ROCHESTER, NY — When Eastman School of Music Dean James Undercofler asked acclaimed composer and alumnus Dominick Argento (PhD ’58) to write a piece for the October 2004 centennial celebration of the School’s famed Sibley Music Library, it was clearly a match made in heaven. Considered America’s pre-eminent composer of lyric opera, the Pulitzer- and Grammy-winning Argento — so at home with words and music — reflected on his student days spent at Sibley perusing musical scores, but also indulging his other great love of literature.
The result, almost half a century later, is his Four Seascapes for chorus and orchestra ― a work commissioned by the School’s Hanson Institute for American Music, with texts by some of the greatest American literary figures: Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Henry James, and Thornton Wilder.
“It seemed appropriate, in this work honoring the Library’s 100th anniversary, that its music be indebted to some of the writers I was avidly enjoying during those student years,” relates Argento. “And since bodies of water hold a fascination for me, I selected passages from four of my favorite authors dealing with ocean, sea, lake, and river, ending up with a work somewhat like Vaughn Williams’ Sea Symphony ― only on a much more modest scale.”
The world premiere of Argento’s Four Seascapes will take place at 8 p.m., Saturday, October 16, 2004, in Eastman Theatre (60 Gibbs Street). The concert will be among the first few performances on the newly renovated Eastman Theatre stage (to be completed in early October).
For the text, Argento employed direct usage of specific pieces of writing for each “seascape” movement, as he describes in his program notes: The Pacific (opening movement), is from Melville’s renowned Moby Dick, in which the author expounds on the ocean’s eternal restlessness. The Mediterranean (slow movement) quotes from the opening chapter of Thornton Wilder’s poetic meditation on the ancient sea in The Woman of Andros. Lake Como (Scherzo movement) is from Italian Hours by Henry James “in a rare, playful mood” quips Argento, “as James compares the fulsome prettiness of Lake Como to the overwrought scenery of an opera stage set.” The Mississippi (Finale) employs Mark Twain’s quintessential Life on the Mississippi, in which Twain “paints this highly evocative and unforgettable picture of a small Southern town on the banks of the Mississippi with the simplest of strokes.”
Eastman Choral Director William Weinert will lead the combined forces of the Eastman-Rochester Chorus, the Eastman Chorale, and the Eastman Philharmonia, the School’s preeminent orchestra, in the performance. “It is truly a privilege to conduct the premiere of a major work by America’s most accomplished composer of music for voices,” he said. “Argento’s care and skill in setting texts is unique, and in Four Seascapes it is hard to imagine any other music capturing the spirit of these texts so perfectly.”
The free concert also will feature the Philharmonia, conducted by Neil Varon, performing Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5. In addition to marking the Sibley centennial, the School will use this concert (which is part of Eastman’s Alumni Weekend 2004) to formally recognize the 150 th anniversary year of its founder, George Eastman.
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About the Sibley Music Library
Founded in 1904 by Hiram Watson Sibley, the Sibley Music Library at the Eastman School of Music is the largest and most comprehensive academic music library in the Americas. With holdings of nearly three-quarters of a million items, the Library offers vast resources for performance and research, and regularly draws musical scholars, performers, and enthusiasts from all over the world as well as from the Rochester community. The Ruth T. Watanabe Special Collections has more than 150,000 rare items and archival collections, including composer manuscripts such as Debussy’s La Mer and Kurt Weill’s Dreigroschenoper, many first and early editions of the works of the great composers, letters to and from prominent musicians and composers, photographs, and iconographic materials. The Eastman Audio Archive preserves recordings of Eastman performances dating back to 1930.
The Sibley centennial will be celebrated over two weekends, the second of which runs concurrently with the New York State/Ontario Chapter meeting of the Music Library Association. Numerous guest lectures, tours, and papers will be presented.
Note to reporters and editors: More details about the re-opening of Eastman Theatre and Eastman’s Alumni Weekend 2004 will be forthcoming in September.