Kirsten Ashley Wiest, Soprano, and Nic Gerpe, Pianist: "Dawn"

Sunday, October 29, 2017, 7 p.m.
Drinkward Recital Hall

An image made of two headshots combined shows, from left to right, Kirsten Ashley Wiest and Nic Gerpe.
From left to right, Kirsten Ashley Wiest and Nic Gerpe. Photo courtesy of the artists.


Begin (2016)
Juhi Bansal

Apples and Time Crack in October (2015)
Jack Van Zandt

A Sonatina (2016)
Bill Alves

Fragments (2010)
Jeffrey Holmes

Mysteries of the Macabre (1991)
György Ligeti


Begin by Juhi Bansal, 2016

Begin is the first poem in a set called Babbage’s Dream, about the first man to conceptualize the idea of a programmable computer in the 1820s. Poet Neil Aitken charts the course of Charles Babbage’s life, from his initial envisioning of an analytical machine, through his death with the machine only partially built.

It is a story that might have been technical and academic, and yet, what caught my eye was the poet's knack for taking complex concepts and pulling a story from them, which is classical, beautiful, and universal. To me, the text of Begin is applicable to the beginning of any endeavor: The words feel like a personal reflection from someone enraptured with a vision which no one around them can see, understand, or imagine as yet. (JB)

Someone dreams of a fire in a field

In a cold house, in the winter,
  your head is on the table,
      your mind, busily constructing a machine

Something taps at the door,
  calls you out from the deep
      reverie of making and unmaking

The wood is dark and full of veins
  lost in its haze, you glimpse a shape

      through the thick trees of night

And hear, the distant sound of an engine moving
  its pistons and gears
      heavy with shudders and sighs

How it seems that you’ve always heard it coming,
  long before it appears, the embodied will
of earth set to flame, a metaled desire
The semblance of an unknown name
  you’ve carried home with you, unwittingly–

      all night, your body singing

In the hallway mirror,
  something stirs in the corner of your eye

      and you cannot say what it is

Only that is grows,
  like a while fire in a storm

      that it tastes of steam,

That you would lay every number in the world on end
  and still, it would not be enough–
      the heavens open wide their spiraling arms

And the dark heart within yearning
  to pull everything back
  while you stand on the threshold, believing

Apples and Time Crack in October by Jack Van Zandt, 2015

Apples and Time Crack in October (2015) marks the first collaboration between longtime friends, composer Jack Van Zandt and Jill Freeman, who is a singer, songwriter, performer, and poet. Using folk and fairy tales as her starting point, Freeman explores the subconscious underpinnings of these timeless—and often very disturbing—stories and how they reflect the human experience. Freeman and Van Zandt are collaborating on further projects, including operas and more song cycles.

The song cycle in four movements is dedicated to soprano Kirsten Ashley Wiest, who gave the first performance with pianist Nic Gerpe at the unSUNg Festival, on September 3, 2017. In composing the work, Van Zandt wanted to make the piano a full duet partner, going beyond an accompaniment role, and both parts are equally challenging.

The texts of the first three songs in the cycle need no explanation. The final song, Helen’s Invocation, is the piano version of the opening aria from Van Zandt and Freeman’s opera-in-progress, A Thousand Ships, that explores different views of Helen of Troy’s role in the Trojan War. The curtain rises with Helen on the stern deck of the Trojan ship taking her to Troy on the evening she leaves her native Sparta with her lover, Paris. It is dusk and she faces west toward Greece and pleads with the Gods, especially Aphrodite, to stop the coming slaughter that is going to be blamed on her by men who consider women to be property without the right of free will. (JVZ)

I. Apples and Time Crack in October

Apples and time
crack in October.

Wind like sheets of
fresh river water
whip hair and laughter

out of burned up
souls wanting
the whisk of fall,

the washed laundry

New clothes crack
smell chemical
like notebooks,
and overcast
either new or remembered.

The way
to school or
fall cocktail parties

lined with
breadcrumbs from
fairy tales gone.

