The work of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Louise Gluck has inspired award-winning composer John Harbison throughout his career. He used some of her texts in his fifth symphony written in 2007 and in his vocal chamber piece “The Seven Ages,” which was composed in 2008. Harbison’s latest work “Crossroads” is set to poems from Gluck’s book “A Village Life.”
“The poems are about the passage of time,” said Harbison by phone from Massachusetts. “In all of her work there’s a certain sense of being alone in the world.”
Written for a string quartet, bass and mezzo-soprano, “Crossroads” is a commission from more than 10 musical organizations including Serenata of Santa Fe. Next Sunday Serenata of Santa Fe premieres “Crossroads” during its “No Stone Unturned” concert. Krista River is the mezzo-soprano soloist.
“The piece is set to three texts in three movements, with a short prelude before each movement,” said Harbison. “Most of the instruments have a supporting role but the oboe is sort of an equal soloist throughout the work. The oboe plays some music related to the singer and introduces some music itself.”
Harbison had planned to be in Santa Fe for the performance, but an unforeseen schedule change required him to cancel the trip. A MacArthur Fellowship winner and a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who was honored in 1987 for his piece “The Flight Into Egypt,” Harbison teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is in demand as a composer. His music written for the voice encompasses a catalog of more than 70 works including opera, choral, voice with orchestra and chamber/solo works.
Serenata of Santa Fe’s program also features Theme and Variations for violin & piano by Oliver Messiaen and Two Songs, Op. 91 by Johannes Brahms, which will be performed by River. A resident of Boston who won the 2004 Concert Artists Guild International Competition, River began her musical career as a cellist, earning her degree at St. Olaf College. She is a strong advocate of contemporary music and has given premieres of new works by many composers including Tom Cipullo, Howard Frazin, Thomas Schnauber and Herschel Garfein.
“Morango … Almost a Tango” is the second work on the program by a living composer. It was written in 1983 for the Kronos String Quartet by Thomas Oboe Lee, a professor at Boston College who was born in Beijing and emigrated to the United States in 1966. Lee has won two Guggenheim and two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and has more than 150 works to his name.
Performing on stage with River are oboist Pamela Epple, violinists L.P. How and Sarah Tasker, violist Christof Huebner, cellist Sally Guenther, double bassist Patrick Neher and pianist Debra Ayers.