the month of moderns

Voyages

Sunday, June 17 at 4pm
The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill

with

Natasha Colkett, Alexandra Cutler-Fetkewicz, Abigail Fayette, Rebecca Harris, Margaret Humphrey, and Christof Richter, violin
Petula Perdikis and Daniela Pierson , viola
Tom Kraines and Mimi Morris-Kim, violoncello
Tim Ressler, contrabass

 
Crossing6 (1 of 1).jpg
 
 

Month of Moderns 2: Voyages focuses on the most basic of our relationships: the love between two people. This concert is a rich and unusual event in which two composers, Benjamin C. S. Boyle and Robert Convery, set the same text, twenty-five years apart; Hart Crane’s Voyages is a masterpiece of 20th-century literature – an exhilarating and devastating journey through a passionate, obsessive, and doomed intimacy we all crave and fear.

 

PROGRAM

Voyages (1994)                                                                                                                                             Robert Convery

This concert program was recorded this week for future release.

This concert is being recorded for broadcast by our partner WRTI, 90.1 FM, Philadelphia’s Classical and Jazz Public Radio Station.

intermission

Voyages, Cantata No. 2, Op. 41 (2018)                                                                                           Benjamin C.S. Boyle
—world premiere—

I. Avowal: Bind us in time
II. Seascape: Above the fresh ruffles of the surf
III. Pairings: And yet this great wink of eternity
IVa. Aria: This tendered theme of you
IVb. Aria: And so, admitted through black swollen gates
V. Descent: Meticulous, infrangible, and lonely
VI. Chorale: Draw in your head

Commissioned by the Crossing and Donald Nally
with the generous support of Pamela Prior and Debra Reinhard

 

 

a note from the conductor...

When Benjamin wrote to ask if I knew Hart Crane’s Voyages, suggesting it as the text for his new work, commissioned by President Deb Reinhard (then Board President) and her wife Pam Prior (now Board Treasurer), I laughed.

Yes.

I spent a significant amount of time in the nineties obsessed with all things Hart Crane, his fantastic imagery, strictly disciplined structure, free-wheeling language, and complex world of metaphor. It held such great appeal for me, as I felt my own Romantic impulses breaking under the pressure of a desire for an ascetic aesthetic – my journey toward the austere, out of the florid. For me, it started with Crane’s epic poem The Bridge, in which he acknowledges his great debt to his predecessor, his unknowing mentor. Crane’s homage is not so much laudatory as it is an imagined intimacy, a luminous devotion, love.

        Recorders ages hence, yes, they shall hear
        In their own veins uncancelled thy sure tread
        And read thee by the aureole ‘round thy head
        Of pasture-shine, Panis Angelicus!
                                                                       Yes, Walt,
        Afoot again, and onward without halt, —
        Not soon, nor suddenly, — no, never to let go
                My hand
                                  in yours,
                                                    Walt Whitman —
                                                                        so —

From The Bridge, I moved backward in time to Crane’s first volume, White Buildings, where I discovered Voyages. So enamored by this cycle, I asked Bob Convery to set one of its poems, the third, in which, after trekking through breathtaking symbols and alliterative wonders – “infinite consanguinity," "whirling pillars and lithe pediments," "the silken skilled transmemberment of song" – Crane concludes with a startlingly simple supplication:

        Permit me voyage, love, into your hands...

Bob also fell in love with Voyages – so much so, he suggested setting the entire six-poem cycle. This was an uncalculated gift, the first major work to be inspired by one of my choirs (in this case, that of West Chester University).

Twenty-two years later Benjamin mentioned Crane’s cycle, and, after my laugh, I paused. The idea of a new setting brought to mind how the world has changed since 1994 when Bob finished his Voyages. How I have changed. How our perceptions can change. I thought of what I’ve learned about relationships, and what I have yet to learn. How we can share a perception and yet miss subtly nuanced differences that make us unique. How often we find our ‘feeling’ isn’t completely understood (Peter Schaffer’s searing, allegorical line comes to mind, “What use is grief to a horse?”). The Crossing has been exploring these differences in perception for a number of years now; how we view the emotional lives of others, how we consider The Other, how one Voice delivers the Voice of another. How we perceive emotional contexts can be the binding force of a community. It can also be what tears it apart. Hearing the same words inflated by very different composers of diverse perspectives, yet equal investment in this poetry, is an experiment and a rich opportunity that holds the potential for unforeseeable insight. We’ve found thousands of ways to sing “Lord, have mercy.” What are two ways of finding the music in, “the bottom of the sea is cruel?” Or, imagining the sound world of the mystical,

        In this expectant, still exclaim receive
        The secret oar and petals of all love.

