Nancy Van de Vate/ SAMPLES FROM RECENT Vienna Modern Masters-CDs


Picture Nancy van de Vate

Born in the USA and now living in Vienna, Austria, composer Nancy Van de Vate is known worldwide for her music in the large forms. Her opera, All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Western nichts Neues), was premiered in Osnabrück, Germany in 2003 and performed there ten times. It was also included in the New York City Opera’s 2003: Showcasing American Composers series. In 2005 her new chamber opera, Where the Cross is Made, based on the play by Eugene O’Neill, was selected by the National Opera Association as winner of its international biennial competition and was subsequendy performed in several American cities.

Her 26 orchestral works include the well-known Chernobyl, performed in Vienna, Hamburg, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and the USA. She has also composed extensively for solo performers and small ensemble. Her newest works include String Quartet No. 2, commissioned by the Vienna Mozart Year 2006, and Brass Quintet No. 2: Variations on the "Streets of Laredo." Her biography, Journeys Through the Life and Music of Nancy Van de Vate, written by Prof. Laurdella Foulkes-Levy and Dr. Burt Levy, was published in 2004 by Scarecrow Press.

Van de Vate participated in the 2005 World Music Council and has been a Nominator for the Kyoto Prize in Music since its inception 20 years ago. She is President of the international recording company, Vienna Modern Masters (VMM), and in 1975 was Founder of the International League of Women Composers. Also active as an educator, she ts the author of more than 200 articles and papers.

NEMO: JENSEITS VON VULKANIA was commissioned in the autumn of 1990 by arts patron John Uihlein of Baden-Baden, Germany and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and his long-time friend, Allen Cortés, author of the original libretto. Both John Uihlein and Allen Cortés knew the traditional operatic repertoire extremely well and in conceiving the libretto for NEMO, Mr. Cortés was influenced by summer productions he had seen on the lake stage at Bregenz, Austria. The composer and her husband, Clyde Smith, president of Vienna Modern Masters, met in Bregenz with John Uihlein and Allen Cortés in 1990 and 1991 to gather ideas for the possible staging of NEMO: JENSEITS VON VULKANIA.

NEMO was meant by the librettist to be a happy opera, one with elements of romance, adventure and fantasy. Mr. Cortes wanted the audience "to go home whistling the tunes." The composer, having worked for more than a year with the unremittingly somber, tragic material of her opera in three acts, "All Quiet on the Western Front," was pleased to begin a contrasting work, one with a happy ending. While the music for NEMO is contemporary in style, it is always lyric and accessible.

In December 1991 Mr. Cortés withdrew from the project, and the composer completed the opera alone during the next three years, extensively revising the libretto and reducing its original length. Although neither John Uihlein nor Clyde Smith lived to hear the finished work, its realization would not have been possible without John Uihlein's original assistance and Clyde Smith's unflagging encouragement and help. Copying of the score was assisted by a generous gift from Gerald Morgan of Midlothian, Virginia and grants from the Austrian Ministry for the Arts. The composer is also indebted to producer Tony Converse of New York for his invaluable advice on restructuring the libretto.

Teufelstanz (The Devil's Dance) is a four-movement work for percussion ensemble of six players. It is derived from the composer's Krakow Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra, created for the Polish Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra of Krakow and its excellent percussion section. Both works were begun and substantially completed at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig, Ireland in the summer of 1988, supported by a Composer's Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, USA.

The opening movement is built on three short motives. The first is a series of loud unison strokes performed by the entire ensemble. This is followed by a triplet figure which becomes an ostinato accompaniment for the third motive, a syncopated 16th-note pattern. The slow second movement begins pointillistically and features a variety of shimmering timbres followed by persistent rhythms in tom-toms and bongos and rapid passage work in the marimba. The movement is in binary form.

The third movement opens with an expressive melody in the marimba, followed by a series of variations, including an extended chaconne built on an inversion of the opening melody's first four notes. Also heard is the famous interrupted melody sounded from the tower of St. Mary's Church every hour of the day and night. The Fourth movement opens with the heavy strokes which began the composition. These are succeeded by rapid rhythms introduced by tom-toms. Other players enter one by one, and composed material alternates with free improvisation.

Synopsis Where the cross is made (opera in one act)

It is early on a clear windy night in the fall of 1900. The scene is Captain Bartlett's "cabin" - a room erected as a lookout post at the top of his house, high on the California coast. The inside is fitted up like the captain's cabin of a deep-sea sailing vessel, with portholes, and the wind moans in the stubborn angles of the old house. The muffled sound of thundering surf comes from below.

Nat, a tall, gaunt man of about thirty, whose right arm has been amputated at the shoulder, is speaking with Dr. Higgins about having his father committed to the local asylum. Captain Bartlett, a retired whaling captain, paces up and down on the roof every night watching for the return of his ship, which was reported sunk several years earlier. He dreams of recovering hidden treasure which he and three of his crew said they buried on an island after the wreck of an earlier ship. Nat has a map of the island, given him by his father, which shows the treasure to be buried "where the cross is made." Neighbors, concerned by Captain Bartlett's strange behavior, have pressured the Bartletts’ landlord to foreclose their mortgage, if the captain is not sent away.

Dr. Higgins agrees to come back with two attendants later in the evening, to take Captain Bartlett to the asylum. Sue, Nat's sister, is very opposed to her father being sent away, but the agreement with Dr. Higgins had been reached before she was aware of it. She regards her father's behavior and his dreams as harmless. Nat, however, has been tormented for years by his belief in his father’s dreams on the one hand, and his realization, on the other, that they are not true.

