|About this Recording
8.579064 - Vocal Recital: Sternberg, Deborah - SIMPSON, A.E. / KITCHEN, E. / THIBAUDEAU, G. (Birds of Love and Prey)
Birds of Love and Prey
Andrew Earle SIMPSON (b. 1967)
Birds of Love and Prey was composed for soprano Deborah Sternberg in 2014. The cycle, drawing on a range of textural sources from antiquity to the present, contrasts songbirds and predator birds—and explores the assumptions relative to each (e.g., songbirds are sweet, predators are nasty). In some cases, the types directly oppose each other (The Owl and the Nightingale); in others, they struggle with themselves (The Tit and the Lovebird). There are solo portraits, as well. The whole is framed by choruses from Aristophanes’ Birds.
Andrew Earle Simpson
Eric KITCHEN (b. 1951)
Eric Kitchen is an American composer born in Williamsport, Maryland in 1951. He studied piano with James Pierce at Frostburg State College, Maryland, and composition at West Virginia University where his main teacher was Thomas Canning. He was a semi-finalist in the prestigious Kennedy Center Friedheim Award for compostition in Washington, DC in 1979. His recent works have been written for Deborah Sternberg, including the cycle The Bridal of the Earth and Sky, and the Roses cycle, which is published by Euphonion Press Publications. The Olney Avian Verse of William Cowper was written for his daughter in 2000.
‘Man, like the bird, was created to sing praises to God.’ – Eric Kitchen
The main purpose for writing this song cycle for soprano and piano was to provide beautiful voices with another reason for singing. With this sole objective in mind, it seemed natural to turn to the delightful observations of birds by the British poet William Cowper.
With confidence in the lyrics of one who gave us God Moves in a Mysterious Way, and There is a Fountain, my aim was to supply passages in ranges that I most enjoy hearing from the pleasant soprano voice.
The harmonic language was derived from transcriptions of actual bird songs, as was some of the thematic material.
Gabriel THIBAUDEAU (b. 1959)
Born in 1959, the Canadian composer, pianist and conductor Gabriel Thibaudeau studied piano in Montreal at the École de musique Vincentd’Indy and composition at the Université de Montréal. He started work at the age of 15 as a pianist for ballets. Since then, he has been a pianist for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, the pianist at La Cinémathèque québécoise for the last 30 years and composer in residence with the Octuor de France for more than 20 years. Thibaudeau’s work includes music for ballet, opera, chamber music and several orchestral compositions for silent films. His works are performed in the Americas, as well as in Europe and Asia. Several international institutions have commissioned work from Thibaudeau, including the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the Cineteca di Bologna, the Festival de Cannes, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal.
On Cycle Avicellus:
‘All the songs are written in a style I could qualify as “modern impressionism”. The first song, De ton perchoir (‘From your perch’), is a mirror of the singer. By using a time signature of 7/4, I wanted to give movement to a simple accompaniment. The use of the register of the voice also recalls the range of the bird’s voice.
The second song, Blanc harfang (‘Snowy owl’), uses a large ambitus, either at the piano or in the voice. I wanted to give the impression of the large and slow span of the wings of the snow owl. The melody is almost romantic and is suggestive of large landscapes.
The third song, Ils partent (‘They’re leaving’), about migrating birds, is a bit like the fading of the air over a country road under a hard sun. On the first beats you will almost never find a rooted bass. The accompaniment is always floating.
The fourth song, Envol (‘Soaring’), is constantly moving, like the birds never touching the ground.
I would like to thank Mykalle Bielinski for her beautiful texts and of course, Deborah Sternberg, whose voice and musicality charmed me at the very first note!
I would like to dedicate this premiere of the Cycle Avicellus to the memory of my dear friend, the violinist Ugo Mantiglia.’
Deborah Sternberg on Birds of Love and Prey
I am completely in love with this music: an amazing song cycle written for me by Andrew Simpson, along with two other new song cycles, each with its own unique flavour.
This project evolved when I received the score of a song cycle called The Olney Avian Verse of William Cowper, from Eric Kitchen, a composer in Cumberland, Maryland. The piece, a five movement work based on poetry by William Cowper, had never been performed.
Learning this work, with its remarkable, yet down-to-earth poetry, and music that evokes a complete story in each movement, inspired me to find opportunities to perform the piece—I felt it needed to be heard! I performed it first as part of the Friday Morning Music Club performance series, and then as part of DACOR-Bacon Musicale series (both in Washington, DC), and most recently at the Penn Alps Music Series in Cumberland, Maryland. Each performance has garnered praise from audience members.
After learning Kitchen’s piece, I next contacted Andrew Simpson, for whom I’d premiered a role in his chamber opera The Outcasts of Poker Flat. He immediately agreed to write a piece for my project, and suggested I also approach Canadian composer Gabriel Thibaudeau. I had performed a score of Gabriel’s own music (with himself at the organ!) at a screening of the 1923 movie The Hunchback of Notre Dâme at the American Film Institute (AFI) Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland. I consider both Andrew Simpson and Gabriel Thibaudeau to be absolutely brilliant composers and musicians.
I was excited when each of them acquiesced to writing me a song cycle with the theme of Birds, and even more thrilled when I received the scores!
Thibaudeau’s piece, Cycle Avicellus, features a four movement cycle with beautiful new poetry by young Canadian poet Mykalle Bielinski. His arrangements are breathtaking!
Andrew Simpson’s work includes striking poetry by Aristophanes, Tennyson, Keats, Barbier, and a few anonymous poems that are by turns deeply moving or hysterically funny. (Picture a tiny, obnoxious diva nightingale at war with a fierce, stately, Dame Owl.)
I subsequently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the project, and hired Ed Kelly as recording engineer. My pianist was Mark Vogel for Kitchen and Thibaudeau’s pieces, and Andrew Simpson himself played for his own work. The recordings were done in the lovely Spencerville Church in Maryland, acoustically a very beautiful space.
The full programme was premiered in a recital at the The Lyceum’s lovely performance hall in Alexandria, Virginia, and patrons and composers alike were delighted. One of my favourite comments was emailed to me, after this recital, from the late music director Norman Scribner, whose loss is felt deeply in the DC area: ‘Deborah Sternberg’s recital featuring The Avian Project was a joy from beginning to end. With her luminous and beautiful natural voice combined with immaculate musicianship, Ms. Sternberg regaled us with optimum performances of these outstanding songs by American composers. Here is a stunning young vocal artist to watch out for!’
This album is dedicated to my beloved grandparents, who started me on my journey; my parents, who encouraged my passions; my teachers, friends and colleagues, who inspire me in so many ways; and my husband and children, who make me feel loved and valued every single day.
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