Composer-in-Residence Jon Deak

Jon Deak, Composer-in-Residence NCMF 2022

I met Jon Deak about twenty years ago over breakfast on the Upper West Side where this Pulitzer-nominated composer sat patiently as I fired questions at him for an hour. I was a young composer back they (well, younger, at least) and Jon was hugely influential on my own work. To pick his brains was exciting and a little intimidating but I need not have feared; the notes in a Jon Deak manuscript reflect who he is as a person: endless enthusiasm combined with a generosity of spirit, laid-back intensity, and a dark sense of humor. His music is storytelling and, often, theater. Maybe not a surprise for someone whose compositional mentor was Leonard Bernstein.

Jon attended NCMF as performer (double bass, 2010) and returns as composer with a new work for quartet and soprano. One of the kindest people I know, Jon is only matched in this regard by his libretticist, Newburyport’s own Rhina Espaillat. Indeed, we’ll be celebrating Rhina’s 90th with a commission set to her poem “The Jury.”

Rhina and Jon both in one summer. Can life get any better?

An avid outdoorsman, Jon talks about why he chose “The Jury” in this conversation filmed as he was set to embark on a hiking trip in the Grand Tetons. A companion discussion with Rhina will follow in a later post.

Stay warm!

David Yang, Artistic Director

Rhina P. Espaillat

In a bare tree,
four strangers gathered from afar
slipped into talk, as travelers do.
First Eagle said, “How strange they are,

these creatures lately come to climb
our cliffs and spy upon our brood.
They have no constancy, but drift
from mood to mood:

first, wanton slaughter, and now zeal
to build our hunted tribe again.
I cannot fathom them at all.”
“They are called Men,”

said Pigeon, “and I know them well.
I’ve learned their secret. All they use,
from day to day, to guide their steps,
is just their shoes.

It’s true, my friends. In new spiked boots
yesterday’s farmer struts the street,
turned killer, and tomorrow dies
derelict, with rag-bound feet.

More out of sympathy than need,
I gather their spilled crumbs to know
toward what new grief
their wayward shoes would have them go.”

“And yet,” said Sparrow, “I have known
some who would leave their lighted nest
to scatter seed, through razor winds,
for our sake, lest

we hunger through December days.
I’ve seen them fling their gaze above
their comforts, to pursue us with
something like love.”

“True,” Vulture said, “for they love me
and have my welfare much in mind.
In Leningrad, in Lebanon
men were most kind

and nourished me with their own young.
Vietnam, Verdun, Angola, Troy,
Thermopylae…the love of men
is my chief joy.”

“Well, that’s as may be,” Eagle said,
“but they are feeble things at best.
Condemned to winglessness, they creep
in their own shadow, flight-obsessed,

a sad smudge upon the earth,
half-willingly erased at last.
We will posses our own again,
when they have passed.”
Hendrik Sorgh’s “Lute Player” and
Joan Miró’s whimsical copy “Dutch Interior 1"

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