On Saturday, November 12, in Rochester, NY, and Monday, November 14, at Lincoln Center, the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music Philharmonia Orchestra will present the world premiere performances of Letters from Georgia – a new song cycle by Kevin Puts. Puts, a Pulitzer Prize- winning alumnus of Eastman (BM ’94, DMA ’99), wrote the piece specifically for his alma mater’s Philharmonia and for world-renowned soprano Renée Fleming, a fellow Eastman alum (MM ’83 HNR ’11) and Distinguished Visiting Artist at the school. Inspired by letters written by artist Georgia O’Keeffe, the song cycle marks the first collaboration between Puts and Fleming.
Letters from Georgia headlines a program which also includes Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5. The performance is part of the Eastman School of Music’s “Eastman Presents” series of concerts.
Letters from Georgia is Puts’ third vocal work, and is based on letters from artist Georgia O’Keeffe to her eventual husband, photographer and art promoter Alfred Stieglitz, and to artist and suffragette Anita Pollitzer. “Renée and I were looking for a significant historical figure who was an American woman. I happened on a couple of quotes of Georgia O’Keeffe and upon further exploration found she had written hundreds of letters mainly to these two people,” says Puts. “I found that her letters reveal aspects of her personality one doesn’t necessarily associate with her. She could be stoic and aloof but her letters also revealed great passion and longing, self-deprecating humor, and also often great sadness.”
“Being a part of this world premiere at Eastman is exciting for so many reasons,” says Renée Fleming. “Nurturing the creation of new music has always been a priority for me, as the lifeblood of what we do; and I love that Eastman remains at the forefront of that endeavor. I believe we especially need new concert repertoire for singers with orchestra. With Letters from Georgia, Kevin Puts has composed a beautiful, major work. I’m convinced it will join the standard repertoire, and it will show people a little-known side of an iconic American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe.”
“My years at Eastman were among the most magical and profoundly formative in my life,” says Puts. “As a freshman in the class of Samuel Adler, I never dreamed I would one day be commissioned by the school to write a piece for the world’s most famous opera singer. I see it as yet another door opened by the unparalleled training I received at 26 Gibbs Street and by the belief therein in what I could one day accomplish.”
Letters from Georgia headlines a program which also includes Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5.
The new commission by Kevin Puts is co-sponsored by Mr. Joseph and Mrs. Bette Hirsch of Palo Alto, California and the Howard Hanson Institute for American Music. Hanson founded the Eastman Philharmonia in 1958 when the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer was Director of the Eastman School. Mrs. Hirsch is a University of Rochester graduate of the class of 1964.