THE ART OF ENGAGED SONG

Tiffany DuMouchelle : a recital of contemporary art songs that speak to the moment

BY JAN JEZIORO

On Sunday February 26th at 3pm soprano Tiffany DuMouchelle will offer a program of songs by contemporary American composers in Baird Recital Hall on the UB Amherst Campus. MS DuMouchelle, a UB Department of Music faculty member, will be joined by Kyle Adam Blair, piano, in a recital of songs by George Crumb, Joseph Schwantner and William Harvey.

When asked about the genesis of her program for this recital, Tiffany had this to say: “I’m a creator. I’m a communicator. I realized at some point years ago, that as a singer, I have a unique opportunity to be heard by others. As an artist, I choose my medium. While I enjoy many varieties of music, I am drawn to pieces that carry a message, that challenge our conception of life and those that celebrate positive change. I have been greatly frustrated by the present state of events in our country and the great division we’re facing as a nation. The pieces I have chosen for this program are songs of inspiration to me”.

Composer George Crumb (b. 1929) was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1968 for his orchestral work Echoes of Time and the River, and while his very original compositions enjoyed widespread popularity during the 1960’s and 1970’s, his status slipped somewhat during the subsequent rise of minimalism and post-minimalism.

“Soprano Jan DeGaetani and Gil Kalish, after having worked with George Crumb on multiple collaborations, including his much-performed vocal work ‘Ancient Voices of Children’ requested that he compose a ‘traditional’ song cycle, for voice and piano” says Tiffany. “What is fabulous about ‘Apparition’, is that while Crumb indeed writes a song cycle based on texts by Walt Whitman for voice and piano, he expands the range and experience of such a genre. ‘Apparition’ alternates between traditional techniques and extended techniques for both the piano and voice. All the compositions in this program are contemporary song cycles for soprano and piano, written by American composers. What I appreciate most about this cycle is how it explores multiple perspectives of a single moment in time. Beginning and ending with a ‘macro’ view of the world, with images of stars and ocean, it then shifts to a ‘micro’ view, moving through the senses with birdsongs and flowers. It is a sonic expression of mourning and healing, and is a celebration of life and the immense beauty of the natural world”.

“I chose Joseph Schwantner’s (b. 1943) ‘Two Poems of Agueda Pizarro’ for this program in a way as homage to my musical roots. I first came across these songs in my first year in undergraduate studies. Dawn Upshaw had recorded the second song, ‘Black Anemones’, and I quickly fell in love with the luscious harmonies, flowing melodic line, and stunning imagery. Later, I learned that these songs were originally composed for Lucy Shelton, who became one of my mentors in NYC and is now a close friend. Schwantner orchestrated these two poems with two others in a larger work for voice and orchestra titled, ‘Magabunda’. I performed the orchestrated version of these songs in my Lincoln Center Debut in 2006. They’ve continued to be a consistent part of my repertoire. To me, the poetry represents feminine creativity and coming into one’s own, which is why I’ve paired the songs with ‘Speaking for the Afghan Woman’ by William Harvey.”

“I’ve known William Harvey for many years, through our work together in his NPO, Cultures in Harmony”, says Tiffany. “Through Cultures in Harmony and our projects in Africa and Papua New Guinea, my perspective on the importance of music has changed. When we were in Egypt, we collaborated with a local rotary club in writing compositions with a group of young girls. I was having a difficult time with my group, trying to get them to come up with a topic for the song we were writing together. My collaborator explained to me that it was the first time that most of these girls had ever been asked what they liked. Girls were not given that importance there. I realized at that moment, that I was in a unique position as a woman and a singer. My job entitles me to the attention of others. Many women throughout the world, and even in our own country, are greatly oppressed. Their voices too often go unheard.  As soon as William told me about the song cycle, I knew it was a work of great importance. William is a fabulous composer, with a strong knowledge of Afghan culture and music, having lived in Kabul and taught at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (the first music school that opened after the Taliban’s ban on music was lifted).  In this cycle, he contrasts folk poetry and Afghan musical influences with contemporary issues affecting women in Afghanistan. I find it an incredibly powerful reminder of how lucky we are to have the many freedoms that have been established in our country, and how important it is to preserve them”.

“I met pianist Kyle Adam Blair when I was finishing my doctorate at University of California, San Diego”, says Tiffany. “We realized that we both have a passion for American composers and quickly found many opportunities to work together. In 2014, we performed at Songfest, a Los Angeles art song festival, as new music fellows. This is our first time performing together since I moved to Buffalo – it’s very exciting to return to old musical friends”!

Tickets: $15/10 seniors, students; free for UB students. Information: www.slee.buffalo.edu

Buy George Crumb’s works on Amazon

Buy Joseph Schwantner’s ‘Two Poems of Agueda Pizarro’ on Amazon