A conversation with Solenne Païdassi
I’m still coming down from the summer– Schoenberg, Shostakovich, “The Jury,” everything and everyone who turned up
T-minus one week for the festival and events are already selling out so get your tickets now. Please bring your friends and family especially to the Pay-What-You-Can final concert on Sunday, August 13th to celebrate Rhina and hear the world premiere based on her poem, “The Jury.” Speaking of which…
There were a few weeks in July 2022 when NCMF Composer-in-Residence Jon Deak emailed me a new page of the manuscript every day; it was as if I were witnessing the birth of a new composition in real time, not unlike a musical version of watching Harry Potter step out from behind the Cloak of Invisibility. The manuscript I’m referring to is, of course, the score for this summer’s commission, “The Jury,” composed by Deak and based on the eponymous poem by Rhina P. Espaillat.
While I look forward to the world premiere every year, this one has me giddy. “The Jury” promises to be everything I’ve come to expect from the Pulitzer-nominated composer – wry, arch, immensely entertaining, and with a sting in the tail. Jon’s work blurs the line between music and theater: he has the musicians scratching their strings, knocking on wood, cooing, clucking, and a bunch of other nutty stuff I have no clue how to do (yet). All while the soprano prowls around behind us string players speaking, singing, reciting, and some stuff I don’t even know how to describe. I have no idea what is going to happen but that’s part of the thrill.
I first approached Jon Deak about setting a poem of Rhina’s to music back in 2019. He was cautiously optimistic but needed to see if her work woke the muse in him. I sent him a pile of poems and he called a few days later excited about setting “The Jury” to soprano and string quartet.
With the four birds represented by the four members of the string quartet, and a fifth artist (a soprano) to sing the text, Rhina’s poem is ideally suited to this summer’s commission. I was delighted to discover that “Pigeon,” played by the viola in the new work, has an unusually prominent role.
Of course, any opportunity to do anything with Rhina counts as a good day in my book. Here is a lovely interview about the commission with Newburyport’s interviewer extraordinaire, Mary Jacobsen If you have not checked out Mary’s show, you really should. She has an uncanny way of putting people at ease which can lead to unique insights when you least expect it.
I love how collaborative this work is: Jon inspired by Rhina’s poem, modeling the soprano part on Elaine’s voice, followed by the group working closely with him to realize his vision. This is the essence of chamber music.
David Yang, Artistic Director