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David Conte, composition

Venue

Sol Joseph Recital Hall
50 Oak Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
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Tickets

Free, no tickets or reservations required

Program

New Music by David Conte

Madrigals for the Seasons (World Premiere)
Elegy for Violin and Piano (Bay Area Premiere)
“Kate’s Aria” from East of Eden
Everyone Sang (Bay Area Premiere)
Charm Me Asleep
Three Poems of Christina Rossetti
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (Bay Area Premiere)

Performers

David Conte, composition/piano
Steven Bailey, piano
Matt Boehler, bass
Jose Granero, clarinet
Peter Grunberg, piano
Kevin Korth, piano
Ann Moss, soprano
Mouthscape Chamber Choir
Kindra Scharich, mezzo-soprano
Kay Stern, violin

Program Notes

Madrigals for the Seasons
Madrigals for the Seasons were composed especially for soprano Ann Moss, and receives its premiere performance this evening. The first two songs of the cycle, “A Summer’s Day” by Emily Dickinson and “Autumn”  by John Clare are adaptions of a cappella madrigals I composed for Cappella SF, a San Francisco based chamber choir for whom I serve as Composer in Residence. The second two songs; “Snowflakes,” by Henry Longfellow and “Spring” by William Blake, were composed first as songs. I plan to adapt them for a cappella chorus, thus completing the cycle for both solo voice and chorus.   

Though I am a long-time happy resident of California, I am a transplanted Midwesterner, so I have vivid memories of the sharp contrast of character that each season brings. These musical settings were inspired by these memories, which are sharper and more poignant when one lives in a climate without strongly demarcated seasons. 

“A Summer’s Day” is a paean to the glories of summer. Images of nature are illuminated, climaxing in the splendor of God’s sun: “His Caravan of Red.” My setting is in a lilting meter, alternating twos and threes, and strives to capture the pleasure of the freedom of movement afforded by summer.  

John Clare’s poem “Autumn” conjures up vivid images of this season:  the fading of summer flowers, the colors of the leaves, the browning of the fields. Clare personifies the leaves, who talk to us and offer us a lesson about death: “The same sad fate approaches you.”  My musical setting is an expressive Larghetto in the minor mode. The piece ends with a surprising harmonic twist that I hope expresses both the opening of oneself to the acceptance of death, and to the peace that it offers.  

The theme of Longfellow’s great poem, “Snow-flakes” is human loss and grief. It is subtly influenced by Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” in its use both of the Anaphora trope (the repetition of a word or phrase in successive clauses) and the periodic sentence (a sentence not grammatically complete until the final clause.) These rhetorical devices are reflected in my musical phrase structure, with the resolution withheld until the end of each stanza.  A gently falling figure of parallel 7ths in the high register of the piano suggests the falling snow, and accompanies the speaker as he searches the sky for signs of God’s presence in the face of his grief.

“Spring” by William Blake was first published in his 1789 collection “Songs of Innocence.” It is a celebration of the arrival of Spring, exploring the harmony of man with the natural world.  My setting is in a lively compound meter, and features practically the only melismas in the cycle on the word “merrily,” bringing the set to a joyous conclusion. 

Elegy for Violin and Piano
This six-minute work is a transcription of the second movement of my Sinfonietta, which was commissioned in 2011 by the Atlantic Classical Orchestra. I arranged this movement especially for violinist Susan Paik and pianist Edward Niedermaier, who premiered the piece at the Schola Cantorum in Paris July 18th, 2014.  

Elegy is characterized by a quiet intensity, with a "sighing" motive first stated in the piano, and answered by more florid passages in the violin. These two ideas are gradually and subtly developed and transformed while moving through many tonalities and arriving at several climaxes. The movement ends with a rising violin solo line over a rich pedal harmony in the piano, bringing the work to a quiet conclusion.

"Kate’s Aria" from East of Eden
"Kate's Aria" is the climactic scene of the first act of an opera in progress based on John Steinbeck's novel East of Eden. Kate is the mother of twins, Aron and Cal. She deserted her husband, Adam, and the twins soon after they were born. Adam has told the twins that she is dead. Cal has discovered that she is in fact alive and running a bordello in a nearby town. Cal has come to believe one gets a certain amount of good and bad from one's parents, and he suffers because he believes that Aron has inherited good from his father, and Cal bad from his mother. In this scene, he confronts Kate and asks why she shot his father when he tried to stop her from leaving. Kate gives her answer, and explains how she became who she is. 

