LEWIS SPRATLAN: Hesperus is Phosphorus – The Crossing and The Network for New Music – Linda Reichart, Artistic Dir./ Donald Nally, cond. – Innova Records CD 894 (5/26/15) 67:45 ****:
Hesperus is Phosphorus is a new composition for mixed chorus and chamber ensemble by composer Lewis Spratlan. It’s an intriguing and dynamic work, approximately one hour long, with nine movements, building a libretto from texts ranging from Adrienne Rich and physicist Richard Feynman to the Magnificat.
Spratlan, recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, including Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and NEA fellowships; an American Academy of Arts and Letters composer award; and the 2000 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his opera Life is a Dream, premiered by the Santa Fe Opera in 2010.
The piece falls into two parts, and throughout offers quotes set to music from David Eagleman, Wallace Shawn, A. R. Ammons, Adrienne Rich, and others. The Richard Feynman quote is “A paradox is not a conflict within reality. It is a conflict between reality and your feeling of what reality ought to be.” Other quotes that are used to create the libretto are religious and philosophical.
A work like this could run the risk of becoming a chaotic hodge-podge of musical ideas, but not here. Hesperus is Phosphorus is a solidly conceived work, and it’s myriad parts are structured into an emotional and coherent whole.
The work is performed by The Crossing, a 24-member chamber choir, and the Network for New Music. The Cantata is difficult to perform, but the singers and instrumentalists are up to the challenge, rendering a concise and spirited yet sensitive concert. The recording is also excellent. Voices emerge in a well integrated space, and the instruments are also well placed in the stereo spread.
Hesperus is Phosphorus is a challenging, but ultimately rewarding work of contemporary music. The notes that come with the CD are quite illuminating, and I think listeners who enjoy contemporary music are in for an hour well spent that they are likely to repeat. This is a bold composition and performance. If this description intrigues you I don’t think you will be disappointed.