, a bass-baritone vocalist.
“The inspiration came from Robert, who will be singing the songs. He is very conversant with the visual arts. He had asked if I knew that Hartley was also a poet, and I did not,” recalled Alpher. “He showed me the collection.”
Alpher wrote his composition with Osborne’s voice in mind. Osborne, who holds a doctorate of musical arts from Yale University, has an acclaimed career in both standard and contemporary repertoire.
“We’re thrilled that this work is being premiered there. It’s an appropriate place for it to happen,” said Osborne who, with Alpher, performs with violinist Stephanie Chase and cellist Sophie Shao Saturday night.
Osborne had learned Hartley was a poet after he visited a major retrospective of his work in Hartford in 2003, after which he received his book of poems as a gift.
“I’ve always admired his paintings, and as I delved into the book, I thought this could potentially make interesting song text,” he said. “This was another example of a way to honor this aspect of (Hartley’s) creativity.”
Osborne was moved by Hartley’s sense of place and landscape in his poetry.
“Like his art, it has definite regional flavors for the places he lived,” he said, adding that Alpher’s composition reflects coastal New England in many ways.