Everyone Sang
Everyone Sang is a collection of four songs, composed at various times between 1998 and 2003. The fourth song, which gives the collection its name, was commissioned by and is dedicated to the late James Schwabacher, who was a dear friend and important tenor and patron of the arts in San Francisco. It was premiered by bass-baritone Maris Vipulis and pianist Marc Shapiro in 1998. The songs “Homecoming,” dedicated to baritone Robert Barefild, and “Quilt,” dedicated to baritone Ryan Villaverde, were commissioned by the West Chester University Poetry Conference and were premiered by Robert Barefield and pianist Carl Cranmer on June 7th, 2003.  “Entrance,” dedicated to baritone Tim Krol, was written in July, 2003 for inclusion in this set. The work was published by E. C. Schirmer in 2004. In 2016 I prepared an edition in a lower key for bass voice for Matt Boehler, who premieres the set at tonight’s recital.  

The four songs of Everyone Sang treat sequentially the themes of attachment, discovery, loss, and celebration. “Homecoming” by A. E. Stallings, an American poet who lives in Greece,  explores the psychic thread which binds Odysseus and Penelope. Penelope is weaving a coat to put off her suitors, hoping still for Odysseus’s return.  The poem envisions  “man and wife dwelling together in unity of mind and disposition.” In Rilke’s poem “Entrance,” translated by American poet Dana Gioia, the speaker entreats the listener to discover the new, see the old through fresh eyes, embrace the unknown, and ultimately let go.  “Quilt” by Diane Thiel has a wonderful relaxed formality, being in Terza Rima form, invented by Dante. The quilt is a metaphor for the compartmentalization of life; each patch represents an aspect or event.  The poem suggests how we all try to make sense of life by transforming disorder into the order of a quilt. Everyone Sang  by World War one English poet Siegfried Sassoon expresses the varied emotions of joy and relief at the end of the war, and sadness for those who have died.

Charm Me Asleep
Charm Me Asleep was commissioned by Chanticleer in celebration of its fifteenth anniversary. Based on a poem by Robert Herrick entitled “To Music - To Becalm His Fever”, the tone and character of the music reflects the speaker's various states of mind as he entreats Music to calm his fever, to lull him to sleep and finally to guide his flight to Heaven. The work was premiered August 3rd, 1993 at the World Symposium on Choral Music in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Three Poems of Christina Rossetti
Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) began writing at age 7 but was 31 before her first work was published. She was hailed as the natural successor to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. A devout Anglo-Catholic, her popularity faded in the early 20th century from Modernism's backlash, but in the past few decades she has been rediscovered. Her visionary poetry has a deeply religious quality, and a keen sense of the spiritual world.

Rest describes the soul's journey from physical death to Paradise. Echo describes with great sensitivity and passion an attempt to regain a love in dreams that has been lost in reality. A Hope Carol describes a vigil of a soul who is called to a vision of Paradise, and the second coming of Christ. Echo and Rest were written in 2009 and 2008 especially for mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook. A Hope Carol was composed as a choral piece in 2006 for the San Francisco Girls' Chorus. A version for solo voice was composed in 2007 and is dedicated to Elizabeth Mannion. In 2014 I prepared an edition for high voice for tenor Brian Thorsett, who premiered it at the San Francisco Conservatory on February 8th, 2014. 

Sonata for Clarinet and Piano
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano was composed especially for Franklin Cohen, former principal clarinetist of the Cleveland Orchestra. Having grown up in Cleveland, I have long admired Mr. Cohen’s playing. The clarinet is one of my favorite instruments, a sentiment that is shared by many composers as evidenced by the rich solo repertory composed for this instrument. The Sonata was commissioned as part of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Arts Renaissance Tremont Chamber Music Concert Series, Chris Haff-Paluck, Founder and Artistic Director.

