“Exceptionally beautiful on many counts.” —Chestnut Hill Local, Philadelphia
“Subtle and fragrant . . . beautifully scored for both orchestra and chorus.” —John Corigliano, composer
“An all-too-rare combination of beautiful texts and refreshing, invigorating music.” —Johannes Somary, conductor
“Some of the most luminous writing for soprano and orchestra since Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915.” —Mark Adamo, composer
Cycle of Friends, for soprano, chorus and chamber orchestra, was premiered on May 3rd, 1996 by the Music Group of Philadelphia. The commission came through as I was finishing my master’s degree at the San Francisco Conservatory, studying with Conrad Susa. No guidelines were given, except that I could use any number of the four soloists who were called for in another piece on the program, and the orchestral forces, which included single winds, one trumpet, harp, percussion and strings. The rest was up to me.
After a period of agonizing over what texts to use, I settled on some things I’d found in a small anthology called Friendship Poems. This little book included a variety of poems from all over the world and from all eras. I liked the idea of taking poetry from very different times and places, and combining them to illustrate a universal theme, in this case, that of friendship.
There were a lot of poems in the book that I wanted to set, but eventually I winnowed it down to five very short ones that I arranged in such a way as to create an emotional narrative.
I. Tell Everyone (Sappho). I chose this very short fragment from Sappho as an uplifting, joyous opener.
II. My Old Friend Prepared a Chicken With Millet (Meng Hao-Jan, Tang Dynasty era). This is one of two Chinese poems I used, both in shimmering translation by Innes Herdan. This one is a lilting account of a meeting between two friends. The musical treatment is bittersweet. Will these two friends really meet again?
III. Are Friends Delight Or Pain? (Emily Dickinson). This is the one a cappella movement. In fact, here the chorus is divided into two discrete SATB groups for an interesting texture. The entire movement, you may notice, is on an E pedal, which I thought was fun.
IV. Blue Hills Over the North Wall (Li Po. Tang Era). This movement is for soprano and orchestra with no chorus. This is a particularly moving poem, again translated by Innes Herdan, and functions as a sort of denouement in my view. It’s the emotional core of the piece. Quite simply, two friends are parting ways. We don't know why.
V. Friendship (Aztec, traditional). I used this is a lush folk poem to close the piece.