Esteli Gomez, soprano, and Colin Davin, guitar - Sunday, June 10, 2018, at 7:30 p.m.

Estelí Gomez, soprano
Colin Davin, guitar
Cleveland Institute of Music, Mixon Hall
Sunday, June 10, 2018, at 7:30 p.m.


“Nomads by Nature”

Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
arr. Colin Davin

    L'Invitation au voyage

Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
arr. Davin

From Sechs Lieder, op. 13
    I.    Ich stand in dunklen Träumen
    IV.  Der Mond kommt still gegangen

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
arr. Davin

From Liederkreis, op. 39
    I.    In der Fremde
    V.   Mondnacht

Libby Larsen (b. 1950)

Three Rilke Songs

Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)

Siete canciones populares españolas
    I.    El paño moruno
    II.   Seguidilla murciana
    III.  Asturiana
    IV.  Jota
    V.   Nana
    VI.  Canción
    VII. Polo


Richard Beaudoin (b. 1975)

Three Moraga Songs (World Premiere)
    I.    On the highest point
    II.   Sensation
    III.  A view of three bridges

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

Songs from the Chinese, op. 58
    I.    The Big Chariot
    II.   The Old Lute
    III.  The Autumn Wind
    IV.  The Herd-Boy
   .V.   Depression
    VI.  Dance Song

Becca Stevens (b. 1984)

Three Songs (World Premiere)
    I.    For You the Night Is Still
    II.   I Am No Artist
    III.  Response to Criticism

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)

    Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5: “Ária”

Please silence all electronic devices, including cellular phones, watches, and pagers. Photography, video or audio recording are not permitted during this concert.


Marie Eugène Henri Fouques-Duparc (1848-1933) lived long but composed little. Severely self-critical, he tinkered endlessly on seventeen songs that were eventually published—it’s likely he destroyed many others. His entire compositional output is a mere fourty pieces. At age thirty-seven he fell into an obscure nervous disorder, diagnosed at the time as neurasthenia. (It was believed at the time this condition particularly afflicted Americans, hence it was often called “Americanitis.”) From that time, he ceased composing entirely.Fouques-Duparc's L’invitation au voyage is based on a Charles Baudelaire poem from an 1857 collection titled “Fleurs du Mal” (Flowers of Evil). So controversial was this collection that Baudelaire was brought to trial on charges of obscenity, fined 300 francs, and six of the collection’s poems were suppressed for “offending public morals.” Baudelaire's L’invitation au voyage, however, rose above the initial brouhaha, and later was set to music by other composers, including Emmanuel Chabrier. It also became the title of a 1927 silent film and another film in 1982 that won a Cannes Film Festival Award.

A virtuoso pianist, Clara Schumann (1819-1896) was a gifted musician who sadly accepted the gender discrimination of her time. “I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose—there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?” Nevertheless, she persisted, writing: “There is nothing greater than the joy of composing something oneself and then listening to it.” She composed almost 100 pieces, most of them songs and works for solo piano. Her Sechs Lieder, Op. 13 were a birthday gift to her husband. Johannes Brahms also admired them, and recently the American conductor John Axelrod proposed that her songs inspired certain passages in the the symphonies of Brahms.

Perhaps spurred by his adoration of young pianist Clara Wieck, Robert Schumann (1810-1856) in his youth ardently desired to become a virtuoso pianist. Under the stern tutelage of Clara’s father, Friedrich Wieck, Schumann labored mightily. His obsessive practicing became his undoing, as he permanently disabled his right hand and had to content himself with composing. He did, however, eventually win the heart of Clara, and they married in 1840, over the strenuous objection of her father. They were an outwardly odd couple—she a popular and renowned concert pianist, he a taciturn and shadowy presence. Yet Schumann was generous in his praise of composers he deemed worthy. The accolade he bestowed on Frédéric Chopin, “hats off, gentlemen, a genius,” is one of musical history’s most generous tributes from one composer to another. Schumann tended to compose in bursts of enthusiasm for a single genre. He wrote his Liederkreis, Op. 39 in 1840, sometimes called his “year of song,” as a joyous reflection of his marriage to Clara. It’s also an apt illustration of what might have been his artistic credo: “To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts—such is the destiny of the artist.”

American Elizabeth Brown “Libby” Larsen (b. 1950) chaffed against the 1950s regimentation of her childhood, once writing. “I’m thinking about what it was like to sit at the old fashioned desks that were nailed down in rows. Having to sit and fold your hands and be quiet. I remember sitting with my hands folded so that I didn’t get in trouble, and looking out the window—which I still do when I’m thinking. So I learned to go inside, so that my brain was active, but my body was acceptably quiet.” Later, after graduating from the University of Minnesota with a degree in music theory and composition in 1971, Larsen landed a secretarial job at the Travelers Insurance Company. (Quipped Larsen: “It’s about all you can do with a B. A. in music theory.”) She composed her first opera during coffee breaks at work. But Larsen’s industry eventually paid off. Today she’s one of the most prolific and successful composers of her generation. Her Three Rilke Songs appeared in 1980, composed for high voice and guitar. Song is a particular strength of Larsen’s. She explains her creative process thus: “Each poem I work with must be considered on its own terms. Great poetry already has its meticulously crafted music—strong and intact. I have a serious responsibility to work as diligently as I can to discover the music of the poem. If I complete my process of discovery, I open up to the meaning of the poem in an entirely different way, resulting in the poem directing the writing of its own unique and innate music.”