Crane was a complex person, and his words, like him, are simultaneously mesmerizing and confounding. It’s easy to look at his pages and want to ‘translate
them,’ to explain what each oblique metaphor and dissonant cluster may mean, to define the many obscure words. But, Crane lies at a curious place in American poetry, a Modernist working in lyricism, a strict Architect with metric discipline and prosaic gilding. Sounds, and what they evoke in us, are his concern. He was purposeful in his pursuits.

The motivation of the poem must be derived from the implicit emotional dynamics of the materials used, and the terms of expression employed are often selected less for their logical (literal) significance than for their associational meanings. Via this and their metaphorical inter-relationships, the entire construction of the poem is raised on the organic principle of a “logic of metaphor,” which antedates our so-called pure logic, and which is the general basis of all speech, hence consciousness and thought-extension.

Thus, we may not know exactly what a line means, but we recognize the feeling:

        while ribboned water lanes I wind
        Are laved and scattered with no stroke
        Wide from your side

We sense we’ve been there and are returning. The Romantic pull and the Modernist friction come together to describe our journey.

And, indeed, Voyages is a journey – perhaps a number of journeys. Or, the same one looked at from various angles – how passion or compassion or hurt change from morning to night. Narrative, he said, is not his concern. The six poems of Voyages do not follow the course of a relationship linearly; instead, each poem is like a snapshot of a relationship in its entirety, as if zooming in and out on the erotic impulse, the fear, the companionship, the disappointment. We know this voyage has ended, we feel it from the first poem, and we sense a certain deepening resignation as the cycle proceeds, as if the memory of passion and pain is eroded by the waves that are thundering their warning in the opening lines. His words seem to capture the erosion of an instinct to love and, in this way, the cycle does work its way toward an inevitable conclusion.

Indeed, in the end, what is left is not the lover or the love, not the sea or the journey; it is the one thing that will, for Crane, always be there, even after he is gone: Words – the means by which he attempts to figure out all that has come before.

        The imaged Word, it is, that holds
        Hushed willows anchored in its glow.
        It is the unbetrayable reply
        Whose accent no farewell can know.

So, too, music, “whose accent no farewell can know,” tells its own stories. It leads us on journeys of unexpected clarity – surprising revelations found in an abstraction. A Language. An Art. Ancient and New. Here, two composers, one poem. A sea of perception and receiving, in which, perhaps, once again we will recognize ourselves and be grateful for whatever the days, and the nights, bring.

— Donald, May 2018

Voyages
music by Robert Convery (b. 1956)


a note from the composer...

Voyages was commissioned by Donald Nally and West Chester University in West Chester, PA. The work, for unaccompanied choir, is in six movements
that correspond to the six poems of Hart Crane’s Voyages. The six movements comprise a set of variations, in that the thematic material for each movement is drawn from its preceding movement. The six movements travel in a third degree harmonic progression beginning in A major and coming full circle at the end of the sixth movement. This cycle of poems by Hart Crane lives in the motion of a kaleidoscopic theme: the search for love and the self-knowledge attained in that search. The musical considerations for Voyages were made to correspond to that same kaleidoscopic center, the ever-growing changeability in understanding love, the single theme of Hart Crane’s diversely symbolic cycle of poems.


I

Above the fresh ruffles of the surf
Bright striped urchins flay each other with sand.   
They have contrived a conquest for shell shucks,   
And their fingers crumble fragments of baked weed   
Gaily digging and scattering.

And in answer to their treble interjections   
The sun beats lightning on the waves,   
The waves fold thunder on the sand;
And could they hear me I would tell them:

O brilliant kids, frisk with your dog,   
Fondle your shells and sticks, bleached
By time and the elements; but there is a line   
You must not cross nor ever trust beyond it   
Spry cordage of your bodies to caresses   
Too lichen-faithful from too wide a breast.   
The bottom of the sea is cruel.

