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Vox Femina 2013 v1 crPROGRAM

Sequentia de Maximo – Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)

Hymn to St. Cecilia Op. 27 – Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

Prayer of Eleanor Roosevelt – Timothy Hagy (b. 1958)

Night Flight* – Cecilia McDowall (b. 1951)

  1. New Moon
  2. Crow, Landing
  3. Before Dawn

Song of the Anasazi: Soft Footfalls – Anne Kilstofte (b. 1954)

Todo o meu Ser* – Joan Szymko (b. 1957)
Despertar al Amor – Joan Szymko

Prayer – René Clausen (b. 1953)

Gentle Annie – Stephen Foster, arr. Eliot
Oh Susannna – Stephen Foster, arr. Eliot

*World premieres

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Vox Femina (The Female Voice) celebrates Women’s History Month with tributes to historical female icons like Eleanor Roosevelt and Mother Teresa while also highlighting music written by female composers both medieval and modern.

Sequentia de Maximo – Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)

One of the most influential, respected, and versatile women of the Middle Ages was the 12th-century Benedictine scholar and abbess Hildegard of Bingen, known as the “Sybil of the Rhine” for her wisdom, and self-described as “a feather on the breath of God” (“the feather flew,” she wrote, “not because of anything in itself but because the air bore it along”). It’s now believed that her intense lifelong visions may have been a result of migraines, but they resulted in deeply mystical musical compositions and theological writings, as well as texts on natural history and organic cures.

Hildegard’s richly metaphorical “Columba aspexit” from the Sequence of Saint Maximinus paints images of the Holy Spirit as a dove and God’s love as the blazing heat of the sun as Maximinus celebrates Mass, using material from Ecclesiasticus 50:1-26. The work was transcribed and edited by Pozzi Escot, herself a composer and editor-in-chief of the music journal Sonus, as well as a professor at New England Conservatory and president of the International Society of Hildegard von Bingen Studies.

Hymn to St. Cecilia Op. 27 – Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

Well known for his unique treatment of the human voice in operas like Peter Grimes, Billy Budd, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Rape of Lucretia, Benjamin Britten was born in 1913 on the feast day of Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians. With an affinity for sports and music alike, Britten had written 100 works by the age of 14, when he began lessons with Frank Bridge.

After visiting Canada and America from 1939 to 1942 with his partner Peter Pears, Britten returned to England, writing A Ceremony of Carols and his Hymn to St. Cecilia during the trip home. Other compositions in Cecilia’s honor have come from Henry Purcell, George Friedrich Handel, Hubert Parry, William Boyce, and Gerald Finzi.

Britten’s Hymn used text by his close friend, the poet W.H. Auden, and the work was dedicated to Pears’s friend and their mutual supporter, the motherly translator and editor Elizabeth Mayer. It begins with the marking “quietly flowing; smooth and very sweetly,” and each verse ends with an appeal for Cecilia’s inspiration.

Prayer of Eleanor Roosevelt – Timothy Hagy (b. 1958)

Beginning in December 1935 and continuing through September 1962, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a syndicated column titled “My Day,” offering a personal glimpse into her life six days a week. It appeared in 90 papers across America, giving her an audience of more than four million readers.

Roosevelt’s entry for Tuesday, March 6, 1940 included an account of her morning press conference regarding the minimum wage law, followed by a service at St. John’s (Episcopal) Church on Lafayette Square. There, she wrote, “one prayer…made a deep impression on me. I did not happen to know this prayer before, and I think it is one which many of us would be glad to say many times.” Timothy Hagy set the prayer to music in 2010 for an anniversary celebration at St. Thomas’s Parish in Washington, DC, where he is currently director of music and organist, and where the Roosevelts were longtime members. Hagy graduated with honors from the Eastman School of Music before receiving a Fulbright scholarship to study at Vienna Conservatory of Music. He previously served as director of music at the Cathedral of St. John in Providence, Rhode Island before teaching at the Université de Cergy-Pontoise in Paris.

Night Flight – Cecilia McDowall (b. 1951)

New Moon

Crow, landing

Before Dawn

The award-winning London-born composer Cecilia McDowall wrote Night Flight for the Consort Cordial of the Musique Cordiale Festival in the south of France. It was first performed on August 14, 2012 in Var’s Seillans Church, but receives its American premiere performance here in Phoenix.

The song trilogy was inspired by the 11-month flying career of American aviatrix Harriet Quimby, the first female pilot to fly across the English Channel in 1912. McDowall created evocative settings of text by British poet Sheila Bryer, beginning with “New Moon,” which matches rests and syncopation to the verse “You can be thrown, thrown, thrown off balance here…” before sketching a chilly shoreline. “Crow, landing” suggests a bird’s-eye view of the sea, while “Before Dawn” offers vivid images of nature.

