About this Recording
8.559714 - HAGEN, D.A.: 21st-Century Song Cycles - After Words / Songs of Experience / Phantoms of Myself / 4 Irish Folk Songs / 4 Dickinson Songs (Lyric Fest)

Daron Hagen (b. 1961)
After Words—21st-Century Song Cycles


When the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded Daron Hagen (www.daronhagen.com) its Academy Award, the citation described him as, in part, “an outstanding composer who has arrived at his own voice.” The award came with a recording grant. Asked what works he would like recorded and by whom, he responded, “Songs—they remain the core of my output,” and suggested members of Lyric Fest, Philadelphia’s renowned song series, for whom he had recently composed After Words. When Ned Rorem wrote in Opera News, “To say that Daron Hagen is a remarkable musician is to underrate him. Daron is music,” he was referring to the fact that Hagen’s nine operas (for companies large and small—Seattle Opera, Madison, Kentucky, Chicago Opera Theater), five symphonies (Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Oakland, Albany, and Phoenix), twelve concertos (Graffman, Khaner, Laredo, Robinson, Sant’Ambrogio), five piano trios, choral and chamber works, and over 350 published art songs (Paul Sperry, Ashley Putnam, The King’s Singers) combine everything from ancient music to musical theater, minimalism to serialism, extended vocal techniques to improvisation, electro-acoustic soundscapes to sumptuous neo-Romantic symphonic works. Indeed, Hagen had embraced the current “post-genre” zeitgeist by the turn of the century. In his quest to expand what constitutes song and lyric theater he has expanded his activities to include stage direction; he now pursues this vision as director of ORSON REHEARSED, a new project-driven intermedia/interdisciplinary vocal music theatrical development laboratory at the Chicago College of Performing Arts. That said, Hagen’s earliest songs, composed in Wisconsin during the late 1970s, already fully embraced and extended in every direction the aesthetic continuum—Boulanger-Barber-Bernstein-Rorem—in which he would assume a position when he became Ned Rorem’s first composition student at the Curtis Institute during the early 1980s. It is primarily that meticulously crafted, vocally idiomatic, elegantly executed so-called “Curtis Tradition” that this recording (composer-supervised and prepared by Lyric Fest founding artist director Laura Ward, who serves as collaborative pianist for the entire recital) explores and celebrates.

After Words (2013)

In this work, commissioned and premiered by Lyric Fest at the Academy of Vocal Arts with the performers on this recording in January 2013, Hagen imagines a symposium by two ethereal beings (one male, the other female) on the nature of art and love inspired by a performance of Schubert’s Winterreise they’ve just observed. The first song finds the two observing a performance of the final Wilhelm Müller poem that Schubert set, Der Leiermann. For the song, Hagen interwove Peter Handke’s contemporary poem Lied vom Kindsein (perhaps familiar to those who have seen Wim Wender’s 1987 film Der Himmel über Berlin—in English, Wings of Desire—as the voice-over heard during the first reel) with the Müller, and little musical fragments of Schubert’s setting. The three songs that follow find the angels observing the living. Seamus Heaney’s poetry, so vibrant and alive, served. The first, An Artist, finds the two observing a young artist at work. The second, Widgeon, is a coolly damning observation on where an artist’s voice may or may not come from. The third, The Rain Stick, is a commentary on the nature of song itself. Rubén Darío’s exquisite Rimas—X, translated by Hagen’s wife, provides the emotional core of this cycle: love is, after all, the thing that comes—like music—both before and after words. To close the cycle, the two angels ruminate in interwoven settings of 1 Corinthians 11–13. Tunes and harmonic fragments from the previous songs return; a medley of recapitulated musical images underpin Martin Luther’s 1534 version and the magisterial 1611 King James version. As the angels sing the word “love,” the piano returns to the music of The Rain Stick, ending with the notes that earlier accompanied the words “Listen now again,” underlining the circular nature of all such meditations.

Songs of Experience (2007)

Hagen explained that, “As precis for a cycle about things experienced and learned while growing up,” he chose a song that he first wrote in Philadelphia on assignment in 1981 from his mentor Ned Rorem. The McFall setting survives as the very first sketch for the opera Amelia, written for Seattle Opera. Hagen first performed it at Yaddo in summer 2005, accompanied by David Del Tredici. Wisdom was written for Nathan Gunn during winter 2006. Hagen set Stephen Dunn’s Elegy for Ray Charles at Yaddo a few days after Charles’ death; he performed it for Dunn and the rest of the Yaddo artists the same evening. The Stranger’s Grave was composed during spring 2007 to serve as the emotional driver for the song set, which was assembled around it. The piano alludes to the aria Dónde está mi querida? (“Where has my beloved gone?”) from Hagen’s opera, Bandanna. Hagen’s wife had recently miscarried; the song was written as a tiny requiem. It flows without pause into a warm setting of Dickinson’s Two Butterflies that he composed as a tribute to his wife Gilda Lyons on Valentine’s Day, 2005. The songs were premiered at the Wintergreen Summer Music Festival and Academy in Virginia on 17 July 2007 by Steven Condy, baritone and Kelly Horsted, piano.

Phantoms of Myself (2000)

Hagen had seen (and loved) Ashley Putnam as Mimì and as Violetta, but she was appearing as Tosca when stage director and librettist Ken Cazan introduced them. Putnam was looking to commission something in memory of her friend, stage director Cynthia Auerbach. Together Hagen and Putnam settled, cross-legged on the floor of his apartment in New York City, on the poetry of Susan Griffin. Susan Griffin, philosopher, poet, Emmy®-winning playwright, and feminist thinker, celebrates not only feminism and femininity but also human nature in her poetry. Putnam and Hagen were free to choose their favorite poems separately. The result: before he had written a note, he already had three in hand, that both agreed, demanded inclusion. They settled on several others to surround those three. He then arranged the poems into a 24-hour cycle, beginning and ending with the act of waking, following the poet through what he imagined might be the sequence of her thoughts and emotions during a single day. Hagen accompanied Putnam in the premiere of the cycle on 10 May 2000 at the Therese L. Kaufmann Concert Hall of the 92nd Street Y in New York City.

Four Irish Folk Songs (2009)

The Bard of Armagh emerged around 1697 and has evolved into many tunes, including The Streets of Laredo and The Cowboy’s Lament. A product of the potato famine of the 1840s, The Praties also figures as the second movement of Hagen’s Violin Concerto for Michael Ludwig and the Buffalo Philharmonic. The tune of Danny Boy was penned by Frederic Weatherly in 1910. Hagen wrote his in Italy during the early 1990s and dedicated it to Gianna Celli. The traditional Gaelic song Báldín Fhelmi (“Fhelmi’s Little Boat”) was composed to celebrate the birth of pianist Jocelyn Dueck’s daughter. The set was premiered by Elaine Valby, Gilda Lyons, and Hagen at the Hudson Valley Opera House in April 2009.

Four Dickinson Songs (2014)

In January 1993 Hagen finished two settings If You Were Coming and Wild Nights and put them in a drawer. Two decades later, in fall 2013, Laura Ward asked him for a handful of Dickinson settings. He composed A Dying Eye and Of All the Souls, revised the old ones, and placed them together. The result is a group, not a cycle. All deal with love. Commissioned by Lyric Fest with the help of a generous gift from Lauren and Craig Meyer, it is dedicated to Ward. Laura and Joseph Gaines premiered the songs on March 28 2014 as part of American Women Poets in Song presented by Lyric Fest in the music room of Goodheart Hall on the Bryn Mawr campus in Philadelphia.

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