The sonata’s first movement is marked Allegro moderato, appassionato. The work begins with a brief introduction in the manner of a solo recitative for the piano, which features a motive built on successive perfect fifths, which is the basis for much of the musical ideas in this movement. The piece is in a quite straight-forward sonata-allegro form. The first theme is a broadly sung lyrical melody, supported by an undulating accompaniment in the piano, and is unabashedly romantic in character. This gives way suddenly to an agitated variation of this first theme, which transitions into a second theme, marked Moderato cantabile, accompanied by stately quarter-note chords in the piano. As the theme progresses, the clarinet and piano trade the melody back and forth, finally culminating in a canon between the two instruments. This gives way to a more relaxed closing theme in the clarinet, marked Slower, mysterious, spacious, which is supported in the piano by many ringing perfect fifths, sounding somewhat like chiming bells. A brief development follows, leading to a climax, and followed by an affirmative return to the first theme. The movement unfolds with a restatement of all three themes, ending with a quietly solemn coda.

The second movement begins in a Largamente tempo, with an expressive, declamatory recitative motive in the clarinet, leading to a Lento molto tempo, which introduces a syncopated ostinato in the bass register of the piano. The entire movement is built on these two ideas. There is a contrasting middle section which is more playful, and slightly jazzy in character, with humorous interplay between the clarinet and piano. The opening ideas return, leading to a climax, and the work ends with a final statement of the recitative motive, accompanied by mysterious rising chords in the piano.

The third movement is a spirited allegro in compound meter. After an introductory fanfare-like section, alternating statements from the clarinet and the piano, the clarinet announces a perky and cheerful theme with steady eighth notes in the piano. This leads to a transition featuring block chords in the piano, transitioning to a very lyrical second theme, traded back and forth between the two instruments. The first theme returns, and the second theme is briefly restated, leading to a brisk, virtuosic coda. 

Artist Profiles

David Conte, composition
David Conte (b. 1955) is the composer of over one hundred works published by E. C. Schirmer Music Company, a division of ECS Publishing, including six operas, a musical, works for chorus, solo voice, orchestra, chamber music, organ, piano, guitar, and harp. He has received commissions from Chanticleer, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, the Dayton, Oakland, and Stockton Symphonies, the Atlantic Classical Orchestra, the American Guild of Organists, Sonoma City Opera and the Gerbode Foundation. In 2007 he received the Raymond Brock commission from the American Choral Directors Association. His opera The Gift of the Magi has received 25 productions in the U. S., Canada, and Europe. He has composed songs for singers Barbara Bonney, Thomas Hampson, Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Matt Boehler, Marnie Breckenridge, Catherine Cook, Ann Moss, and Brian Thorsett, and his work is represented on many commercial CD recordings. Conte co-wrote the film score for the acclaimed documentary Ballets Russes, shown at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals in 2005, and composed the music for the PBS documentary, Orozco: Man of Fire, shown on the American Masters Series in the fall of 2007. In 1982, Conte lived and worked with Aaron Copland while preparing a study of the composer’s sketches, having received a Fulbright Fellowship for study with Copland's teacher Nadia Boulanger in Paris, where he was one of her last students. He was also recipient of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Fellowship and an Aspen Music Festival Conducting Fellowship. Conte earned a B.M. degree from Bowling Green State University, where he studied with Wallace DePue, and M.M. and doctoral degrees from Cornell University, where he studied with Karel Husa, and Steven Stucky. He is professor of composition and Chair of the composition department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he has taught since 1985, and has also taught at Cornell University, Keuka College, Colgate University, and Interlochen. In 2010 he was appointed to the composition faculty of the European American Musical Alliance in Paris, and in 2011 he joined the board of the American Composers Forum. In 2014 he was named composer-in-residence with Cappella SF, a professional chorus in San Francisco. In 2016 his song cycle American Death Ballads won First Prize in the NATS Composition Competition, and was premiered by tenor Brian Thorsett, and pianist Warren Jones at the NATS Conference in Chicago. Everyone Sang, a double CD of his vocal music, will be released in the summer of 2018 featuring singers Matt Boehler, Marnie Breckenridge, A. J. Glueckert, Ann Moss, Kindra Scharich, and Brian Thorsett. 