There is a loud muffled cry from above, and the slide to the companionway is slid back with a bang. Captain Bartlett tramps down the stairs and into the room. He accuses Nat of thinking him mad, but after an acrimonious scene, Nat follows his father up the companionway. A loud "Mary Allen ahoy!” comes from above in Bartlett’s voice, then Nat comes down the companionway, his eyes wild and exulting. Sue tries to persuade him that there is no ship to be seen, but he does not believe her. Bartlett comes down the companionway, his face transfigured with the ecstasy of a dream come true. The sound of the wind and sea suddenly ceases, and there is a heavy silence. A dense green glow floods slowly into the room - as of great depths of the sea faintly penetrated by light. Bartlett throws open the door to the stairs, and the forms of his lost crew, Silas Horne, Cates, and Jimmy Kanaka, rise noiselessly into the room. The last two carry heavy inlaid chests. Their bodies sway limply, nervelessly, rhythmically, as if to the pulse of long swells in the deep sea.

Bartlett goes up the companionway, and the three silent forms follow him. Nat attempts to go, too, but the slide seems to have been shut. Sue cries for help, and Dr. Higgins appears. He goes up the companionway and finds no one there but Captain Bartlett, who appears to have fainted. Nat also goes up, and he and Dr. Higgins reappear carrying Captain Bartlett. He is dead. Higgins leaves and Nat rushes over to his father’s body, forcing open his hand. He takes out a crumpled ball of paper. As Sue sobs brokenly, Nat declares in a mad, solemn voice that he will now go and find the treasure. The paper is a map, and on it is written in the captain's handwriting, “The treasure is buried where the cross is made.”

CONCERTO FOR HARP, commissioned by the Austrian Ministry for Science, Research and the Arts, was composed in Vienna and Kartitsch, Austria in 1996. It received its world-premiere performance by the Moravian Philharmonic in Olomouc, Czech Republic, on June 22, 1998 with Toshiyuki Shimada conducting and Adriana Antalova as soloist.

In keeping with the diatonic nature of the harp and its beauty and delicacy of tone, the concerto is less dissonant than many of the composer’s other mature works. Scored for harp and string orchestra, it is in three contrasting movements, each of which features a solo cadenza. The first movement, in ternary form, opens with a contrapuntal exposition of a diatonic theme, followed by a more lyric middle section in 7/8 meter. After the solo cadenza, a recapitulation of the opening material brings the movement to an energetic close.

The slow, melancholy second movement is primarily in Phrygian mode and opens with a stepwise melody in the harp. An increase of motion leads to the movement’s cli-max, which precedes the cadenza. A return of the opening melody closes the movement. The final fast movement is built on a scale of two tetrachords of identical structure: half-step, minor third, half-step. This unusual scale, B-C-D#-E-F#-G-A#-B, shares with the Phrygian mode of the preceding movement the melancholy half-step interval between first and second scale tones.

"The Streets of Laredo" also known as "The Cowboy's Lament" is a poignant Folk song from the American Southwest. Long a Favorite of the composer’s late husband who had grown up in Oklahoma, Van de Vate felt it would lend itself well to a work For brass. In response to a commission from the University of Mississippi in 2005, she composed Brass Quintet No. 2: Variations on "The Streets of Laredo". The work was premiered by The Mississippi Brass at a festival of Van de Vate’s music held in the University's concert hall on October 9, 2005 and then recorded by the same performers. The quintet’s opening statement of the theme, heard as if from far off, is followed by seven variations of contrasting speeds, textures, rhythms, dynamics, and modes. The final variation is a fast, imitative statement of the theme and brings the work to a lively close.

Two for Two was created in response to marimbist Jane Boxall's request for a piece for two marimbas. Its two movements first appeared as interludes in A Peacock Southeast Flew: Concerto for Pipa and Orchestra, composed in 1997. The first interlude was scored for pipa and flute, and the second, for pipa and marimba. Because the pipa and marimba have much in common-both their range and the need for tones to be sustained through rapid repetition-the interludes were easily transcribed for two marimbas. They were recorded by Jane Boxall in January 2010.

Hamlet Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is the most famous play in the English language. Also frequently read, performed, and filmed in other languages, it has rarely been set to music. The two best-known instances are Ambroise Thomas’ opera, Hamlet, first performed in 1868, and music by Shostakovitch for the Russian film. Thomas’ opera is written in French and makes a particularly striking change in the plot of Shakespeare’s drama: Hamlet does not die at the end but lives to become King of Denmark. Shostakovitch’s powerful score does not use words and was conceived of as straightforward film music. It is now best known in the form of an orchestral suite drawn from the music for the film.

Shakespeare’s original play is extremely long and is frequently abbreviated in performance. Because singing words is generally slower than speaking them, duration is even more of a concern when using the play as the basis of a libretto. For this composer, however, the beauty of the language, the strong characterizations, the high drama, and the intense emotions in this extraordinary play never failed to suggest--and even helped create-- expressive settings of the text and an appropriate musical language.

The libretto was constructed as the opera was composed. The first few notes of Hamlet were written in January 2003. However, work on the opera was not resumed until September of that year when the composer was in Osnabrück, Germany fot the world premiere of her opera Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front). The orchestral score of Hamlet was completed in 2009, and the piano-vocal score was created the following year. Recording of the opera took place in late August 2011 in Olomouc, Czech Republic, and the compact disc album was completed and released in early 2012.

[Hamlet: overture]