John Fitz Rogers
1 Blue River Variations (2003) 16:05
Marina Lomazov, piano
Sonata Lunaris (2005) (16:25)
2 I. Night Prayers 5:16
3 II. Lullaby (Pas de Deux) 6:25
4 III. If When Morn Is Near Our Dreams Are True 4:44
William Terwilliger, violin
Andrew Cooperstock, piano
5 Once Removed (2003) 8:54
(for two marimbas and click tracks)
Cameron Britt and Scott Herring, marimbas
Memoria Domi (2004) (24:26)
6 I. Intrada 4:35
7 II. A Measure of Home (Chaconne I) 8:44
8 III. Antiphon, Toccata, and Hymn 6:56
9 IV. A Memory of Home (Chaconne II) 4:11
Joseph Eller, clarinet
William Terwilliger, violin
Robert Jesselson, cello
Lynn Kompass, piano
TOTAL DURATION: 65:54
A superficial view of where concert music stands today might posit that postmodernism has “blown open the barn doors” and given today’s composers permission to pick and choose from an unlimited menu of stylistic options. But that very freedom is its own burden, especially for those composers who feel strongly that there is much they want to say while still drawing on fertile traditions of past classical styles. John Fitz Rogers parries this burden with as much grace, equilibrium, and natural conviction as any composer working today. As this recording makes clear, this Wisconsin native is writing music which proves that ingenious motivic development, sophisticated approach to harmony, and adept handling of form and proportion are all tools that can still be used to tell us new stories in the twenty-first century. With these tools at the service of an emotional clarity refreshingly free of irony, Rogers has firmly established his own compositional voice, an authentically middle-American one that unapologetically embraces its Western European antecedents.
John Fitz Rogers is very much a performer-oriented composer. A pianist himself, his music is tied closely to the physicality of playing and the dramatic possibilities inherent in performance. It’s often written with specific performers in mind, usually the artists who initiate the commission. Marina Lomazov’s ebullient virtuosity was clearly never far from Rogers’ thinking when he penned the Blue River Variations.
Rogers successfully avoids the boxiness often found in variation form, taking us instead on a continuous sixteen-minute journey, from the wistful opening theme through nine variations that are an astonishing match of mood and harmonic function. This work clearly shows us that Rogers is not a composer for whom tonality is to be used with the “quotation marks” of post-modernism, but rather someone for whom the handling of tonal harmony is very much a living, breathing art.
The piece has a strong narrative quality, as if the theme were a nostalgic reminiscence and the variations themselves flashbacks to other episodes of an implied tale. While some of the “remembrances” are poignant (the second variation), others are considerably more rollicking: a sort of peg-legged ragtime in the third variation, and notably the sixth variation (marked “Funky, grooving hard”). The variations loosely follow an arc traditional to the form, moving from the slow opening theme and early variations to gradually faster ones. But Rogers gives each its proper time to fully register without overstaying its welcome, and shifts between variations come as a delightful surprise, the old seamlessly merging into the new the way a small stream feeds into a larger river. Harmonically too, Blue River Variations is a circular journey, from the rootless E Major of the theme to the hard-won, fully-rooted, and almost shocking final E Major chord at the close.
Like Blue River Variations, aspects of Sonata Lunaris reflect the dedicatees of the piece, in this case Opus Two, the duo of violinist William Terwilliger and pianist Andrew Cooperstock. What better way to signify a long-time musical collaboration than a work in which the outer movements feature the two instruments shadowing each other’s line with hardly a hair’s breadth between? Rogers has written that the Sonata is “inspired by images of night.” It also has a great airiness to it, with wide-open sonorities in the first movement and darting figuration in the final movement, the textures rarely thickening. That transparency can be attributed to very contrapuntal writing for both instruments, with the violin, piano right hand, and piano left hand frequently interweaving three distinct lines, especially evident in that final movement.
In fact Sonata Lunaris shows Rogers to be a composer able to spin a large-scale, ambitiously expressive work out of a deliberately restricted quantity of raw material. Rogers writes that the first movement (“Night Prayers”) “features long pleading phrases that alternate with hymn-like chords in the piano.” Those piano chords punctuate the ends of musical paragraphs: each of the first two are roughly twenty bars in length, but Rogers maintains the intensity of line so compellingly that the third “verse” is sustained all the way to the end of the movement, a remarkable span of some eighty measures.
