Transformations: Music by David Evan Thomas
Sonja Thompson, piano
With Clara Osowski, mezzo-soprano
- Transformations: Six Paintings by Carolyn Brunelle
- In the Mad Moonlight: Four Poems of Louis Jenkins
- Variations on “Dona Nobis Pacem”
- Noëls and Meditations
- Meditations on an American Hymn, “America the Beautiful”
- 5 Pieces from Occasionally Yours
In this hour-long, première recording of my piano works, you’ll hear music that is direct and full of feeling, expressed in dances, meditations, noëls, and familiar tunes in new guise, all artfully performed by my friend Sonja Thompson.
Sonja Thompson enjoys a varied career as a chamber, church and theater musician, conductor, vocal coach and educator. Having received her formal education at the University of Minnesota and The Juilliard School, she has spent decades teaching, performing, improvising, collaborating, and assisting with the development of new works. Performing credits include solo recitals, chamber music and Art Song as well as new music, Music Theater/Opera, and programs that mix genres and styles. In the Twin Cities Sonja has worked with Nautilus Music Theater, Theater Latte Da, Minnesota History Theater, the Schubert Club, Minnesota Orchestra, Minnesota Opera and others.
Transformations, Carolyn Brunelle’s 2020 online show at the Groveland Gallery, presented paintings suggestive in their shape, and dynamic in their bold and opposing colors. (View Carolyn Brunelle’s complete Transformations show here.) Brunelle, a native Minnesotan, paints on canvas in many layers, then sands and scraps to reveal the unexpected. Her abstract forms allude to a variety of subjects, from birds to dancers, and they create a sense of movement and rhythm. Carolyn’s art had me thinking of transformation in musical terms, of layering harmonies and sculpting time. As the 2020 pandemic settled in, I chose six paintings to explore in music, keeping Carolyn’s titles for my piano suite, Transformations.
“Happy to Be Here” is all affirmation, continuous variations on a short idea. “Night Owl” marches forth in ever-more-cheeky dotted rhythms. Inspired by the British Invasion of 1964, “Twist” is a saucy cha-cha that pulls in a few Beatles references. “Swiftly” whirls about with one hand on the white keys, one on the black, like swifts I observed pouring into a school chimney in Portland, Oregon. “Piano”—which adorns this CD’s cover—sings a nocturne in deep crimson. “Barn Dance” is an uncomplicated rondo, alive with movement and cheer. Sonja, Carolyn, and I united the paintings and the music, with added poetry read by Rev. Dr. Dwayne Davis and Katherine Ferrand, to present the set to an audience of friends in October 2020.
In the Mad Moonlight: Four Poems of Louis Jenkins was commissioned by the Schubert Club for mezzo-soprano Clara Osowski, with funding provided by Barbara Brown and John Michel in memory of their friend, Louis Jenkins (1942–2019). Jenkins was one of the contemporary masters of the prose poem. Born in Oklahoma, he lived near Duluth for over 30 years. The author of many books, his final collection was Where Your House Is Now (Nodin Press, 2019). In his poems, Jenkins maintained a tight focus on the mundane particularities of ordinary existence, using deliberately flat language to comic and often heartbreaking effect.
Mezzo-soprano Clara Osowski is a sought-after soloist and chamber musician throughout the United States and abroad. Recent débuts include a recital with pianist Julius Drake at London’s Wigmore Hall, and solo appearances with the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston, Music of the Baroque, and the Minnesota Opera. Osowski was awarded a McKnight Artist Fellowship in 2018, and she became the first-ever American prize winner when she placed second at Thomas Quasthoff’s International Das Lied Competition in Heidelberg, Germany. Osowski is the artistic director of Source Song Festival, a week dedicated to the traditions and creation of art song. More: www.claraosowski.com
No one knows who wrote the “Dona nobis pacem” round, but this little gem is hundreds of years old. In my Variations, I introduce the theme, then its bass, which is similar to that of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Nine variations and a finale follow in styles modeled on Classical and Romantic-period composers.
Each of my meditations presents a particular musical situation: a tone, a chord, a mode, a style. Meditation No. 5 is a happy, carefree tune. No. 8 takes the Style brisé––broken chords in harpsichord style––as a point of departure. No. 12, a noël, begins with a gently rocking theme and works up to pealing bells. Benediction was commissioned by Diane Neimann in 2002 in honor of Penny George, an advocate of integrated healing. I’ve made several chamber versions of this piece under the title, A Healing Benediction. Noël No. 1 was a present for Rebecca Lindholm, a friend who celebrates her birthday just before Christmas.
Meditations on an American Hymn, “America the Beautiful,” was composed in February 2020 for Sonja Thompson, whose lyrical pianism and keen musicianship have inspired me for many years. As the world suffered under a novel virus, I sought a focus that was positive in both the emotional and civic senses. Katharine Lee Bates wrote the poem “Pikes Peak” after visiting Colorado in 1893. It was published in 1910, set to Samuel A. Ward’s tune MATERNA, under the title “America the Beautiful.” Rather than varying the tune as a whole, I’ve taken select phrases of Bates’s poem and worked fancifully with the tones that proclaim them.
- Spacious Skies: the tune is discovered in a constellation of tones, then sung simply in the soprano.
- Amber Waves: continuous stepwise notes create a liquid texture.
- Above the Fruited Plain: a steady flow of quintuplets proliferates.
- America! America!: a waltz treatment in “Sousa-ian” style.
- Purple Mountain Majesty: rocking pairs develop a brooding meditation. Russian interference in the 2016 American election?
- From Sea to Shining Sea: a fugal finale, with a chorale to bring the strands together for a brilliant close.
Each piece in Occasionally Yours is dedicated to a friend. Three of them are monogrammed with a soggetto cavato, a theme taken from the letters of a name. The American Composers Forum commissioned The Belford Waltz in 1996 as a one-page piano solo in honor of Elinor Watson Bell. The first four notes of the waltz are E-B-E-LL, where L stands for La, the note A. The subject of Valse Brunelle is conductor and organist Philip Brunelle, Founder-Director of VocalEssence and organist at Plymouth Congregational Church. When I overheard my piano-club chum Deb Ford, a psychotherapist, speaking of “sitting on Freud’s lap,” a funky little piece was born. My friend Ann Buran was learning a Chopin mazurka every week in 2020. I didn’t think that was enough, so I wrote Ann’s Mazurka for her birthday, beginning naturally with A-B-C. The “Dave” of Dave’s Reel is not I, but David Buran, Ann’s husband, who passed away in 2014. The work won a Renée B. Fisher Award in 2017.
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