Botanicals, tapestry by Helen Fitzgerald

Editor’s Music Picks

Note from Persimmon Tree:
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.



Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle sing “There is a Balm in Gilead” at Carnegie Hall

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


Yuja Wang: Bizet/Horowitz “Carmen Variations”

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


Thea Musgrave: Turbulent Landscapes

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.


Gena Raps, Persimmon Tree Music Editor, has performed internationally and across the United States.  Her recordings of Mozart, Brahms, and Dvorak can be found on Musical Heritage Society, Arabesque and Naxos among others. She has taught at the Juilliard School, Sarah Lawrence College, and the Mannes College of Music and has received numerous prizes and honors. She has been on the jury for competitions at the Juilliard School and the Fulbright Fellowship.

Helen Fitzgerald is self-taught; five years into the world of fiber art she makes good use of YouTube and the lessons she finds there from many weavers who generously share their expertise. As a very young child she enjoyed the embroidery lessons her lace maker grandmother gave her. Looking back now, Helen wonders if maybe she happened to also receive the gene that draws a person toward one of the needle arts. Helen thinks of the practice of weaving as a learning experience; she identifies as a student of fiber rather than a fiber artist. Her designs draw on the beauty of the natural world, jumping off into abstraction, embellishment, deconstruction, or whimsy.

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