Voices of the Composers - Lewis Spratlan

Seven Responses: Voices of the Composers

Thoughts from the composers of Seven Responses
Inaugural edition: Lewis Spratlan

Lew Spratlan:   "It also has a Quaker cast to it; always a good thing."

Lew Spratlan. The Crossing just loves Lew Spratlan.  Generous, thoughtful, gifted and giving.  

I was introduced to Lew indirectly through his son, Dan (who, for years, was known as the 'dreadlocks guy' in The Crossing). Dan joined the Crossing in the summer of 2007 when we were in residence at the Spoleto Festival in Italy, memorializing Gian Carlo Menotti. Spoleto Choir manager Rob Phillips had suggested Dan and, trusting Rob's recommendation, Dan and I met at the airport and started an artistic relationship that continues today.

While in Italy, Dan mentioned that his father was a composer, had written a large work for Dan's graduate recital at Westminster Choir College, and happened to have won the Pulitzer Prize in music in 2000 for an opera that had never been staged! This was far too intriguing for me to forget, and, returning from Italy, I set out to learn a lot more of and about Lew Spratlan's music.

I loved it; his music has a directness and a pungency, he easily mixes humor and pathos, he's unafraid to punch you in the gut emotionally and then let you simmer unapologetically, and his music often lies where dreams lie - somewhere between reality and fantasy.  I decided then that we had to have a piece from him for The Crossing.  Five years later, that piece happened: a full concert-length with texts ranging from Wallace Shawn to Richard Feynman, co-commissioned with Network for New Music, and a huge success. The work, Vespers Cantata: Hesperus is Phosphorus - the process, the collaboration, the recording - was an amazing ride of love and work and joy between singers and composer and players and listeners.  Thus, when we conceived of Seven Responses, with its possibilities for rich layers and depth, I knew that Lew's voice needed to be inside the project.  

Lew writes music with extraordinary speed.  Ideas come to him and are committed to paper, fully formed, soon after.  He finished his work for Seven Responses in June - a full year before we begin rehearsals! 

For our first blog outing with composers and their thoughts, we asked Lew if he would talk to us about his libretto from his home in Amherst.  We gave him some parameters and made suggestions about recording devices.  Typically, Lew took nothing for granted - no stone unturned;  he bought a new iPhone 6 for improved video quality and then sat down and wrote out a thoughtful and thought-provoking script that reaches far beyond the boundaries of our project and into the psyche of this man and his ethics, and into the aesthetics and ethos of The Crossing, while explaining how he and poet Paul Kane fashioned a libretto to respond to Buxtehude's cantata, TO THE BREAST.        

Here's that video: 

The libretto can be read here.

And, while we're thinking about Lew, revisit his last commission with The Crossing, Vespers Cantata: Hesperus is Phosphorus, final movement:  "The Afterlife III," based on a chapter of David Eagleman's Sum. (Eagleman is in the news today as well; his new PBS series The Brain debuts October 14!)  


Thank you Lew Spratlan for sharing your thoughts, your music, and your home with us.