Vanguard Premieres Composers - 2008
Jeffrey Cobb lives and works in Traverse City, Michigan. He holds an M.M. in Choral Conducting from Oakland University and a B.M. in Music Education from Western Michigan University. Jeffrey is a regularly commissioned composer and his pieces have won several awards including honors from the Ithaca Choir Composition Contest, the New York Virtuoso Singers Choral Composition Contest, and the Outside the Bachs International Choral Music Competition. His choral works are published through Walton Music and Roger Dean Publishing. Jeffrey often combines two of his favorite disciplines: teaching students about composition and improvisation while involving them in the process of composing during a commissioning project. His arrangements and original choral compositions are regularly performed by college ensembles, community choruses, and high school choirs throughout the United States, and in locales afar including Columbia, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, and Belarus. Jeffrey is also a sought after composer and arranger in other genres. His music can be heard on several television series, radio spots, and in television advertisements.
In addition to his work as a composer, Jeffrey is also a busy choral conductor; he is currently the Director of the Interlochen All-State Choir, the Cherry Capital Chorus, Music Director at Central United Methodist Church in Traverse City, and an active guest conductor and clinician. Jeffrey has held positions at Traverse City Central High School; Judson Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas; Parchment Schools in Parchment, Michigan; and the Leysin American School in Leysin, Switzerland. Choirs under his direction have toured throughout Michigan, Texas, New York, Salzburg, and Vienna and have been invited to perform at State and National Conferences including the Michigan Music Conference, the Michigan Youth Arts Festival, and the ACDA National Convention.
Observe the Wonders (Notes by the composer)
“Observe the wonders as they occur around you, do not claim them; Feel the artistry moving through, and be silent. This text, attributed to Rumi, is brief but powerful - it elicits many different images and emotions. My intention throughout the piece was to use the singers as colors on a canvas, painting clouds of wonder and inspiration. The text gradually reveals itself from the ethereal mist, then comes to the fore as the energy and intensity grow. Long pauses are included to dramatize the text “and be silent,” requiring the singer and the listener to be in the uncomfortable, and often unfamiliar, state of being truly silent. The singers are also asked to use other vocal techniques to create atmospheric effects or emphasize the text.
Michael Gilbertson, a native of Dubuque, Iowa, currently studies at The Juilliard School and Columbia University. His notable teachers have included Samuel Adler, John Corigliano, Robert X. Rodriguez, and Michel Merlet. Gilbertson’s works have been programmed by ensembles including The Juilliard Orchestra, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, the Dubuque Symphony, the Flint Symphony, the Rockford Symphony, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony, and the Galesburg Symphony.
Among his many commissioned works is a ballet, La Veuve Noire, which was premiered in February of 2005 at the Madison Contemporary Dance Festival. Gilbertson’s most recent commission, a flute Sonata for flutist Margaret Cornils, was premiered at Carnegie Hall on April 20, 2008. His engagements for the 2008-09 season include a commission from the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra to commemorate its 50th anniversary season, the premiere of a new work for chorus and orchestra for the Rockford Symphony, and a performance of his Oboe Concerto by the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra.
Gilbertson’s work has earned numerous awards and recognitions, including awards from ASCAP in 2006 and 2007, and a major scholarship from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. His newest orchestra work, titled Vigil, was named the recipient of the 2007-08 Palmer-Dixon Prize, awarded by the Juilliard composition faculty for the “most outstanding” work composed by a student during the year. His music has been heard on WQXR’s Young Artists’ Showcase, and a 2006 performance of his Hodie by the Anderson University Orchestra and Chorus was televised nationally on PBS stations and internationally on EWTN. Gilbertson’s orchestral pops works are published by Robert Wendel Music in New York.
Two Medieval Carols (Notes by the composer)
Two Medieval Carols is based on texts of unknown authorship dating from the late Middle Ages, which I adapted into modern English. “As is the Star,” a lyrical prayer to the Virgin Mary, begins the work with a hymn-like reverence in a largely a cappella setting. In contrast, “Make We Merry” is a joyous Christmas carol, the setting of which at times borders on a raucous drinking chantey. While the tunes to which these texts were originally sung have been lost to time, this contemporary setting attempts to capture the authors’ original intentions, as well as to reflect the unique poetic character of Middle English.
