I’m back from Columbia, South Carolina and the premiere of my “Introduction and Grand March.” It was a very full and eventful trip. I arrived at the Columbia airport late Tuesday night, January 17 and was duly ensconced at the home of Peter and Mary Hoyt. Wednesday morning I picked up a rental car and drove to Durham, North Carolina (four hours there, four hours back!) to see my teacher and mentor Lara Hoggard, his wife, his daughter and his grandson. (On the way I stopped at South of the Border for a quick couple of tamales.) The Hoggards were in fine shape, all things considered. Dr. Hoggard will be 91 in March, and hasn’t been in the best of health. But he is as lively as ever, and we had a wonderful visit, filled with music and reminiscing about Indian Springs School. I improvised for a while, and played the Chopin B minor sonata for him. Then we listened to almost half of the recently released 2-CD set of the ISS Glee Club under his direction in the late ‘50s (gorgeous stuff). Then there was more improvising, a little Mozart, a bit more Chopin, and a performance of my new harpsichord piece for the Physics Department at Wesleyan, albeit on the piano—“Albert’s Chaconne,” in honor of Einstein and the 100th anniversary of the theory of special relativity. I left about 7:30 and drove back to the Columbia airport where I picked up Phyllis about 11:30.
Thursday I finished the “translation” of the text that the chorus sings at the end of the Grand March—see below. The German is the result of pseudo-random operations on selected pages of The Abduction from the Seraglio. The English version was begun by Peter and Mary Hoyt, with assistance from their niece Lizzie. I had a good time finishing it, although the finished product makes rather too much sense, considering the almost totally arbitrary nature of the original. It can be read aloud so that it makes even more sense, if that effect is desired.
From 11:30 to shortly after 1:00 I rehearsed with the chamber choir of Dutch Fork High School. They are a fine group, and their director, Marjorie Turner, did a fine job of preparing them to sing my piece. I worked mostly with the text, hoping to get them to enjoy nonsense in German as keenly as they might enjoy it in English. We also listened to part of the Overture to Abduction, the Vaudeville that precedes the final chorus, and the brilliant little hymn of praise to Pasha Selem itself. They got the point, and sang with gusto and real pleasure. Just before I left I was treated to a performance of the “Dies Irae” from the Mozart Requiem. They sang it very well indeed. I told them to get some of the hell and brimstone of that piece into their part of the Grand March and all would be well.
Thursday evening was spent en famille with the Hoyts. Their little girls danced a bit around the piano, and we made a plan to have more dancing later in the trip. I spent the morning on Friday preparing for the talk I was to give for the composers’ seminar in the afternoon and the first rehearsal that evening. Specifically, I went through the score and the various photocopies I had used as source material, matching the results with the sources. (Not surprisingly, I had forgotten the details and my notes on this matter were incomplete. I was able to identify thirty-seven quotations, and the source of all but seven of them—not bad, but sooner or later I have to complete this little bookkeeping task.) I was also able to practice “Hawthorne” by Charles Ives a bit. USC composer John Fitz Rogers, Peter Hoyt and my buddy Ellen Schlaefer from the Connecticut Opera (now the opera director at U of SC) had lunch together. Reginald Bain joined us later. Then final thoughts about the talk, the talk itself (with good questions by the U of SC composition students) and a beer with my friend Tayloe Harding, now the dean of the School of Music there, whom I hadn’t seen in years, a quick supper (Mexican again) with Peter, and a brisk walk to the stage of the Koger Center, where at last I was to hear the orchestra start working on my piece. Whew!
The first person I saw backstage was Dr. Benjamin Woodruff, a.k.a “Woody,” whom I knew both from my teenage years at the Brevard Music Center in the late 1950s and also from graduate school at the University of Illinois. For several years Woody has been the librarian for the South Carolina Philharmonic, and though we were in communication about the score and parts for the Grand March it was the first time we had seen each other in about forty years. We caught up on several decades of news in several minutes, and then I went into the hall to sit with Peter and await the downbeat!
The rehearsal itself was not without the normal problems of working through a new piece for the first time. Most of the orchestra was reading, and the style that was needed was not completely clear to everyone. The entrance of the chorus, three-quarters through the piece, injected some much-needed energy into the proceedings. Some singing with gusto triggered some playing with panache. After checking out a few cues with the Turkish percussion and a few notes from the podium the rehearsal was over.
I felt the orchestra needed to know more about the ideas behind this piece. Later that evening I re-formatted Blog No. 5 (elsewhere on this web site) and printed it out on Saturday morning. Peter photocopied it in the School of Music offices and I left copies backstage for the orchestra. I was also able to quietly circulate and tell some of the players a few details—a bit louder here, a bit softer there, not too many things but crucial ones. Somehow it all worked. The second rehearsal (actually a run-through, dress rehearsal sort of thing) was about 400% better. I had high hopes for the performance, and indeed it was quite good. Here’s what Gregory Barnes, the reviewer, had to say in Tuesday’s The State (Columbia’s daily newspaper).
