MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

A Double Portrait: Johannes Brahms & Jonathan Woody

Here’s an online concert well worth taking the time to enjoy. Byron Schenkman & Friends, presents A Double Portrait: Johannes Brahms & Jonathan Woody, a program that includes the world premiere of Jonathan Woody’s nor shape of today to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community (first performed on 22 May 2022).

Also the first commission by Byron Schenkman & Friends, Woody composed nor shape of today to a text by Raquel Salas Rivera, a queer Puerto Rican and Philadelphian of non-binary gender. His new work is a response or companion piece to Brahms’s Op. 91 songs for alto, viola, and piano.  

Jonathan Woodley has provided this commentary on his new work: “In composing this piece, I very much wanted to consider it a companion to Johannes Brahms’s Two Songs for Voice, Viola and Piano, op. 91. The Brahms songs deal with longing–the longing for stillness, for respite from the tormented mind, and in the case of the second Brahms song, Geistliches Wiegenlied (Sacred Lullaby), the longing of Mary to protect her child from the tribulations he eventually must face. In our twenty-first century existence, many individuals still experience a longing for a place to belong, and I was struck by the similarity between these Romantic sentiments and the experience of trans and non-binary individuals, who face relentless pressure to conform to outdated norms surrounding gender and identity in our supposedly modern world. The poet Raquel Salas Rivera writes in a deeply moving and eloquent way about these experiences, and his poetry struck me as perfectly situated to answer the Brahms songs on poems by Rückert and Geibel (a paraphrase of a poem originally in Spanish by Lope de Vega). Rivera writes in both English and Spanish, and the fluidity between the two languages was an inspiration to me in creating this song. I attempt to emulate Salas Rivera’s fluidity in gender and language by incorporating a fluidity in musical idiomatic expression; at times nor shape of today sounds like Romantic music, like Baroque music, and like music of the 21st century. While I don’t share the experience of those with trans and non-binary identities, I hoped to capture the sense of longing that so many human beings feel to belong, to be loved, and to be safe.”

Complete Program:

Intro 1:10 – Jonathan Woody: stone and steel 8:45 – Johannes Brahms: Sapphic Ode, Op. 94, no. 4 11:53 – Franz Schubert: Song of Old Age, D. 778 17:20 – Johannes Brahms: Intermezzo in A, Op. 118, no. 2 24:01 – Johannes Brahms: Lullaby, Op. 49, no. 4, for voice and piano 26:21 – Johannes Brahms: Two Songs for voice, viola, and piano 39:14 – Jonathan Woody: nor shape of today.

Filed under: Byron Schenkman, chamber music, commissions

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