Of the three contemporary works on Serenata of Santa Fe’s Friday night program, Kelvin McNeal’s Songs for soprano, oboe, cello and piano is the only one that features a vocalist.
McNeal, a Santa Fe-based freelance music director, conductor, coach and accompanist, wrote this piece with Serenata of Santa Fe’s musicians in mind, including soprano Gail Springer.
“I’ve done a lot of work with Gail in past years, although I haven’t worked with her for about three years,” said McNeal. “Gail knows so much about the voice. I’ve written a number of pieces that she has sung, and she’s always given me good feedback about them.”
McNeal drew his text from poems written by his wife’s former college classmate Loren Crawford.
“I read some of her poems on Facebook,” McNeal explained. “I contacted her and asked her to send me quite a few of them. What I like about her work is that she has a strong voice and sense of herself. She writes with humor and wit, which I like very much. Her style is quite personal.”
At least three songs composed to Crawford’s poetry are performed by Springer, oboist Pamela Epple, cellist Sally Guenther and McNeal at the piano. The first poem, “Rainy Day,” is about what it might be like to be a postmistress at a small post office. “Remembering Mike Mullins” is a tribute to a good friend of Crawford who recently died. “For Elizabeth” honors one of Crawford’s dearest friends.
“A lot, but not all of the music in this work, has seven beats to the measure so it can be quite slippery to play,” said McNeal. “There’s a lot of room (for the instrumentalists) to fool around with the beats. This creates a swirling effect that feeds off the text.”
Ron Strauss’ piece Four Dances-Septet for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and piano also is on the program. Strauss, who grew up in Oregon pounding on his neighbor’s piano until his parents finally bought him a piano of his own, was trained in theater at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and in composition and piano at the Philadelphia Musical Academy.
He serves as part-time music director, vocal coach, accompanist and instructor at Santa Fe University of Art and Design.
The program’s third work is 26.2 for violin, viola, cello and horn by composer and violist Kenji Bunch, a graduate of The Juilliard School.