Gotham Ensemble Plays Ned Rorem


End of Summer / An Oboe Book / Ariel / Four Poems Without Words

End of Summer for clarinet, violin & piano (tracks 1-3) was composed during the late summer of 1985 in Nantucket. Ned Rorem writes: This trio follows in the wake of my septet, Scenes from Childhood. The pieces are about the same length and are formed from souvenirs. But while the septet contained 12 movements, describing geographical landmarks of my youth, the trio is in but three, each suggested by musical works of yore. There are suggestions of Satie, Brahms, hopscotch ditties and Protestant anthems. Beyond these flat observations, there is little I can say more roundly.”

An Oboe Book was commissioned for the 30th anniversary of The Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society and premiered in July 1999 by this CD's guest soloists: oboist Humbert Lucarelli & pianist Delores Stevens. Of the work, the composer wrote: “What shall I call this suite of short pieces? During the season of their parturition in Nantucket and New York City, various events determined their shape. On April, when my friend Judy Collins turned sixty, I wrote a tune of 60 notes for oboe (track 8). In May, on my sister Rosemary's birthday, I wrote 77 notes for oboe (track 7). Numbers also determine the form of two other movements. (Although I've never leaned toward the rigidity of the serial killers, it's clear that simple math does, in some sense, determine the mood of all music.) `Nine to Three' (track 5), for instance, has the piano stating beats of nine, then seven, the five, then three, then nine again, while the oboe coheres these eccentric patterns by intoning in a straight 4/4. `Seven Answers to One Question' (track 11) is a conversation between the soloists, but could be named `One Answer to Seven Questions.' The two movements `for Jim' (tracks 9, 10) honor my dearest friend who is no more, while `Marriage Measures' (track 6) honor John Simon and his wife Pat Hoag. On discovering that within Humber Lucarelli's name lurk in the letters B A C H, I inscribed their musical equivalents, wove them into a brief toccata, played the toccata backwards, and named the 90-second prelude `A Mirror for Bert' (track 4). As for the postlude, `Until Next Time' (track 12) suggests that eventually I'd like to compose nine more pieces for this combination.”

Ariel, Five Poems of Sylvia Plath (tracks 13-17) for soprano, clarinet and piano was composed in New York during May of 1971 and presented as a gift to Phyllis Curtin. The poems that make up the text are among Plath's last writings and vividly reflect that tumultuous period in her life and the suicide that soon ended it. The music in these songs is intense, dramatic, contemplative, as multifaceted as the poems themselves. The three soloists are each taken to their technical and dramatic limits.

Four Poems Without Words. In assembling a set of songs for clarinet, double-bass and piano, Gotham Ensemble Artistic Director Thomas Piercy asked composer Rorem if he had any songs whose vocal line seemed particularly suitable for the clarinet. Piercy wrote: “Ned suggested any number of his songs could be appropriate. Playing through more than fifty, we settled on the four heard here (tracks 18-21). After listening to a rehearsal in preparation for the recording, Rorem decided to title the set Four Poems Without Words.”

Ned Rorem was born in 1923 in Richmond, Indiana, and received his early education in Chicago, studying at the American Conservatory and then at Northwestern University, later moving on to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, and finally to The Julliard in New York. A Pulitzer Prize winner in music in 1976, Rorem is also the author of more than ten books including The Paris Diary, The Final Diary, Knowing When to Stop and the recently published A Ned Rorem Reader. He has composed extensively in every medium and his music has been performed by the major orchestras and chamber ensembles. Of his work, Rorem has said: `My music is a diary no less compromising than my prose. A diary nonetheless differs from musical composition in that it depicts the moment, the writer's present mood which, were it inscribed an hour later, could emerge quite otherwise. I don't believe that composers notate their moods, they don't tell the music where to go - it leads them. Why do I write music? Because I want to hear it; it's as simple as that. Others may have more talent, more sense of duty. But I compose just from necessity, and no one else is making what I need. Anyone can be drunk, anyone can be in love, anyone can waste time and weep, but only I can pen my songs in the few remaining years or minutes.”

As a mixed ensemble of clarinet, strings, voice and piano, performing a wide range of repertoire from the Classical to the Contemporary, the Gotham Ensemble has premiered and had many works written specifically for them. The New York Times has cited the ensemble's “spirit and accomplishment everywhere,” “evoking a panache in the contemporary fare,” and how “they drew out the shimmering sonic richness of the works on display.” Following a performance of Rorem's Ariel at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, the composer himself described Gotham as “one of America's important chamber music groups performing new music today.”

Gotham Ensemble's Artistic Director Thomas Piercy has been acclaimed by critics for his uniquely beautiful clarinet sound in orchestra solo, recital and concert appearances throughout North America and Europe. The New York Times described Tom Piercy's playing as “a passionate, expressive performance of the virtuosic program.” He performs standard classical repertoire, jazz-inspired pieces, contemporary works, music written specifically for him and his own original compositions and collaborations. Thomas Piercy has studied extensively with English clarinetist Gervase De Peyer and Leon Russianoff and also with Kalmen Opperman.