"I have come across the name of Libby Larsen every now and then in the music reviews I read; but last night, at the end-of-term Art Song as Theatre recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, I had my first opportunity to hear one of her songs. The song was the second of her three Cowboy Songs, "Lift Me Into Heaven Slowly," a setting of the poem "Sufi Sam Christian" by Robert Creeley. "Sufi Sam Christian" has received a blues interpretation by Steve Swallow in his combo ... but Larsen's approach is more like a latter-day perspective on the traditional "Cowboy's Lament," "The Streets of Laredo." This is not to say that she has imitated or borrowed (or deconstructed in the tradition of Charles Ives); rather, she managed to capture the way in which this particular folk song is mournful without being morose and translate that atmosphere to a contemporary piece of poetry. The "mission" of the Art Song as Theatre program is to get vocal students thinking about how best to express song texts by imagining them in a dramatic situation of their own making. For this particular song Creeley's cowboy was translated into a (female) victim of an automobile accident. I have no idea what the late poet would have thought of this approach to his text, but it certainly seemed to help the student performing Larsen's piece to achieve an effective level of poignancy in her delivery. As far as the general "mission" is concerned, I would say that sometimes the strategy works; and sometimes it doesn't. The performance of "Lift Me Into Heaven Slowly" was certainly one of the most effective of the evening, providing me with an excellent first impression of the music of Libby Larsen."
For more in-depth reading check out the the article "Songs from Letters and Cowboy Songs by Libby Larsen: Two Different Approaches to Western Mythology and Western Mythological Figures" by Glenda Denise Secrest.
As this week's Featured Thought Philip Glass brings a unique perspective on the world of non-pop art music in his inaugural Carte Blanche article, A Composer's Century available at andante.com. Other articles in the Carte Blanche series include Forging the New: A Century of Performance Art by RoseLee Goldberg, On Sewing Machines and Self-Expression: Mapping the Future in Sound by Lisa Bielawa, Borne Back Ceaselessly Into the Past? by Greg Sandow, and Music and Technology: A Roundtable Discussion: Philip Glass moderates a discussion with four composers about digital technology's impact on new music.
And for all around fun and enjoyment check out this week's Pytheas Sighting from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958) with music by the great Bernard Herrmann.
As always . . . let us know what you think.