℗ © 2013 Harmonia Mundi USA
Kevin Puts (b. 1972)
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Craig Hella Johnson, choir director
Marin Alsop, conductor
In 2012 Harmonia Mundi recorded two live concerts of three world premieres by the young American composer Kevin Puts and has gathered them in a new album featuring the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Austin-based choir Conspirare.
Conspirare's performances of To Touch the Sky and If I Were a Swan begin the program. A co-commission with the Thelma Hunter Fund of the American Composers Forum, To Touch the Sky (Nine Songs for Unaccompanied Chorus on Texts by Women) is an exquisite piece based on texts by female poets, writers and mystics from across the centuries, including the contemporary American poet Marie Howe, Mother Teresa and Amy Lowell as well as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Christina Georgina Rossetti, Emily Bronte, Hildegard von Bingen and Sappho.
The idea came from a discussion between Kevin Puts and Conspirare director Craig Hella Johnson where Hella Johnson mentioned the idea of the divine feminine and its origins in the Magnificat as the potential basis for a large-scale choral work. Puts sought out texts that addressed spirituality in a nonspecific yet fundamental manner.
The second piece, If I Were a Swan by poet Fleda Brown (Puts's aunt), was originally intended to be part of To Touch the Sky but the composer thought it should stand on its own. I have loved the poem since I first read it as a teenager and imagined its protagonist gliding over the calm, inland-lake waters of northern Michigan where Brown lives.
These two choral works are paired with Marin Alsop leading the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Puts's Symphony No.4 "From Mission San Juan." The piece was commissioned by the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in California to be performed in the San Juan Bautista Mission also known as the "Mission of Music." The music is loosely based on songs of the Native-American Mutsun people, who kept their own musical traditions as the friars converted and taught them to sing in the Missions choir. In his extensive research, Puts learned he could not directly quote the Mutsuns' sacred melodies; instead he used their melodic shapes and motives as inspiration.
Recorded September and October 2012 at St. Martin's Lutheran Church in Austin Texas and June 2012 at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore, Maryland.
Producers: Robina G. Young and Carolyn Kuan
Recording and editing engineers: Brad Michel and Tim Handley