The commissioned work for 2024

The commissioned piece for this summer is a real doozy of a group effort.  Filipino-American composer Patrick Castillo was enlisted to write twelve microludes (miniatures) for string quartet and theremin based on iconic birds of Newburyport. Not being a birder myself (my main experience with birds usually involves garlic and/or lemon), I enlisted the help of Melissa Day Vokey, former operations manager at Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats, in the choice of birds.

Composer-in-Residence, Patrick Castillo

Local poet/hero Alfred Nicol has written a poem on each of the birds (reciting the poem will be part of the performance). Local artist and co-founder of NCMF Jane Niebling is doing a painting of each bird. And of course, the five musicians will be performing the work on two concerts. I arranged the birds in the order in which they would be heard during the day, starting early morning, with a Robin, and ending at night with the Snowy Owl.

2024 Artist-in-Residence, Jane Niebling,
and Robin Red Breast

Here is a sneak peek of Alfred’s opening poem, the first of twelve.

1) Robin
Disguised by its familiarity,
its habitat collective memory
(near AM radio and Wonder Bread),
the robin is a bird you hardly see,
out on the lawn with Bobby Kennedy,
its breast a faded Campbell-soup-can red.
Alfred Nicol, Poet-in-Residence 2024

As I mentioned, we’ll be having a theremin player, Elizabeth Brown, amongst our festival artists. What is a theremin, you ask?

Leon Theremin (1896 – 1993)
playing his eponymous instrument

According to Wikipedia: “The theremin, is an electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact by the performer. It is named after its inventor, Leon Theremin. The theremin was the product of Soviet government-sponsored research into proximity sensors.”

Elizabeth Brown performing “March 21st”

Let’s ignore the whole “Soviet government proximity sensor” thing and focus on “controlled without physical contact by the performer.”One hand manipulates pitch and the other, volume, as they get closer or further away from two wand-like metal rods that generate an electrical field. In short, a theremin is a magical instrument, sometimes eerie and spooky, other times heart-achingly beautiful. Our theremin player, Elizabeth, is also a composer, with a background highly unusual for a professional musician these days, growing up on a small farm in the deep south.

A conversation with Elizabeth Brown, theremin virtuoso

Theremin quintets, piano quintets, solo piano works, solo cello, violin sonatas, where to start? Tickets go on sale June 1st and will sell out quickly. See you in August!

David Yang, Artistic Director

Elizabeth Brown pre-theremin
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