As great writers are also great readers, great performers are also artful listeners, and Persimmon Tree’s Music Editor is no exception, finding inspiration in the compositions and performances of others—most especially of other women musicians. For this issue, Gena has chosen to highlight three such performances (follow the links provided to listen to each one). And she includes, below, notes about each performance.
To hear another performance—this one by Gena, herself—please visit the Short Takes section of this issue.
In 1990, Jessye Norman, a dramatic soprano and mezzo-soprano, and Kathleen Battle, a lyric soprano, came together to sing spirituals at Carnegie Hall. Norman, who spent her career singing major operatic roles, has a rich and heavy voice. Battle, whose voice is higher and lighter, has performed mostly on the concert stage, while continuing to sing spirituals in her local church. Battle was dismissed from the Metropolitan Opera and was known to be difficult to work with. But in this concert the joy they had singing together is palpable and moving.
“There Is a Balm in Gilead” is a traditional African American spiritual whose origins can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century. The title is taken from the Old Testament’s Book of Jeremiah, in which exiled Jews seek hope in the midst of hopelessness—a quest also embraced by enslaved people in the pre-Civil War United States.
Black Eyed Susan, tapestry by Helen Fitzgerald
Born in Beijing and an alumna of the Curtis Institute of Music, Ms. Wang is known for wearing the skimpiest outfits on every stage she graces. She recently made history performing all four Rachmaninoff Concerti, plus his “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” at Carnegie Hall, something no one else has done. During that marathon performance, she changed outfits for each concerto (and the New York Times featured photos of each). Once Ms. Wang begins to play, however, she means business, and all is serious.
In the performance I’ve chosen, the voicing and color of each phrase is dazzling. While the right hand is performing difficult pianistic pirouettes, the left hand is singing the melody. And when you think she can’t play any faster, she does—keeping everything crystal clear!
Based on the “Gypsy Dance” from Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen, the variations Ms. Wang performs were arranged for solo piano by the virtuoso pianist Vladimir Horowitz, who performed them throughout his long and distinguished career.
Sea Ribbons, tapestry by Helen Fitzgerald
Born in 1928, Scottish composer Thea Musgrave has created works performed in concert halls around the world. One of today’s most renowned contemporary composers, she based her six-movement “Turbulent Landscapes” on several paintings by Joseph Mallard William Turner (1775-1851), who transformed the art of British landscape painting.
Just as fog has no clear beginning and ending, the sounds in this painting-inspired composition are unclear at the beginning and fill in as they swoop upwards with repeated waves of orchestral color that mimic the waves of fog.