Wednesday, October 8, 2008

CONCORA Explores an American Voice: Emily Dickinson and "Wild Nights"

For CONCORA’s 2008-2009 season opener, “American Voices,” Artistic Director Richard Coffey has programmed two recent settings — beautiful in their contrasts — of verses by American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). Of special interest are two settings — “very different, and equally persuasive,” according to Maestro Coffey — of Wild Nights!, which has rightly become one of Dickinson’s most celebrated works.

We often picture Emily Dickinson as a shy and solitary girl, a reclusive woman, a lonely invisibility in an upstairs bedroom. Though she never married, there is much evidence that Emily Dickinson sustained close relationships with a few men and women, both through correspondence and in their visits to her Amherst home. Certainly her poetry is warm with passion and longing; in some instances, it flares with unbridled ecstasy. Such is the case in Wild Nights!

Wild Nights! — Wild Nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile — the Winds —
To a Heart in port —
Done with the Compass —
Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden —
Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor — Tonight —
In Thee!

An image of Dickinson's manuscript for Wild Nights! is shown at left.

Pittsburgh-based award-winning composer Nancy Galbraith, described as “one of the present era’s most original and dynamic composers,” has created an immediate and compelling setting which climbs steadily, wave on wave, until “The sea! Ah! the sea!” bursts ecstatically upon us, subsides, then rushes into port in a tremendous surge of sound. (This setting is part of Galbraith’s Two Emily Dickinson Songs, which was commissioned by the Providence Singers for CONCORA, and was premiered by CONCORA at the NEA American Masterpieces Choral Festival in Providence, Rhode Island, on March 4, 2007.)

Emily Dickinson’s surprising love poems inspired New England composer Gwyneth Walker to pen A Heart in Hiding, her interpretation of six of “the passionate love poems of Emily Dickinson.” The use of a solo voice brings immediacy and intimacy to these settings, while an expansive and expressive piano part adds color and texture. Walker has provided wonderful music for the piano, making the pianist an equal partner with soloist and chorus, far beyond an accompanying role. As the various textures and colors emerge in the piano, and as they are carried from movement to movement, they introduce an extra-textual element to express what is beyond, and implied by, the words. The glissando at the close of the first movement, the rippling figures in several of the movements, and the ecstatic tremolos at the opening of Wild Nights! bring to the ear the sensuality that permeates these texts. Among the many remarkable moments, the breathless, spent ending of Wild Nights! is just wonderful. This evening marks the second Connecticut performance of A Heart in Hiding; the Connecticut premiere was given in July 2008 by the choir of the CONCORA 2008 Summer Festival, with Richard Coffey conducting and Dr. Walker in attendance. Dr. Walker is a long-time friend of CONCORA and a member of CONCORA’s Honorary Board of Directors.

The concert includes settings of several other Dickinson verses, as well as words and music by other much-loved American voices — Alice Parker, Langston Hughes, Edgar Allen Poe, William Billings, Emma Lou Diemer, Herman Melville — as represented in hymns, spirituals and folk songs.
“American Voices” will be offered on Sunday, October 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the First Church of Christ, New Britain, Connecticut. (click here for directions) Discounted “early bird” tickets for this concert, and for the entire CONCORA season, are available until October 15, 2008. Season subscriptions and individual tickets are available now at, or by calling (860) 224-7500.

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