Dr. Jason Heald (1958), Chairman of the Fine and Performing Arts Department at Umpqua Community College, is an active composer, performer, educator, and clinician in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in composition from University of Oregon, a Master’s degree from University of Portland, and a Bachelor’s degree from Lewis and Clark College. Before arriving in Roseburg, he taught at Western Oregon University, Linfield College, and Mt. Hood Community College. Dr. Heald is a prolific composer, with works published by ChoralWeb, UNC Jazz Press, Sound Music Publishing, Plymouth Music, Northwestborough Music, and Call of the Wild Publishing. Recent premieres and commissions include performances by the Olympia Chamber Orchestra, Umpqua Chamber Orchestra, University of Portland Community Orchestra, Soundmoves, soprano Linda Larson, and the Tapestry String Quartet. Most recently, Dr. Heald received the 2008 Longfellow Chorus Award of Distinction in Choral Composition in Portland, Maine; Grand Prize at the 2006 Eventide Arts Songfest in Dennis, Massachusetts; and the Grand Prize at the 2004 Cascadian Choral Composition Competition in Seattle, Washington. He was also selected as a finalist in the 21st Annual Ithaca College of Music Choral Composition Competition, the Sacred Voice 2007 Art Song Competition, and has also been the recipient of several ASCAP Awards. In addition to his activities as a composer, Dr. Heald is an active conductor and clinician, and is currently conducting the Umpqua Chamber Orchestra, the Roseburg Concert Chorale, and the critically acclaimed vocal jazz ensemble, the Umpqua Singers.
The Bugle (Notes by the composer)
The poem “The Bugle” is from a larger work, The Princess, written by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892). The poem’s craggy alpine imagery paints much more than a picture for me. Having grown up in Alaska, I find that this poem evokes a vivid, sensual memory of sight, sound, smell, and touch that is incredibly personal. Truly, one can taste the mountain air as one experiences the text! Tennyson uses the wonder of nature to portray the nobleness of human life and to illustrate our ability to impact future generations.
David Madeira is a composer and percussionist based in Nashville, Tennessee, where he also teaches music theory and aural skills at Belmont University and Tennessee State University. His works have been performed by numerous ensembles in and outside of Nashville, including a nationwide PBS broadcast, and a recent commission was featured in a concert for new music at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC). He has had commissions from the Belmont University School of Music, the Department of Theater and Dance, the Belmont Percussion Ensemble, and the Nashville-based Actors Bridge Ensemble. He has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards at Belmont, and his Minus Nine for percussion and strings was named a Finalist for the 2008 ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Award. David holds a Master’s degree in Composition from Belmont University, where he also received his B.Mus. in Composition and Music Theory.
O Magnum Mysterium (Notes by the composer)
From the Latin matins, or morning prayers, of the Christmas season, the text of O Magnum Mysterium is a liturgical, responsorial prayer paying homage to the divine mystery of the incarnation of Christ. Many choral settings of this text have been done in the past; some of my favorites are by Poulenc and Lauridsen. Thus, it can be quite a challenge to set such an ancient text in a new way, trying to capture the feeling of the prayer in a way that is both musically appropriate and stylistically unique.
In my setting of this prayer, I wanted first and foremost to emphasize the “great mystery” of the Incarnation. In many other prayers and hymns this event is celebrated in jubilant praise and thanksgiving; in this text, however, the focus is more on the awe-inspiring otherworldliness of the event, and that is the mood I wanted to enhance in the composing of the music. I tried to make the music atmospheric, ethereal, non-traditional, and even haunting, while still conjuring more “human” elements reminiscent of the ancient Church. Atmospheric elements such as thick tone clusters and an overall tonal ambiguity are juxtaposed over passages in stepwise motion that are more chant-like in sound, reminiscent of plainchant and some Russian Orthodox chorales. The overall mood should evoke both the mystery of such a miraculous event as well as the beautiful simplicity of a baby lying in a manger, a musical depiction of the merging of the infinite and the finite, the human and the divine.
John Reeman was born in 1946 in the United Kingdom. After following a variety of occupations, including six years as a member of a professional cabaret vocal act, he entered Hull University as a mature student to study composition and the flute. He was awarded the annual music prize, an Honours degree, and later a Master’s degree in composition.
