“Art songs have been moving out of classical music in the last many years,” writes composer David Lang. “Indie rock seems to be the place where Schubert’s sensibilities now lie, a better match for direct story telling and intimate emotionality.”
Lang’s death speaks, along with his work depart, is released on Cantaloupe music on April 30.
In death speaks — co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall and Stanford Lively Arts, and written for Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, Owen Pallett and Shara Worden — Lang explores art song with the help of a group of classically trained artists who made their careers in the indie rock world.
In depart — written for cellist Maya Beiser and vocalists Elizabeth Farnum, Katie Geissinger, Alexandra Montano, and Alex Sweeton — Lang creates a sonic environment where listeners can examine their personal grieving process.
The recording was produced by Bryce Dessner, co-founder of the band The National.
death speaks received its world premiere on January 27, 2012 at Stanford University and is, in part, a companion to Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning composition the little match girl passion. Lang found inspiration in Schubert lieder, particularly in the texts for such songs as “Death and the Maiden” and “Die schöne Müllerin.”
Lang writes, “What makes the texts of these Schubert songs so interesting is that Death is personified. It isn’t a state of being or a place or a metaphor, but a person, a character in a drama who can tell us in our own language what to expect in the World to Come.” Just as the text for the little match girl passion is made up of Lang’s paraphrases of texts from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, the libretto for death speaks quotes every instance in Schubert of Death speaking directly to us, taken from 32 different songs.
To support the album, death speaks will be performed several times over the 2013-14 season. On April 30 and May 1, 2013 selections from death speaks will be performed by Shara Worden, Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly with eighth blackbird at the MCA in Chicago. On May 2, 2013 Worden, Dessner and Lang are presented by the Apple Store in Chicago on N. Michigan Ave. On May 12, 2013, Muhly, Worden, and violinist Pekka Kuusisto will perform the piece at the Barbican, London.
death speaks will also be prominently featured at the 2013 Bang on a Can marathon. There it will be performed by Worden and the Bang on a Can All Stars. On April 8, 2014, death speaks will be performed as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella series.
The album also features Lang’s work depart, commissioned by the hospital Raymond Poincaré in Garches, France. Deliberately written so that it cannot be performed live — the unending vocal parts are performed without spaces for breath — the work was recorded by cellist Maya Beiser and vocalists Elizabeth Farnum, Katie Geissinger, Alexandra Montano and Alex Sweeton.
The genesis of depart came when the doctors of Raymond Poincaré commissioned Italian artist Ettore Spalletti to design a comforting space where families and friends could come and say goodbye to their loved ones. “The hospital contacted Lang and British artist Scanner to design two musical soundscapes to accompany the designer’s beautiful azure room”.
Of the music, Lang has commented, “Music goes into you. It bypasses all your normal protection mechanisms. It goes to the place in you that is not accessed with language or rationality… and I imagined the music in this morgue as having this horrible power to make people feel cold or make people break down, and I wanted to do something much more neutral, which was to say: here is an environment which does not tell you specifically how you are suppose to feel, but gives you permission to feel whatever you need to feel, in that moment. I wanted to make something that gave people permission to examine which way they wanted to go with their emotions.”
David Lang’s work is by turns ominous, ethereal, urgent, hypnotic and unsettling, but always emotionally direct. Washington Post critic Tim Page has written, “I don’t think I’ve ever been so moved by a new, and largely unheralded, composition as I was by David Lang’s ‘little match girl passion,’ which is unlike any music I know.”
Lang’s music has been heard at Tanglewood, the BBC Proms, Lincoln Center, Southbank Centre, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Barbican Centre; and alongside the choreography of Twyla Tharp, Benjamin Millepied, La La La Human Steps, The Netherlands Dance Theater, and Paris Opera Ballet. Lang won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in music for the little match girl passion. The recording on Harmonia Mundi was awarded a 2010 Grammy Award for Best Small Ensemble Performance.
In addition to being named Musical America’s 2013 Composer of the Year and Carnegie Hall’s Debs Composer’s Chair for 2013-2014, Lang has also received grants from the Doris Duke Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His recordings include this was written by hand, the little match girl passion, pierced, elevated, child and the passing measure. His film credits include Requiem for a Dream, (Untitled) and The Woodmans. Lang is a professor of composition at the Yale School of Music.