Careful examination of Columbia’s Mozart Festival schedule reveals an abundance of delightfully creative musical ideas.
Take Saturday night at the sold-out Koger Center: The Philharmonic paired Mozart’s first and last symphonies, the Palmetto Opera sang enchanting arias, the perfect composer for the job premiered a new musical homage to the master, and a Philharmonic principal performed a work by a Mozart contemporary.
…Neely Bruce’s Introduction and Grand March…” proved a great, if under-rehearsed, festival opener. Disguised quotes from Mozart operas marched in strict rhythm to Ivesian bi-tonality and juicy dissonance, but the musical result was clearly the-one-and-only Neely Bruce.
Eau Claire and Dutch Fork high schools contributed percussion and chorus, the latter unfavorably positioned, singings words unfortunately not reproduced in the program.
Actually, from where I was sitting, I could hear the hot-shot singers from Dutch Fork quite well, and they sounded wonderful. As for the words, here they are (as I said earlier, the result of pseudo-random operations on the text of various pages of The Abduction) with a “translation” by me and Peter and Mary and Lizzie. Would it really help if this material had been reproduced? It would have been fun, of course, but helpful? I doubt it.
abgetan geschlagen Schlag
die Bastonade Himmels Charlie sei
belehne Aufschub Himmels drein
Treue Segen meiner Streite
Selim Ränke Lagerstroh
frisch zum gute Leopold
lange Freud und Jubel marsch
Wir gehn hinein, ich mögen dich gefragt!
mag Hurtig muss fliegende sein
zeihe trefflich Eifer Mozart
Weibern Scheitel fache George
Welche anderen Gefahr
Teufel Brust fort großen Tropf
Ich schlage dran entschlossen Flut gewagt
ein Mann zuletzt doch Jubelklang
Freuden wegen Könnte teuer
prange zitten Göttertrank
willig Singen herlich Lust
wieder Huld mein Dank der ganz
Erdross sein Wolfgang Scheitel marsch bekannt
und prophezeihn in Eigentum
Tücken kampfe Liebe gaffen
lebe mit Verachtung Platz
Bacchus schenken es sei Ives
du bist unverdrossen ganzes Türe Scherzen Eigentum
schändlich Winde Blonden schwachen Aufschub Amadeus Wort
früh aufstehen wahrhaft dummen Wagen feiger umzugehn
Mädchen passen wonne Stärke Arten gehn hinein Gesang
disposed of beaten
disposed of beaten whipped cream
heaven’s cudgel is Charlie
invest with postponement heaven therein
true blessing of my quarrel
the schemer Selim is a batch of straw
long march Joy and Jubilation
we’re going inside I have to question you!
get moving must be flying
accuse the excellent eagerness Mozart
the apex of women fans George
such a different danger
devil breast be gone big moron
thereby I beat the resolute, risky flood
finally a man a jubilant noise nevertheless
joy because of expensive possibility
the drink of the gods glitters and trembles
voluntarily we sing magnificent pleasure
again kindness my thanks for the whole
strangulation his Wolfgang the top of his head is famous for marching
and prophesies in possessions
malicious pranks struggle to stare love
live with contempt place
Baccus presents it is Ives
you are unflagging the whole door jokes possessions
shameful winds feeble Blondie postponement of Amadeus word
rises up early true dumb carts cowardly going around
maiden is suitable delightful strength the species going inside to sing
A SOCIABLE FOOTNOTE: Saturday afternoon we went on a successful hunt for the house in Columbia where Phyllis lived in 1958 and ’59. The landmark was the Colonial Heights Baptist Church, no longer in the phone book but clearly recognizable now at the renamed Family Worship Center. Saturday night My sister Linda and her husband the painter/sculptor Jerry Luke of Savanna met us at the concert. We had a couple of meals together and a very good time. After breakfast with Linda and Jerry on Sunday Phyllis and I played hooky from church and drove to Rocky Mount, North Carolina to visit Ben and Betty Johnston. (Another eight hours on the road, round trip! On the way we stopped at South of the Border for ice cream.) It was a wonderful visit, though a short one. The highlight of the trip was hearing the new recording of Ben’s Ninth, Third and Fourth string quartets in new performances by the Kepler Quartet. (The Second Quartet is on the same CD, but we ran out of time.) Recently released by New World Records, these amazing pieces, in cleaner, brighter-than-ever performances with ferocious attention to detail, are a must-buy for serious collectors of twentieth-century music, string quartets, or even different versions of “Amazing grace.”
For an excellent descriptive review of this CD, and an informative interview with one of the members of the Kepler Quartet, see http://dram.nyu.edu/dram/_html/news.html. Ben is the featured composer and the date is January 12, 2006.