PHOTO CAPTION: Edna St. Vincent Millay received a Pulitzer Prize for her poetry in 1923. She wrote for 4 hours each day, recording her thoughts, desires and loves – found loves, lost loves, even historical loves. Inspired by Millay’s writing, award winning composer Sheila Silver has put together Beauty Intolerable – A Songbook. The world premiere of these 15 songs will take place on Saturday, June 8th at 6:00 pm at the First Presbyterian Church, Warren and Fourth Streets, Hudson, NY. For tickets, contact www.ClaverackLanding.org.
Powerful Poetry. Powerful Music.
HUDSON – For 38 years, Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose middle name is in tribute to the hospital that saved her uncle’s life shortly before her birth, wrote poetry every day – from light hearted, playful sonnets to ponderous, heart-wrenching verse. She was popular, too. Before the invention of television, the American public could hear her reading her work over radio broadcasts. And she is known to have sold out The Hollywood Bowl during a national tour.
Her popularity came about, in part, because her writing was accessible. Scholars were overwhelmed with ancient Greek poetry and eager, during the early Twentieth Century, to let loose and live a simpler life. Much of Millay’s work reflected that new lifestyle. It could also be fun.
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light!
But it was the innate power of her writing that attracted composer Sheila Silver. From her first introduction to the poems by a student in a music composition class she taught at Stony Brook, Silver recognized a strength that appealed to her.
Then, a year or two ago, Silver decided to honor a retiring mezzo soprano by writing a couple songs in her honor. Millay’s works seemed perfect for the gig and she selected three of her “most happy and playful” poems. The resulting songs were so well-received that it set her on a course that has resulted in the WORLD PREMIERE of Beauty Intolerable – A Songbook set to take place on Saturday, June 8th at the First Presbyterian Church, Warren and Fourth Streets in Hudson. The performance, the final by ClaverackLanding, will begin at 6pm. Tickets for this premiere include general admission at $30.00, student entrance for $15.00, $50.00 reserved seating with Artist’s Reception, and $150.00 including all the above along with a Private Tour of Millay’s residence, Steepletop in nearby Austerlitz. Go to www.ClaverackLanding.org for reservations.
Three exceptional voices were selected to bring Silver’s work to life. Lauren Flanigan, a soprano who has sung with the New York City Opera almost every year since 1990. Opera News says, “Modern composers love her because of her innate musicality, dramatic power and lightning-fast skills and instincts.” Deanne Meek, mezzo-soprano with a voice that “is smooth and velvety with a touch of resin in the tone.” (Opera Magazine). And, finally, Risa Renae Harman, a soprano widely acclaimed for her technical virtuosity and communication skills as an artist.
The three exceptional singers will be joined by Tyne Daly who will recite the poems prior to the performance of the songs. Ms. Daly, the recipient of six Emmy Awards, is best known to the public for her television work on Cagney & Lacy. Less well-known is her interest in Millay. She currently sits on the Board of the Millay Society – an organization dedicated to illuminating the life and writings of Millay and preserving the character of her home, Steepletop.
“I like the idea of having different voices sing Edna’s work,” says Silver. “I created different sets for the different qualities of the singers. And I purposely only let the voices come together at the outset and the conclusion. Both times they sing a round using the same poem, First Fig, but I’ve written a different melody depending on whether the evening is starting out, or ending.
The composer says she had a hard time stopping. “If I had had another six months, I probably would have written another ten songs.” But finally, she selected what was, to her, the most difficult poem, What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, set it to music and stopped. “It was so complete, says Silver, I didn’t feel like I needed to do any more.”
A similar thought process is going on in the head of ClaverackLanding’s founder, Gwen Gould. After years of bringing music to the residents of Columbia County and the Hudson Valley, the classical music aficionado has decided to change her focus. “I heartily thank everyone who has supported ClaverackLanding and Columbia Festival Orchestra and my other musical endeavors since 1988,” she says. “And, thanks to all those who have attended our diverse programs from full orchestra, to fully staged opera to intimate chamber music to tango and ragtime band! It has been a joyful journey! I am about to enact a plan for my next 25 years, which hopefully, like Millay, will include four hours each day dedicated to writing poetry instead of grant proposals! I am spurred on by the fact that Sheila has set one of my poems to music, which, by the way, was a total surprise and a great gift!”
Beauty Intolerable – A songbook with music by Sheila Silver, takes place on Saturday, June 8th at 6pm. The performance will be at the First Presbyterian Church, Warren and 4th streets, Hudson, NY 12534. Tickets, including general admission, a reduced price student admission and special ticket packages, are available at www.ClaverackLanding.org.
Concerts and education programs of ClaverackLanding: Great Music in Great Spaces, are supported in part by Herrington’s, Hudson River Bank & Trust Company foundation, T.Backer Fund, JSL Computer Services, and many generous individuals and business sponsors.