Steven Bailey, piano
Steven Bailey is a pianist of wide versatility, performing in and outside the San Francisco Bay Area as soloist, chamber and collaborative keyboardist. In addition to being the regular accompanist for the San Francisco Bach Choir, Bailey has performed as concerto soloist with Symphony Parnassus, the Diablo Symphony, UC Davis Symphony, San Francisco Concerto Orchestra, and Magnificat Baroque Orchestra. He is a regular guest as fortepianist on original period instruments at the American Bach Soloists’ Summerfest chamber music performances, and performed with ABS in March as co-harpsichordist. He was recently the musical director for San Francisco Parlor Opera’s production of Gounod’s Faust and looks forward to directing Mozart’s Don Giovanni for them. He has collaborated with members of the Alexander, Arlekin and Sausalito quartets, provided live musical accompaniment for SMUIN Ballet’s production of Stravinsky Piano Pieces, and was featured on the San Francisco variety program “Mornings on Two” on the FOX Network. He teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Matt Boehler, bass
Hailed by The New York Times as, "a bass with an attitude and the good to back it up," Matt Boehler is a singer equally at home on the international opera stage, as well as the concert platform. He has appeared as a principal artist with The Metropolitan Opera, Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Theater St. Gallen, and Canadian Opera Company, as well as the New York Philharmonic, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, and the New York Festival of Song, among many others. Frequently in demand as a collaborator and interpreter of new music, his discography features several world premieres. A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, he trained as an actor at Viterbo College, an opera singer at The Juilliard School, and as a composer at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he received an M.M. degree, studying with David Conte. www.mattboehler.com

Jose Granero, clarinet
Jose Gonzalez Granero, clarinetist and composer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, was recently named First Prize Winner for the Villiers Quartet New Works Composition Competition (London), also he has been nominated twice for the Hollywood Music in Media Awards. Mr. Gonzalez Granero holds the principal clarinet position for the San Francisco Opera Orchestra since 2010. He graduated from Granada Royal Conservatory, USC Thorton School of Music, and The Colburn School in Los Angeles under his mentor Yehuda Gilad. Mr. Gonzalez has won numerous competitions and awards, both as a clarinetist and composer, including Grand Prize for exceptional talent and musicianship in the Pasadena Instrumental Competition (2009), First Prize in the Burbank Philharmonic Concerto Competition (2009), Second Place in the Downey Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition (2009), Second Prize in the Pasadena Instrumental Competition (2008), Second Prize ‘Ville de Comines-Warneton’ composition competition and winner of the Villiers Quartet New Works Composition Competition (London, UK). His pieces have been published by Scomegna Edizioni Musicali (Italy) and Rivera Musica (Spain). Mr. Gonzalez was principal clarinet of the Andalucia Philharmonic Orchestra (Spain) from 2005-2007. He has also performed as principal clarinet with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra (Norway), Odense Symfoniorkester (Denmark), Young Musician Foundation Debut Orchestra (USA), Galicia Symphony Orchestra (Spain), City of Granada Orchestra (Spain), Orchestre des Jeunes de la Mediterranee (France), the European Union Youth Wind Orchestra (Luxemburg), toured as a soloist with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, performing Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto throughout Spain, and subbed with the San Francisco Symphony. An active chamber music player, he has performed with Susan Graham, Music@Menlo, Oregon Bach Festival, Music in the Vineyard, Music in May and EnsembleSF. Currently, Mr. Gonzalez Granero alternates his career as a clarinetist with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and as a composer, premiering pieces with EnsembleSF, Music in May, EOS Ensemble, Granada Brass Quintet, Proemium Metals, among others. Jose Gonzalez Granero is a Selmer, Vandoren and Ishimori asrtist.

Peter Grunberg, piano
The Australian-born musician Peter Grunberg moved to California in the early 1990’s to take up the position of Head of Music Staff at the San Francisco Opera. Since then, he has collaborated frequently with the San Francisco Symphony, where he has been conductor, pianist, and recently also pre-concert lecturer. He has directed orchestras in concert at the Moscow Conservatory, the Grand Théâtre de Genève, and the Sydney Opera House. Over the last few years, Mr. Grunberg has been a principal collaborator on the Symphony’s Keeping Score project, both as music editor for the documentaries, and as music consultant for the website. Peter Grunberg served as Head of Music Staff at San Francisco Opera from 1992 to 1999 and is currently Musical Assistant to Michael Tilson Thomas.