Who knows what witch
or wolf lies ’round the
corner of November.

II. A Poem Sat

A poem sat
on the edge
of the window

at the soft
tree branches

feeling the hush

of nothing
hearing the
big wide
with sounds like

drops of water
a vast

III. The Nightingale

your birthday brought

a shining gift,
a mechanical bird

encrusted with gems.
It sang perfect songs,
again and again
we played them

till we knew them
by heart.

Outside our gate
the nightingale soars

on wing and song
over trees
here then gone:
sees lovers twined
in shaded parks,
old men in boats
bent to watch fish

shimmer like
children running

falling in streams
calling “mother.”
The nightingale skims

the everchanging
play of clouds:
cool, then warm
wet with rain
light, then dark again.

We like boxes:
Shining presents
that never age,

mechanical birds
that stay in their cage.

But the nightingale’s voice
pierced my heart,
beauty and death

are flooding in
like morning sun,
like passion’s blood.

forgive me love

I must break
this beautiful

mechanical bird
before you wake.
IV. Helen’s Invocation

Oh glowing sky!
Lavender and crimson
End of day
Luminous as a pearl

Hold me in
Your tender,
Shining palm.

Oh blessed Goddess!
Queen of love and beauty

Let your blinding robes unfurl—

Spare us all
What turns with
The sinking of this sun.

Oh Passion!
Giver of joy and pain

The darkening of the world

The breaking
Of a new and
Delicate dawn.

This willing tragedy

We have begun.

A Sonatina by Bill Alves, 2016

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), a pioneering modernist in American literature who endeavored to create in literature the same objectification and immediacy of thought that her friend Picasso had created in his Cubist paintings. At times she went even further, making language into a fascinating abstraction, which has long appealed to me as a composer, as has her musical perspective of language, her use of repetition, and the seeming simplicity of her supposed “difficult” works. This text comes from a very long poem, A Sonatina Followed by Another, which she wrote in Vence, France in 1921. According to her friend and collaborator Virgil Thomson, the title refers to her habit of improvising "sonatinas" on the white keys of the piano, though she had no musical training whatever. Although the poem is filled with charming though fleeting images of her stay in southern France, I have extracted lullaby-like bits of the text that seem to refer to her life partner, Alice Toklas.

I need her, she needs me, she needs me, I need that she is splendidly robust. Please me by thinking at ease.
She is gentle and considerate. She can do no more than be gentle and considerate and we find that to be quite
  enough to satisfy and not rebuff.
Little singing charm can never do no harm, little baby sweet can always be a treat. And are sonatinas in music

  boxes and do they follow one after the other and are music boxes grind organs yes or no. I believe it and I told
  her so and she believed it as I very well know. I tell her so so.
Oh no I love you so oh no.
I have often heard it said that a skylark never goes to bed. I have often heard it said that they sing. I have often

  heard it said that they are suddenly ahead and I have often heard it said that they sing.
I see the moon and the moon sees me, God bless the moon and God bless me.

From "A Sonatina Followed by Another" (1921)
©1953, used by the permission of the Estate of Gertrude Stein through its Literary Executor, Mr. Stanford Gann Jr. of Levin & Gann, P.A.

Fragments by Jeffrey Holmes, 2010

Fragments, for soprano and piano, was composed in the summer of 2010 for Kirsten Ashley Wiest. These four pieces are not designed as traditional songs with melody and accompaniment (Lieder). Instead, the melismatic vocal line is more of a chant or a spell, and the piano and voice are equal partners in presenting both the literal and implied elements of this vague story or series of images. The text is by the composer, and is a compilation of separate words from a variety of anonymous Latin sources, that presents a further autobiographical meaning. (JH)

I. Horumque Visum Contegas

II. Fera Pessima, Draco Ferus
   antiquatus qui dicere, frui ferito.
   Quare non sum Mortis?

III. Stella Maris,
    Miserorum exauditrix,
    Stella Maris.

IV. Qui Lux es et dies,
   Tu furoris temperies.
And hide their sight with darkness

Most evil, whom the old fierce Dragon
are called...I was wounded.
Why did I not die?

