HAMPSON SISLER: PHOENIX FOREVERIn the Wake of the Storm
Music in the Soul - Duo Cantata
Prayer of St. Francis
Lori-Kaye Miller, Mezzo-Soprano
Darnell Ishmel, Baritone
Melissa Cintron, Soprano
World Premiere Recordings
REVIEWSFEATURE ARTICLE IN THE ORGAN - SPRING 2015 [ISSUE NO. 371]
“Phoenix Forever is probably the best piece of Sisler’s that I have heard…”
Carson Cooman, Fanfare – September/October 2012
“[Phoenix Forever] has a lot going for it melodically… [Music in the Soul] is easily the best and most convincing thing on this disc. Both Lori-Kaye Miller and Darnell Ishmel are outstanding in their roles, and here we hear what Sisler is really capable of, an extremely sensitive, dramatic, and downright beautiful extended work of great substance and some terrific music.”
Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition – March 2012
PROGRAM NOTESPhoenix Forever is a suite of four tone poems inspired by Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird (1910) and based on the origin of the mythical bird - a symbol of fire, rebirth and divinity. Sisler’s work programmatically sets the myth, depicting the phoenix in each of the movements at varying stages of its life cycle. The first three movements develop their own thematic material on one of the essential moments in a phoenix’s life. The fourth and final movement incorporates all the themes from the prior movements, ending with a decisive “cadence of confidence,” portraying the image of the fiery bird which never fails to be resurrected. Phoenix Forever was commissioned by Marlon Daniel and the Praga Sinfonietta in 2009.
In the Wake of the Storm depicts the gradual advance and destructive power of a natural disaster. Inspired by the recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Sisler’s tone poem avoids the frantic outbursts of Beethoven’s “Storm and Tempest” from the Pastoral Symphony, instead focusing on the brooding nature of the brewing disaster through a chromatic lower brass and strings recurring motif. After a brief series of climaxes midway through the work, Sisler returns to the brooding mood of the opening, modifying the motif to depict the overwhelming effect of the storm in the aftermath. For Sisler, the work embodies the impact that global warming and nature’s powerful forces have on our world - and mankind’s limitations against such an awesome strength. In the Wake of the Storm was premiered in 2007 by the Praga Sinfonietta under the direction of Marlon Daniel.
The duo-Cantata Music in the Soul reflects both the composer’s and the conductor’s love and experience with Czech culture: Sisler, being partially of Eastern European lineage and Daniel, having studied and worked extensively in Prague. A secular cantata in one movement for mezzo-soprano and baritone, the work presents a love duet based on the poetry of renowned Bohemian writer Jaroslav Vrchlický. The music features Sisler’s typical neo-romantic alternation of chromatic and pantonal melodic lines within a highly chromatic harmonic framework and brief moments of tonality. Music in the Soul received its first performance in a chamber orchestra arrangement in New York City in 2005 by Ensemble du Monde under the direction of Mr. Daniel, the work’s dedicatee. The version presented on this recording was revised and re-orchestrated in 2009 for symphony orchestra.
Perhaps one of the most well known Christian prayers, the Prayer of St. Francis is attributed to the 13th-Century saint “Francis of Assisi”, the patron saint of animals and the environment, although the prayer in its current form cannot be traced back further than 1912. Printed in La Clochette, a small spiritual magazine in France in the early 20th-century, the French Marquis Stanislas de La Rochethulon sent the prayer to Pope Benedict XV in 1915, who soon distributed it widely among the Catholic churches in Europe, then worldwide. The prayer has subsequently become one of the most quoted prayers; used by Nobel Prize Peace winners Mother Teresa and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in their acceptance speeches and noted as an integral part of their daily worship, many politicians (including former US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) at inaugurations and significant events, as part of the funeral for Diana, Princess of Wales, and several other notaries and dignitaries on numerous occasions. Sisler set the text with organ in a neo-romantic style in 1970 for his principal tenor soloist, James Hurst, at the Metropolitan-Duane United Methodist Church in Manhattan, where Sisler was Music Director at the time. In 2009, he revised and orchestrated the work, utilizing the timbral and textural diversity of the orchestra to intensify the setting. The piece is through composed, relying on localized text painting to contrast the negative and positive affirmations in the first part of the prayer. In the second part, Sisler matches the prayer’s request of qualities with a gradual build-up to a climax on the final line, signifying the path to heaven through understanding, love, giving andpardon. In the words of the composer, the prayer “represents the triumph of man over adversity and the bliss of the love-stricken”.
The works of American composer Hampson Sisler have been performed in Europe, Russia, Hawaii, and both North and South America. Born in New York in 1932, Sisler’s exceptional talent was evident when, at age five, he was already playing piano and reed organ by ear without any training, and composing. His mother, an amateur musician, gave him his first music lessons. Later he received a more advanced musical education and by age eleven, he, having chosen the organ as his main instrument, was playing professionally in churches. His prodigious performances soon drew the attention of many well-known musicians, including David McK. Williams, organist and choirmaster of New York´s St. Bartholomew’s Church. Williams became his first major mentor, followed, notably by Norman Coke-Jephcott of New York´s Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where he gave his first public organ recital after becoming the youngest ever Fellow of the American Guild of Organists at age seventeen. He also achieved the Trinity College of London´s Licentiate Teacher of Organ and Related Subjects Diploma with honors. Currently active as both an organist and composer with over one hundred published works to his credit, he has held many prestigious Music Director positions in churches throughout the greater New York area that have included Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn (at one time frequented by Abraham Lincoln), Central Presbyterian Church in New York City (a post formerly held by Charles Ives) and currently First United Methodist Church in Westfield, New Jersey.
One of the most dynamic conductors of his generation, Marlon Daniel has been described as “a natural and enormous talent” by the Chicago Sun-Times and “fabulous and exceptional” by Pravda–Moscow. The winner of the 2009 John and Mary Virginia Foncannon Conducting Award, he has performed in some of the most prestigious venues in the United States and Europe that range from Carnegie Hall to the Rudolfinum in Prague. He has also appeared alongside many internationally renowned artists that have including Deborah Voigt, Julian Milkis and Koh Gabriel Kameda, to name a few. He has received numerous prizes and awards including the Mabel Henderson Memorial Grant, a Rose Hanus Fellowship, an Honorary Key to the City of Chicago for Outstanding Musical Achievement and the ‘Voice of the Artist’ Award from the United Nations in recognition of his charitable work of bringing awareness to the crisis in Darfur. Educated in both the United States and Europe, he has received degrees from some of the most prestigious institutions in the world including Manhattan School of Music, Le Conservatoire Américain in France, Centro de Estudios Musicales Isaac Albéniz in Spain and both the Prague Academy and Conservatory, where he received his formative training in conducting whilst serving as Associate Conductor of the Praga Sinfonietta. He has also had the opportunity to receive advice from Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic as winner of the James and Lola Faust Fellowship. A major exponent of music by contemporary composers and composers of African and African American descent, Marlon Daniel is currently the Music Director of Ensemble du Monde, Principal Conductor of the Festival of African and African American Music and Artistic Director of the Saint-Georges International Festival.
PROGRAMHAMPSON SISLER (b.1932)
PHOENIX FOREVER (2009)
IN THE WAKE OF THE STORM (2005)
MUSIC IN THE SOUL – Duo Cantata (2005/2009)
PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS (1970/2009)