I Love was the direct result of a wonderful residency at Illinois Wesleyan University in March 2017, when I was invited as Featured Guest Composer for their annual Symposium of Contemporary Music. I was delighted to learn that this program had been ongoing since 1952! My host, David Vayo, himself a terrific composer, worked tirelessly on many details. These included a concert of my music, a performance of Black Moon (orchestra + electronics) by their excellent student orchestra led by their outstanding conductor Lev Ivanov, meetings with classes and individual students, and a colloquium. You can find program details here. The concert included a beautifully prepared performance of Hark My Love, an SATB setting I had made of verses from the Song of Songs. Conductor J. Scott Ferguson led the Collegiate Chorale in the performance, and immediately following the concert he asked if I would consider a commission for a new piece. I responded enthusiastically, and the process was set in motion. Again, I was amazed to know that this commissioning project also happens annually as it has since 1952. It was made possible by the Sylvia Monty Anderson commissioned coral work fund honoring Delta Omicron at Illinois Weslyan University.
As always, my first step was to find a text – no easy task! I spent months on this process, and finally/suddenly came upon Gertrude Stein’s poem Before the Flowers of Friendship Faded, Friendship Faded. There is quite a story behind this poem. Apparently, Stein had planned to translate a poem by her friend Georges Hugnet. Evidently her plan did not go as anticipated, and she wrote a new poem based on his. He was of course not happy about this and indeed their friendship faded. The poem consists of 30 stanzas of which I chose to set #XXIX. I chose the title I love as these are the first words of the poem and it is indeed about love, though of course in Stein’s inimitable way. I was especially drawn to this verse due to its charming whimsy, it’s sudden twists and it’s linguistic and syntactic play.
The next step was to obtain permission to use the text of this one verse. That took quite some doing but eventually I worked it out with the kind assistance of Mr. Stanford Gann, Jr. of Levin & Gann, P.A., representative of the Stein Estate in the US. I actually started composing in the summer of 2017 while I was driving to the CubeFest festival at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg VA. The words were forming rhythms in my mind’s ear, and since I was alone in my car, I started singing them- loud! I was also experimenting with individual sounds as you can hear in the opening and elsewhere, with the repeated L sounds. When I sent the finished score to Scott, he told me that he laughed aloud as he read through it. He and the Collegiate Chorale worked hard on the piece and toured it before the final performance at Illinois Weslyan university, where I returned for a brief residency and attended the premiere. They gave a wonderful performance!. Since then, after my experience of the live performance, working through the score again, and with some very helpful feedback from choral conductor Judith Clurman, I have revised the score and refined some of the text setting. For me, there is a wonderful feedback loop that happens only through interaction with live performance and reflection in addition, of course, to the original conceptual musical design. I love working with text, and composing this piece was in itself a love story.