I have hoped.

Star of the Sea,
you who harken the wretched,

Star of the Sea.

You who are the light and day,
You, the tempering of fury.
I have hoped.

Mysteries of the Macabre by György Ligeti, 1991

Loosely based on Michel de Ghelderode's 1934 play, La balade du grand macabre, Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre (1974-77) is a work of Absurd theatre, which Ligeti called an “anti-anti-opera.” In a Pop Art- inspired story, Death arrives in the fictional city of Breughelland and announces that the end of the world will occur at midnight. Musically, Le Grand Macabre draws on techniques not associated with Ligeti's previous work, including musical quotations and pseudo-quotations of other works. Mysteries of the Macabre (1991) is the compilation of three arias sung by the character Gepopo, the incoherently stammering head of the secret police force. Ligeti wrote the character for “coloratura soprano voice, which is perhaps closer to a bird’s voice” after realizing it was not practical for a person to sing from inside a giant wooden bird that would fly throughout the theater.

Words from Ligeti on Mysteries of the Macabre:

“I like things pushed to the extreme, I like the extremes, absolutely insane things, and much more in opera. I believe that, for an understandable musical success where the text is half the picture, one must push everything to the extreme, as much as possible.”

Juhi Bansal’s music has been described as “luscious,” “intricate,” “captivating,” taking its inspiration from a disparate set of elements. As an Indian composer brought up in Hong Kong, her pieces draw subtly on those traditions, entwining them closely and intricately with the gestures of classical music. Expressive and emotive, much of her music begins with extramusical origins: visual stills from nature, poetry, or prose. She is currently on the faculty of Pasadena City College, teaching music theory, ear training, and composition.

Jack Van Zandt is a Los Angeles composer of music for concerts, public spaces, and gallery installations, as well as for TV, film, and advertising. His recent concert premieres include Stoicheia: Five Etudes for Viola in the 2015 Hear Now LA Festival; Si an Bhru for piano and electronics, commissioned by and dedicated to Grammy-nominated pianist Nadia Shpachenko, in Pasadena in May 2016; and TRANS for piano trio at the Hear Now Festival in Paris in December 2016. Recent works with upcoming premieres include Stirrings Still: In Memory of Peter Maxwell Davies for ensemble and a piece for microtuned piano, ...the rest is silence..., for Grammy-nominated pianist Aron Kallay. His current projects include a piano concerto for Nadia Shpachenko and The Painted Veil, a song cycle with texts by Percy Bysshe Shelley for soprano Kirsten Ashley Wiest and ensemble. Nadia Shpachenko’s CD Poetry of Places, with his Si an Bhru for piano and electronics, recorded at Skywalker Ranch, will be released in 2018.

Bill Alves is a composer, video artist, and writer engaged at the intersections of musical cultures and technology. His recordings include The Terrain of Possibilities, Imbal-imbalan, Mystic Canyon, and Guitars & Gamelan. His work with computer animation pioneer John Whitney inspired abstract computer animations with music, now released by the Kinetica Video Library as Celestial Dance. He is the director of the HMC American Gamelan, an ensemble that plays new compositions on traditional Javanese instruments. His book Music of the Peoples of the World is now in its third edition from Cengage/Schirmer, and Indiana University Press recently published his biography of composer Lou Harrison (with Brett Campbell). He has extensively explored non-standard tunings in his work and is co-director of MicroFest, the annual Southern California festival of microtonal music.