Kevin Korth, piano
Since graduating from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s renowned Chamber Music program in 2008, Kevin Korth has held a position at the Conservatory as both collaborative pianist and vocal coach. Now an in-demand recitalist and coach in the Bay Area, he has collaborated with artists such as Robert Mann, Axel Strauss, Joel Krosnick, Frederica von Stade, Suzanne Mentzer, Nadine Sierra, Lise Lindstrom, Marnie Breckenridge, Kristen Clayton, and Brian Asawa. This fall, Mr. Korth released his debut album Out of the Shadows, a CD of American art song with soprano Lisa Delan and cellist Matt Haimovitz for Pentatone Classics. Recorded at Skywalker Ranch, the album features premieres by Jack Perla, Gordon Getty, and David Garner, in addition to previously unrecorded works by Norman Dello Joio, Paul Nardoff, and John Kander.

Ann Moss, soprano
Soprano Ann Moss is an acclaimed recording artist and champion of contemporary vocal music. As Artistic Director of new-music repertory group CMASH, Ms. Moss has premiered over one hundred new vocal works. She has been a featured soloist with SF Symphony, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, SF Contemporary Music Players, Music of Remembrance, Earplay, Eco Ensemble, West Edge Opera, UCBSO; the Alexander, Lydian, Ives, and Hausmann string quartets; and at festivals including Other Minds, Fresno New Music, PARMA, Switchboard and FENAM. She has released two solo albums, Currents and Love Life, and can also be heard on releases for PARMA, Naxos, Albany, Angels Share Records and Navona Records labels. A native of Boston, Moss resides in Richmond, CA with her husband, violist Justin Ouellet.

Mouthscape Chamber Choir
Mouthscape was founded by SFCM graduate composition student Lukáš Janata in collaboration with Bryan Lin, Bobby Chastain, Eric Choate, John Masko, Joshua Saulle and SFCM students in the fall of 2017 for the purpose of championing new works for a cappella chorus,  with special emphasis on works by SFCM faculty, alumni, and current students. The ensemble gave their premiere performances on January 24th, 2018, and at the Hot Air Festival on February 25th, 2018.  

Robert Chastain is conductor of the Pre-College Chorus at SFCM, where he also teaches theory and musicianship, conducting, and music history. He received his M. M. in composition from the SFCM in 2010.  

Kindra Scharich, mezzo-soprano
Mezzo-Soprano Kindra Scharich has been praised by The San Francisco Chronicle for her "exuberant vitality", "fearless technical precision", "deep- rooted pathos" and "irrepressible musical splendor." As a dedicated recitalist, she has given solo recitals the The American Composer's Forum, The Wagner Society, Lieder Alive and Sala Cecilia Meireles. In May 2018 she and the Alexander String Quartet will record new arrangements of the great orchestral Lieder of Mahler (Rückert, Kindertotenlieder, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen) and in the summer of 2018, Ms. Scharich will return to Brazil, where she and pianist Ricardo Ballestero will concertize songs of Brazilian composer Alberto Nepomuceno and his contemporaries, which until now have remained in relative obscurity. In the world of opera, Ms. Scharich has sung over 25 roles in the lyric mezzo repertoire.  Enthusiastic about working with living composers, she has frequently collaborated with David Conte, Kurt Erickson and Janis Mattox.

Kay Stern, violin 
Kay Stern is Concertmaster of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. She has served as assistant to Dorothy DeLay at the Aspen Music Festival, assistant to the Juilliard Quartet at The Juilliard School, and has been a faculty member at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and since 2017, at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She has taught and coached at various music festivals around the world, and has been in residence at Wellesley College and San Diego State University. She has appeared in PBS’s Live from Lincoln Center, CNN’s Women Today, Minnesota Public Radio’s Garrison Keillor A Prairie Home Companion and St. Paul Sunday Morning, and WQXR-NY Robert Sherman’s Listening Room. As former first violinist and founding member of the Lark String Quartet, she performed and gave master classes throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. Kay is an active chamber musician, collaborating with colleagues in numerous venues in and around the Bay Area. She attended The Juilliard School as a student of Dorothy DeLay. While there she received full scholarships for her Bachelor, Master’s and Doctoral degree programs. Kay Stern’s concerto and chamber music recordings can be heard on Phillips, Nonesuch, Innova, MusicMasters, Koch International and Gramma Vision.

Departments and Faculty Involved with This Event

Composition

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