II

—And yet this great wink of eternity,
Of rimless floods, unfettered leewardings,   
Samite sheeted and processioned where   
Her undinal vast belly moonward bends,   
Laughing the wrapt inflections of our love;

Take this Sea, whose diapason knells   
On scrolls of silver snowy sentences,
The sceptred terror of whose sessions rends   
As her demeanors motion well or ill,   
All but the pieties of lovers’ hands.

And onward, as bells off San Salvador   
Salute the crocus lustres of the stars,
In these poinsettia meadows of her tides,—
Adagios of islands, O my Prodigal,
Complete the dark confessions her veins spell.

Mark how her turning shoulders wind the hours,   
And hasten while her penniless rich palms   
Pass superscription of bent foam and wave,—
Hasten, while they are true,—sleep, death, desire,   
Close round one instant in one floating flower.

Bind us in time, O Seasons clear, and awe.   
O minstrel galleons of Carib fire,
Bequeath us to no earthly shore until
Is answered in the vortex of our grave
The seal’s wide spindrift gaze toward paradise.

III

Infinite consanguinity it bears—
This tendered theme of you that light   
Retrieves from sea plains where the sky   
Resigns a breast that every wave enthrones;   
While ribboned water lanes I wind
Are laved and scattered with no stroke   
Wide from your side, whereto this hour   
The sea lifts, also, reliquary hands.

And so, admitted through black swollen gates   
That must arrest all distance otherwise,—
Past whirling pillars and lithe pediments,   
Light wrestling there incessantly with light,   
Star kissing star through wave on wave unto   
Your body rocking!

                                     and where death, if shed,   
Presumes no carnage, but this single change,—
Upon the steep floor flung from dawn to dawn   
The silken skilled transmemberment of song;

Permit me voyage, love, into your hands ...   

IV

Whose counted smile of hours and days, suppose   
I know as spectrum of the sea and pledge   
Vastly now parting gulf on gulf of wings
Whose circles bridge, I know, (from palms to the severe   
Chilled albatross’s white immutability)   
No stream of greater love advancing now   
Than, singing, this mortality alone   
Through clay aflow immortally to you.

All fragrance irrefragably, and claim   
Madly meeting logically in this hour   
And region that is ours to wreathe again,   
Portending eyes and lips and making told   
The chancel port and portion of our June—

Shall they not stem and close in our own steps   
Bright staves of flowers and quills today as I   
Must first be lost in fatal tides to tell?

In signature of the incarnate word|
The harbor shoulders to resign in mingling
Mutual blood, transpiring as foreknown
And widening noon within your breast for gathering   
All bright insinuations that my years have caught   
For islands where must lead inviolably
Blue latitudes and levels of your eyes,—

In this expectant, still exclaim receive   
The secret oar and petals of all love.

V

Meticulous, past midnight in clear rime,   
Infrangible and lonely, smooth as though cast   
Together in one merciless white blade—
The bay estuaries fleck the hard sky limits.

—As if too brittle or too clear to touch!   
The cables of our sleep so swiftly filed,
Already hang, shred ends from remembered stars.   
One frozen trackless smile ... What words   
Can strangle this deaf moonlight? For we

Are overtaken. Now no cry, no sword   
Can fasten or deflect this tidal wedge,
Slow tyranny of moonlight, moonlight loved   
And changed ... “There’s

Nothing like this in the world,” you say,   
Knowing I cannot touch your hand and look   
Too, into that godless cleft of sky
Where nothing turns but dead sands flashing.

“—And never to quite understand!” No,
In all the argosy of your bright hair I dreamed   
Nothing so flagless as this piracy.

                                                 But now
Draw in your head, alone and too tall here.   
Your eyes already in the slant of drifting foam;   
Your breath sealed by the ghosts I do not know:   
Draw in your head and sleep the long way home.

VI

Where icy and bright dungeons lift   
Of swimmers their lost morning eyes,   
And ocean rivers, churning, shift   
Green borders under stranger skies,

Steadily as a shell secretes
Its beating leagues of monotone,
Or as many waters trough the sun’s   
Red kelson past the cape’s wet stone;

O rivers mingling toward the sky   
And harbor of the phoenix’ breast—
My eyes pressed black against the prow,   
—Thy derelict and blinded guest

Waiting, afire, what name, unspoke,   
I cannot claim: let thy waves rear   
More savage than the death of kings,   
Some splintered garland for the seer.