Jeffrey Holmes composes post-spectral, teleological music incorporating elements of mysticism and lyrical expression. His creative inspiration is rooted in primitive myths, transcendent legends, and dramatic elemental landscapes in their primal and violent natural states. Holmes has received commissions, performances, and awards from the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, Carnegie Hall, the American Composers Forum, Ensemble Sound-Initiative (France), and the East-Coast Contemporary Ensemble (ECCE), among many others. His works have been performed at festivals including the Darmstadt Ferienkurs fur Neue Musik (Germany), Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella (Los Angeles), Cap Ferret Music Festival (Cap Ferret, France), the Deal Festival (East Kent, UK), the HEAR NOW Festival of New Music (in both Paris, and Los Angeles), the Etchings Festival (Maulin a Nef, Auvillar, France), the La Pietra Forum for Contemporary Music (Villa La Pietra, Florence, Italy), the Festival en el Conservatorio de los Rosas (Morelia, Mexico), and at MicroFest (Los Angeles). Currently, he is Associate Professor of Composition at Chapman University. His music is published by Edition Svitzer (Copenhagen, Denmark), Doberman-Yppan/Les Productions d’OZ (Quebec), and Theodore Front Musical Literature and J.W. Pepper (USA).

György Ligeti (1923-2006) was “one of the most important avant-garde composers in the latter half of the twentieth century” and “one of the most innovative and influential among progressive figures of his time.” Born in Transylvania to a Hungarian Jewish family, Ligeti and his family were sent to separate labor and concentration camps during World War II (he and his mother were the only survivors). After the war, Ligeti resumed his musical endeavors, ultimately leading to his creation of micropolyphony. His incredibly successful output included several songs, choral works, and one opera entitled Le Grand Macabre.

Kirsten Ashley Wiest, an award-winning coloratura soprano, is committed to the continuous evolution of classical vocal music. Her “bright, dazzling vocal technique” (San Diego Story) has captured the attention of many composers, resulting in numerous world premiere performances and close collaborations, including work with composers Ben Johnston, Rand Steiger, Jeffrey Holmes, Veronika Krausas, James Erber, and Jack Van Zandt, and conductors Steven Schick, Olivier Kaspar, Branden Muresan, Yuga Cohler, and Christopher Rountree, among many others. Kirsten has sung as a soloist with the Grammy-winning Partch ensemble, La Jolla Symphony and Chorus, YMF Debut Orchestra, MiraCosta Symphony, the Industry, kallisti chamber opera, Musica Vitale, wild Up new music collective, UCLA John Cage Symposium, UCSD's Palimpsest, CalArts New Century Players Ensemble, and Chapman University’s New Music Ensemble. She was a featured soloist in the LA Philharmonic’s installation, Nimbus, and has recorded for several interactive operatic experiences and film scores. Operatic roles include La Princess in Ravel's L'enfant et les sortileges (Perigueux, France), Polly Peachum in Weill's Threepenny Opera (San Diego CA), and Mabel in Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance (Fort Worth, TX). She is a DMA candidate at UCSD.

Nic Gerpe, pianist, has been described “wonderfully illuminating... his tone is crystalline. His technique is dazzlingly fluid” (Mark Swed, LA Times music critic). A dedicated proponent of new music, Nic has worked with composers such as Steve Reich, Gernot Wolfgang, Anne LeBaron, Michael Gordon and Donald Crockett, and has given numerous world and regional premieres. He has performed in venues, including Walt Disney Concert Hall, Zipper Hall, and the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, and at festivals, including the Beverly Hills International Music Festival, Banff International Keyboard Festival, and the Tahoe Chamber Music Festival. His performances have also been nationally broadcast on 91.5 KUSC and Most recently, he has performed a solo recital at the REDCAT as a part of L.A.-based Piano Spheres’ new Satellite Series, has given the World Premiere of James Matheson’s Chapter 1... at Walt Disney Concert Hall as part of the Radical Light tribute to Steven Stucky, and has performed on the Sundays Live series at LACMA. His other collaborations have been made with the USC Thornton Symphony Orchestra, the Pasadena Master Chorale, WildUP, The Industry L.A., and People Inside Electronics, and with artists as Andrew Bain, Michele Zukovsky, Jack van Geem and Judith Farmer. Nic earned his DMA degree in Piano Performance at University of Southern California.

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