New Music at Carnegie Hall: Carnegie Hall Commissions
Commission at a Glance
Three Songs
Jeremy Flower
Recorded on May 10, 2009
at Zankel Hall


Olga Bell, Vocalist

Workshop Ensemble: Alan Pierson, Conductor; Carol McGonnell, Clarinet; Nathan Botts, Trumpet; John Ostrowski, Percussion; Jared Soldiviero, Percussion; Matti Kovler, Piano; Yael Manor, Piano; Brandon Seabrook, Guitar; William Holshouser, Accordion; Keats Dieffenbach, Violin; You-Young Kim, Viola; Lev “Ljova” Zhrubin, Famiola; Claire Bryant, Cello; Jane Cords-O’Hara, Cello; Kristoffer Saebo, Bass; Jeremy Flower, Laptop

Listen

Notes on the Work

These three separate songs are written specifically for and with vocalist Olga Bell. They are meant to stand as distinct songs, with different texts and emotion.

“Death the Barber” is a poem by William Carlos Williams that Olga chose to set over a germ of an idea that I had. I had originally pictured this as a very mechanical piece, starting from the image of a bass drum part consisting of nothing but 16th notes, a rhythm that would would then be grafted on to all instruments. But at the recommendation of Osvaldo and Dawn, I wrote the lyrical string parts. I also asked Brandon, the guitarist, to improvise more with the guitar part. I feel there is now enough of the mechanical parts to evoke the feeling I had originally intended, yet enough variation and shape to be evocative.

“Keaton” is a setting of an Elizabeth Bishop poem that Olga found referring to the genius physical comedian Buster Keaton. One thing that always strikes me about Keaton’s characters is that with each fall or setback, he gets up a stronger man. With that (perhaps too intense) reading of Keaton’s characters, I wanted to write a song with a relentless but soft quality that had several rising waves of musical energy. With this optimistic outlook, there is something very melancholy about Keaton, which, for me, Bishop’s words touch on perfectly.

As with “Death the Barber,” “Malleable Plans” was composed by sending sketches back and forth to Olga. I wanted to explore her mad looping skills, and write a brooding kind of dark groove that could serve as a verse and then yield to a much brighter chorus. At the first chorus, I had originally intended to have the ensemble clap some syncopated rhythms; but again, through the lens of Osvaldo and Dawn’s advice, I saw this as “just an idea,” rather than an idea that served the song.

—Jeremy Flower