Songs from Unremembered

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Songs from Unremembered

Sarah Kirkland Snider
Born in 1973

By Marianne Williams Tobias
The Marianne Williams Tobias Program Note Annotator Chair


Sarah Kirkland Snider is a young, stellar American composer, dividing her time between New York and Princeton, New Jersey. A passionate supporter of new music, she has received continuous acclaim for her “direct expression and vivid narrative [in] “rapturous music…emblematic of a new generation” (New York Times) and attention to poetic detail. The Philadelphia Inquirer has called her “a potentially significant voice on the American music landscape; Time Out New York stated that she is “among the brightest lights to emerge in recent seasons. She received an M.M. and Artist Diploma from the Yale School of Music and her B.A. from Wesleyan University. 

Her first album, Penelope released in 2010 was a major hit, receiving the award as Number I, Classical Album of 2010 by Time Out, New York. She is popular, energetic, and immensely talented.  Already she has around 5,000 followers on Twitter. On July 7, 2015 she tweeted  “See guys, classical music isn’t dead. ”She also serves as a Co-Director of New Amsterdam Records in New York City, which will release Songs from Unremembered on September 9, 2015 with artwork by Nathaniel Bellows. The release will include a CD and a limited addition on white vinyl. As on tonight’s program, the San Francisco Symphony performed Three Songs from Unremembered on July 5, 2015 at the Stern Grove Festival with conductor Edwin Outwater, with Shara Worden vocalist.  Opera News, 2/27/15 noted: “Worden and Kirkland Snider are an artistic to watch for!  On Ms. Snider’s tweets you can also see rehearsals of that performance.

Unremembered is a thirteen part song cycle  for seven voices and chamber orchestra and electronics, commissioned by Merkin Hall at the Kaufman Center for the Ecstatic Music Festival. These songs are based on ten poems by Nathaniel Bellows (writer, poet, and visual artist), which recalls his childhood in rural Massachusetts, and his visions of the adult world. Reviews of his first publication Why Speak noted, “Bellows is an artist … who is committed to the visual arts and music as he is to the written word.  His poems are intensely visual, and the long, daring lines enjamb with an intricate music.” (New York Times, July 22, 2007)

In 2013, Ms. Snider added three new songs for the cycle. In an interview on February 27, 2015 Ms. Snider stated: “Nathaniel is an old friend of mine: we met while undergraduates at Middlebury College. … [In this collaboration] I think our work shares a sensibility in terms of its lyricism and attraction to shadowed, elegiac and dramatic narratives…. Songs from Unremembered is about innocence, experience, and the hard-won wisdom that comes with the passing of time.”

The song cycle began as a five-song collection Scenes from Unremembered, which Ms. Snider first wrote for the vocal octet Roomful of Teeth. She writes “[this] pastoral is belied by a subtle pathos as a houseguest takes a sudden leave in the middle of the night, a boy makes a shocking discovery on the banks of a river, a girl disappears in the woods behind a ranging farm, a swan meets its artless end-all while the grouse fly and birdsong intones wordlessly through the fields.”

On this program you will hear Number 4  The Guest, Number 7 The Swan and Number 8 The Witch. The guest mysteriously disappears amid harmonic discords; the swan is gruesomely run over, (note the pulsating, heartbeat-like chords); and the witch emerges as a vision glimpsed by the author sitting by a campfire. Listen herein for the rhythmic syncopations, and imaginative coloration from guitar and celesta. Throughout these songs, the music is vividly evocative, at times frightening, richly orchestrated, and haunting as the composer “explores and manipulates the idea of childhood memories made hazy over time.”  (Chelsea Huber, 4/24/2015)  

Ms. Snider will be collaborating again with Nathaniel Bellows on a new work. On July 8, 2015, she tweeted “ I will be writing a Mass with NH Bellows on endangered animals. A Requiem for the not-yet-gone.” Mr. Bellows tweeted on July 9, 2015“ Psyched to have another inspiring writing/musical collaboration with the great Snider.” This Mass is part of Mass Reimaginings curated by Daniel Felsenfeld commissioned by Trinity Wall Street.

This is the first time the ISO has performed Songs from Unremembered.

© Marianne Williams Tobias, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2016

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