Whitman, Pascal, and
Varieties of Variations
Words: Christian Carey
Images: Arielle Doneson
While Jeremy Gill is best known as a prolific composer, he is a musician who wears many hats. An accomplished pianist, active conductor, and lecturer, Gill is a staunch advocate for new music in all of these contexts. Born in Pennsylvania and currently based in New York City, he has strong connections to Boston and the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York, as well.
Several recordings of Gill’s work have been released. His first chamber music disc for Albany dates all the way back to 2008; the label also released Book of Hours/Helian in 2011. More recently, Boston Modern Orchestra Project released a portrait disc of Gill’s orchestral music, and the Parker Quartet documented his hour-long Capriccio for Innova.
While there is a some vocal music on the BMOP CD, more of Gill’s vocal music is yet to be committed to disc. An upcoming portrait concert at National Sawdust, on April 7 at 7pm, affords its audience the opportunity to hear this compelling side of the composer’s output. The program sets two significant vocal works alongside pieces for chamber forces. Variant 6, a mixed vocal sextet, performs Gill’s Six Pensées de Pascal and, in celebration of the bicentennial of Walt Whitman’s birth, the composer’s Whitman Portrait.
Also featured on the program are a formidable Duo for Violin and Piano and the premiere of Lascia fare mi, a duo for two violins. In a recent conversation, Gill discussed his upcoming activities.
NATIONAL SAWDUST LOG: What inspired you to set Walt Whitman’s poetry? How did you come to work with Variant 6?
JEREMY GILL: If I had to pick a single favorite American poet it would be Whitman. I wanted to set his poetry for many years, but I always ran into trouble when I tried. Whitman is so expansive and all-inclusive that I never felt I could adequately address his breadth via a single singer, say—his poetic persona is too multi-faceted, and his attempts to encapsulate the whole of what he understood to be the American experience too wide-ranging.
However, when I was a fellow with American Opera Projects’ Composers & the Voice program, I was tasked with composing one song for each of AOP’s six resident singers, and these ran the gamut from bass-baritone through high coloratura soprano. This wealth of vocal personalities allowed me to explore Whitman’s many faces, moods, and proclivities.
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