Beyond siroccos harvesting
The solstice thunders, crept away,   
Like a cliff swinging or a sail
Flung into April’s inmost day—

Creation’s blithe and petalled word   
To the lounged goddess when she rose   
Conceding dialogue with eyes
That smile unsearchable repose—

Still fervid covenant, Belle Isle,  
—Unfolded floating dais before
Which rainbows twine continual hair—
Belle Isle, white echo of the oar!

The imaged Word, it is, that holds   
Hushed willows anchored in its glow.   
It is the unbetrayable reply
Whose accent no farewell can know.

— Hart Crane (1899-1932)

Voyages, Cantata No. 2, Op. 41
music by Benjamin C.S. Boyle (b. 1979)


a note from the composer...

Voyages is dedicated to Lindsey Reinhard.


I. Avowal: Bind us in time

Bind us in time, O Seasons clear, and awe.
O minstrel galleons of Carib fire,
Bequeath us to no earthly shore until
Is answered in the vortex of our grave
The seal’s wide spindrift gaze toward paradise.

II. Seascape: Above the fresh ruffles of the surf

Above the fresh ruffles of the surf
Bright striped urchins flay each other with sand.
Gaily digging and scattering.
And in answer to their treble interjections
The sun beats lightning on the waves,
The waves fold thunder on the sand;
And could they hear me I would tell them:

O brilliant kids, frisk with your dog,
Fondle your shells and sticks
but there is a line
You must not cross nor ever trust beyond it
Spry cordage of your bodies to caresses
Too lichen-faithful from too wide a breast.
The bottom of the sea is cruel.

III. Pairings: And yet this great wink of eternity

And yet this great wink of eternity,
Of rimless floods, unfettered leewardings,
Samite sheeted and processioned where
Her undinal vast belly moonward bends,
Laughing the wrapt inflections of our love;

And onward, as bells off San Salvador
Salute the crocus lustres of the stars,
In these poinsettia meadows of her tides,—
Adagios of islands, O my Prodigal,
Complete the dark confessions her veins spell.

Mark how her turning shoulders wind the hours,
And hasten while her penniless rich palms
Pass superscription of bent foam and wave,—
Hasten, while they are true,—sleep, death, desire,
Close round one instant in one floating flower.

IVa. Aria: This tendered theme of you

This tendered theme of you that light
Retrieves from sea plains where the sky
Resigns a breast that every wave enthrones;
While ribboned water lanes I wind
Are laved and scattered with no stroke
Wide from your side, whereto this hour
The sea lifts, also, reliquary hands.

IVb. Aria: And so, admitted through black swollen gates   

And so, admitted through black swollen gates
That must arrest all distance otherwise,—
Past whirling pillars and lithe pediments,   
Light wrestling there incessantly with light,
Star kissing star through wave on wave unto
Your body rocking!
                        and where death, if shed,
Presumes no carnage, but this single change,—
Upon the steep floor flung from dawn to dawn
The silken skilled transmemberment of song;

Permit me voyage, love, into your hands ...   

V. Descent: Meticulous, infrangible, and lonely

Meticulous, past midnight in clear rime,
Infrangible and lonely, smooth as though cast
Together in one merciless white blade—

—As if too brittle or too clear to touch!
The cables of our sleep so swiftly filed,
Already hang, shred ends from remembered stars.
One frozen trackless smile ... What words
Can strangle this deaf moonlight? For we
Are overtaken.

VI. Chorale: Draw in your head 

Draw in your head, alone and too tall here.
Your eyes already in the slant of drifting foam;
Your breath sealed by the ghosts I do not know:
Draw in your head and sleep the long way home.

— Hart Crane (1899-1932)
abbreviated and rearranged by the composer

The Crossing

Katy Avery
Nathaniel Barnett
Jessica Beebe
Julie Bishop
Kelly Ann Bixby
Karen Blanchard †
Steven Bradshaw
Colin Dill
Micah Dingler
Robert Eisentrout
Ryan Fleming
Joanna Gates
Dimitri German
Steven Hyder
Michael Jones
Heather Kayan
Heidi Kurtz
Maren Montalbano
Rebecca Myers
Rebecca Oehlers
Daniel Schwartz
Rebecca Siler
Daniel Spratlan
Elisa Sutherland
Daniel Taylor

Donald Nally, conductor
John Grecia, keyboards

† Karen Blanchard’s performance on June 17 is made possible by a generous grant from Beth Van de Water, a board member of The Crossing, in memory of Hank Van de Water.