Song of the Anasazi: Soft Footfalls – Anne Kilstofte (b. 1954)

Arizona-born and -based composer Anne Kilstofte has received honors from the American Composers Forum, the Fulbright Foundation, and the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). Kilstofte served as composer-in-residence and assistant professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, also teaching in Estonia and Germany before moving to Surprise. As an advocate for female composers, she served as president of the International Alliance for Women in Music and coordinator of the Beijing Congress for Women in Music. Kilstofte’s works include settings of verse by Carl Sandburg, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Anne Boleyn, Rainier Maria Rilke and Charlotte Mew, as well as carols, string quartets, a Requiem for Still Voices, and “Bluegrass Hallelujah” using the text from Handel’s “Hallelujah” Chorus.

Poet, translator, and children’s author Kevin Crossley-Holland has collaborated with composers including Nicola Lefanu, Sir Arthur Bliss, and Stephen Paulus. He serves as president of Britain’s School Library Association and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Crossley-Holland’s text and Kilstofte’s music in “Song of the Anasazi: Soft Footfalls” are “an elegy to the spirit of the rock and the people who lived [in the Southwest] in the form of a sound sculpture,” writes the composer. Kilstofte continues:

The piece begins as if one were merely walking up to this formation, and, as one moves closer, begins to hear a song that is always present. The music is constructed to sound like the water falling and dripping, over and over, and the footsteps taken, over and over. The chromatic twists and undulating ostinato symbolize the continuous footsteps which created these grooves, and the passage of water, running, flowing, and enhancing these grooves. Upon leaving it is much the same. The piece does not end so much as one merely walks away from it, out of earshot.

This work, which begins “almost whispered,” ends with only one soloist left singing each part and dying away in a decrescendo. It was commissioned by The Dale Warland Singers and premiered in 1995.

Todo o meu Ser – Joan Szymko (b. 1957)
Despertar al Amor

American composer-conductor Joan Szymko was born in Chicago in 1957 and studied choral conducting and music education at the University of Illinois, later leading Oregon’s Aurora Chorus and founding Viriditas Vocal Ensemble. Szymko won a prestigious commission from the American Choral Directors Association, and is resident composer for Do Jump! Movement Theater.

Szymko composed “Todo o meu Ser (All of my being [is a song])” in January 2009, while she was a Fellow at a creative residency program called Instituto Sacatar on the Island of Itaparica in Bahia, Brazil. She adapted verse translated to Portuguese by Isabel Ferrand but originally attributed to a Netsilik Inuit (Netsilingmiut) angakkuq or shaman, Orpingalik, who lived in the early 1900s:

I can’t tell you how many songs I sing —

All of my being is a song and

I sing as I draw breath.

The Chorale performs this song’s world premiere.

Szymko drew inspiration and adapted text from several sources for “Despertar al Amor (Awaken to Love),” which she composed in 2012 for the Cantabile Women’s Chorus of Kingston, Ontario and director Mark Sirett. First Szymko translated a traditional quote from the Buddha to Spanish (“Before you walk, before you can travel the path, you must become the path itself”). Next, she added a traditional greeting and response spoken by travelers on the Camino de Santiago de Compestela, a pilgrimage route to a Spanish cathedral used since medieval times (“We go beyond! We go upward!”). Szymko also visited the writing of 16th-century Spanish mystic and Carmelite nun Teresa of Ávila, excerpting from her 1577 spiritual guide El Castillo Interior — Las Moradas (The Interior Castle or The Mansions): “And the thing is not to think too much, but to love much; and thus, do what most awakens you to love.”

Prayer – René Clausen (b. 1953)

The Albanian nun known as Mother Teresa was born in 1910 and left home at the age of 18, spending the rest of her life serving the poor in India and nurturing an international Catholic and interfaith network of missionaries and charity workers. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and died in 1997.

Born in 1953, composer-conductor René Clausen has led The Concordia Choir of Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota since 1986. Clausen adapted Mother Teresa’s words in 2009 and set them as “Prayer,” which he composed for the Yale Alumni Chorus Foundation and director Jeffrey Douma.

Gentle Annie – Stephen Foster, arr. Eliot
Oh Susanna

Stephen Foster’s music found great popularity during his short lifetime — in fact, he was the first American to earn his living strictly by selling his compositions to the public. Born in Pennsylvania in 1826, Foster taught himself flute, clarinet, violin, piano, and guitar as well as composition, with plenty of influence from Irish, Scottish, and continental European song styles. He began composing at the age of 14 and was first published at 18. Although he worked for a while as a bookkeeper, Foster loved to write dances, minstrel songs, and ballads. He also created Sunday School hymns, leaving behind a total of 287 works as well as numerous unfinished pieces when he died in 1864, impoverished from loans and debt. In 1940, Foster was the first musician elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.

Foster’s “Gentle Annie” was written in 1856; this setting by Dennis Eliot dates from 1983. It’s a poignant song of mourning and grief, drawing on Foster’s frequent sentimental themes of longing and love.

The polka-song “Susanna (Oh! Susanna)” was an instant hit even before Foster published it in 1848. Here arranged by John D. Miller, the tune became indelibly associated with the ’49ers of the California Gold Rush and the westward-bound wagon trains of the pioneers.