Reeman’s compositions are characteristically accessible, frequently combining extensive thematic development with dramatic contrasts of mood and colour. He has written a wide range of works for both amateur and professional musicians including short solo pieces for young players, various ensemble compositions, and music for brass bands, wind bands, string ensembles, choirs, and orchestras. A number of his works have won national and international awards, and many of his compositions have been published and recorded. His music is regularly performed throughout the United Kingdom and in venues abroad including Australia, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Sweden, and the United States.
The Peace of God (Notes by the composer)
The Peace of God was composed during 2007 and 2008 and underwent quite a few revisions before arriving at the final version. The text is a blessing from the Book of Common Prayer. The subdued and slightly mysterious mood of the first section gradually changes to a more confident statement of the first line of the text before returning to the initial hushed atmosphere of the opening music. The second part is more affirmative and moves toward a jubilant climax. The final “amen” recalls the opening mood but in addition there is now an air of calm assurance.
Christina Whitten Thomas’s music has been described as “intimate,” “uplifting,” and “an intoxicating blend of the sensual and the spiritual.” Having grown up in New England, her music is greatly influenced by the natural beauty and serenity of the Northeast. She also draws from the excitement of city life and the vibrant arts community of her current home in Los Angeles, California. Reflective of her life experiences, her compositions are an intricate fusion of the traditional and innovative, of the contemplative and dynamic.
Ms. Whitten Thomas received her Bachelor of Arts degree in music from Middlebury College in 2002 and her Master of Music degree in composition from the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music in 2005. She has studied with composers Su Lian Tan, Morten Lauridsen, Donald Crockett, and Erica Muhl. Her works have been performed and commissioned by such organizations as the Middlebury College Orchestra and Chamber Singers, the USC Thornton Symphony, the USC Chamber Singers, the Ann Arbor Cantata Singers, the First Baptist Church of Worcester, Massachusetts, and Voices of Ascension under the direction of Dennis Keene. As a finalist in the Sorel Organization’s composition competition, Ms. Whitten Thomas had her choral work Choral de Bêtes premiered by Voices of Ascension in the Sorel Medallion Winner’s Concert held at Carnegie Hall in October 2007. She was awarded third place. Earlier in 2007, her choral work Take Peace was featured as part of a memorial mass for Pope John Paul II at the Los Angeles Cathedral. She was a finalist for the 2006 National Association of Teachers of Singing Art Song Composition Award, winner of the 2005 USC New Music for Orchestra competition, and the recipient of a commission in 2006 for choir and organ by the First Baptist Church of Worcester to launch their annual competition for new sacred music. An activist in the promotion of new works by emerging composers, she frequently hosts salon performances featuring works by local composers. Most recently her new guitar suite Impressions of a Day was premiered by Elizabeth Busch at the West Side Salon (December 2007). In May of 2008, her new song cycle In the Garret, with text by Louisa May Alcott, was premiered by soprano Rebecca Sjöwall at UCLA.
In addition to her composition, Ms. Whitten Thomas is an active vocal performer. She has given many solo recitals and has toured with the Middlebury College Chamber Singers in London, Oxford, Paris, and throughout New England. In Los Angeles, she has sung with the Angeles Chorale, the USC Concert Choir, and the USC Choral Artists in collaboration with the LA Philharmonic. Ms. Whitten Thomas has recently collaborated with other Los Angeles based singers to perform a benefit concert featuring solos and ensemble pieces from the operatic repertoire. She is currently the alto soloist at Church of the Lighted Window in La Cañada and is in demand as a guest soloist and choral singer. When she is not composing or singing, she is teaching her piano, voice, and flute students or hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Snow Change (Notes by the composer)
In her poem Snow Change, Harriet Miller Hight captures the magical transformation of a cold, gray December night into a glorious winter morning. In a time of short days and dark nights, a snowfall brightens the land as well as our spirits, giving “new birth” to a frozen and lifeless world, symbolizing hope for the holiday season.
The piece opens, a cappella, in a contemplative mood. After the choir voices fade into the hushed nighttime air, the piano enters alone, as if to invoke the first few flakes of the oncoming gale. One by one the voices come in, swirling around each other, building in intensity, until they come together to announce the transformation of Earth from darkness to “dazzling white.”