Spanish composer Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) received a request from a Greek singing teacher: what would be an appropriate musical accompaniment for some Greek folk melodies? Intrigued, Falla experimented with one of the Greek songs and found he could derive an accompaniment from the characteristics of the melody itself. Soon after he applied this technique to his 1914, Siete canciones populares Españolas. He premiered this song set the following year in Madrid with soprano Luisa Vela, with Falla himself as pianist. This much beloved set comprises seven folk melodies culled from all over Spain. The fifth song, “Nana,” has many versions, depending on the part of Spain in which it’s sung. Falla chose to set the version his mother sang to him when he was a child, the earliest of his musical memories.

American composer Richard Beaudoin (b. 1975) began his college studies at Amherst College, but soon withdrew and moved to London to study privately with Michael Finnissy. Ironically, it was there that he delved into American classical music. Beaudoin recalls: “When I went to England, I was stunned to learn that what interested English composers at the time (1996) was American music. They quoted me Charles Ives, and I was sometimes a little embarrassed by him, with the quotes of those catchy songs. And they said, ‘No, no, no, listen again,’ then the music of Morton Feldman—I admired it, but that’s quite—and they said, ‘No, no, no, listen again,’ or Cage, whose ideas were still very strong in England. I received an education about my country for the first time only when I left my country.” Beaudoin has taught composition at Amherst College, Harvard University, Brandeis University, the Royal Academy of Music in London, and is currently Lecturer in Music at Dartmouth College. For his Three Moraga Songs Beaudoin draws on the works of poet and essayist Cherríe Moraga. She is a founding member of the activist group La Red Xicana Indígena, fighting for education and culture rights. Writes Moraga: “The political writer, then, is the ultimate optimist, believing people are capable of change and using words as one way to try and penetrate the privatism of our lives.”

In 1956 English composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) visited the far east, where he encountered Balinese gamelan music and Japanese Noh theater. An immediate result was his Prince of the Pagodas ballet, composed that same year. A year later, he selected six Chinese poems translated by Arthur Waley for his song cycle, Songs from the Chinese. It was premiered by Peter Pears and Julian Bream at the Aldeburgh Festival on June 1958. Britten’s settings don’t explicitly mimic Chinese music. Rather, he seemed drawn to the terse simplicity of the poems. His interest was also likely autobiographical—Britten had entered his mid midfourties, and mortality increasingly weighed on him. So the poems he selected reflect this preoccupation. Referring to the poetry, translator Waley wrote: “...for thousands of years the Chinese maintained a level of rationality and tolerance that the West might well envy. They had no Inquisition, no Holy Wars. In the poems no close reasoning or philosophic subtlety will be discovered; but a power of candid reflection and self-analysis which has not been rivaled in the West.”

A decade ago New York Times writer Nate Chinen called Becca Stevens (b. 1984) “something of a best-kept secret, known mainly among her fellow musicians.” But the secret is out, and Downbeat Magazine tabbed her as a rising star in its 2017 critics poll. Born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Stevens comes from a musical family,writing: “Moments after I was born, my father serenaded me with an Irish fiddle tune.” She studied classical guitar at North Carolina School of the Arts, and then moved to New York to study at the New School Of Jazz and Contemporary music. She currently describes herself as a Brooklyn-based singer, composer, multi-instrumentalist and band leader, coming from influences that run the gamut of jazz, classical, pop, R&B, and world music. Once asked if there’s any kind of music she won’t do, she replied, “Bad music.” Her growing success, however, is tempered by a wariness about her precarious place in the music industry behemoth: “Picture a small fish in a huge, dangerously overpopulated, very expensive, polluted lake that gets eaten by sharks for being too similar or too different, and sometimes just for taking a late night swim in the dark, open water.”

Stevens has composed three songs for tonight’s artists. Of these songs, she writes:

“Jane Tyson Clement’s book of selected poems No One Can Stem the Tide first came into my life as a stocking stuffer from my father. From the moment I started reading her words, I had the urge to set them to music. Over the years of working with her text, I’ve come in contact with her relatives at Plough Publishing House—some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. They’ve been incredibly generous with Jane’s poetry, and welcomed me into their homes and shared stories about the poet I’ve come to admire so much. I’m pleased that three of my new settings of Jane’s poetry will be premiered by Colin and Estelí at the Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival. It’s been an honor for me to write for this incredible duo. These three poems speak to me very deeply about love, loss, and the quest for self-expression.”

Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) was an immensely prolific composer, writing over 2000 works. Had he written nothing else, however, he would still be remembered for his luminous Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5. It’s from a set of nine suites in eclectic instrumental settings. Composed between 1938 and 1945, it dates from a time when the composer’s reputation was at a low ebb—he was director of the Superintendência de Educação Musical e Artística under the dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas, and many of his fellow musicians considered Villa-Lobos a puppet of the regime. But the lyric beauty of Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 belies the controversial circumstances of its composition. Rather, it calls to mind something Villa-Lobos said of his art: “My music is natural, like a waterfall.”

— Tom Poore