The central movement, a haunting “Lullaby,” is said by Rogers to be “at once a cradle song as well as a song of lovers.” But the sweetness is tinged by some ineffable sadness, too. The final movement’s title, “If When Morn is Near Our Dreams Are True,” comes from the twenty-sixth Canto of Dante’s “Inferno,” and as Rogers writes, “refers to the ancient idea that dreams closer to morning are somehow truer or more insightful than those dreamt in the deep of night.” Even here the economy of means is still in evidence: the fleet, mercurial gestures of the violin and piano right hand at close canon are a kind of sped-up version of the “pleading” gestures of “Night Prayers.” Only near the conclusion does the harmonic restlessness of most of the entire work decisively resolve itself.
With Once Removed, the timbre of two marimbas, the repetition of a simple harmonic cycle at the beginning, and the adherence to a basic pulse all put the listener in mind of Steve Reich’s music at least initially. But once Rogers has tipped his cap to the minimalist master, the piece takes a very different direction. While pulse always remains a central consideration (the two players intricately interlock by means of separate click tracks), Once Removed turns the expectation of a “process” piece on its head. Into the third minute, the sunny opening has begun to take a darker turn, and from then on we feel a greater unpredictability in the harmonic direction of the piece, a direction guided more by the composer’s intuitive sense and less by the need to adhere to a hyper-rational structure, minimalist or not.
There’s a kind of a “funhouse mirror” aspect to the structure in the way the piece’s pure untroubled opening meets its reverse image about halfway through, with the intervallic gestures inverted, the harmonies more anxious, and the range lower and darker. Then too, the low ominous B’s that mark this middle point are themselves mirrored by the very high B’s on which the two performers join forces for the final sixteen bars of the piece.
Rarely does one hear a composer born post-Sputnik who has clearly internalized a profound understanding of harmonic direction, implications, and inferences; and even more rarely does one find a composer who stamps that harmonic mastery with a clear stylistic signature. This is one of the most notable aspects of John Fitz Rogers’ music, and nowhere is it more evident than in Memoria Domi, roughly translated as “a memory of home.” Rogers has said that in this work (the largest-scale work on this recording) he “wanted to explore the concept of home from different musical, personal, and metaphorical perspectives, as well as the idea that one’s return home or memory of home is always accompanied by change.”
The opening “Intrada” alternates a fanfare of nervous energy (all four instruments fused tightly together) with quieter material that presages the Antiphon of the third movement. The second movement (“A Measure of Home”) is the first of two chaconnes that make literal (with its “ground” bass) Rogers’ idea of home. Like the movement that follows, it is cast in A-B-A form, with calmer outer sections framing an agonized, expressionistic outburst in-between.
“Antiphon, Toccata, and Hymn” continues to “up the ante” in terms of the tonal structure of the piece; like the second movement, its beginning tonal center is a half-step higher than the previous movement’s. The “not-quite” unison of clarinet, violin, and cello of the Antiphon also recalls the similar technique from the outer movements of Sonata Lunaris. (Actually all four of the works on this recording display Rogers’ penchant for polyrhythm and canon: most obviously in the close canon and hocketing of Once Removed and the “shadowing” of the Sonata, but more subtly present in the other two works as well.) The central Toccata is a whirlwind, a perpetual motion machine mostly in a sixteenth-note rhythmic grouping of 3-3-2-2, with just enough renegade bars inserted periodically to keep us off balance. Culminating in the granitic chords of the Hymn, the movement in turn leads without interruption to the final movement, the second Chaconne. Now the simple bass line is harmonized purely, free of adornment. There is a heartbreakingly elegiac tone to this “memory of home,” as if the ensemble’s rising to ever more fragile and vulnerable heights represents the ultimate impossibility of retaining a permanent grasp on any tangible reality.
All four of these works tell us that John Fitz Rogers is a composer who steadfastly believes in writing music that lays out a case for itself, that must be heard from beginning to end in order to absorb its argument. He’s not one for the aural snapshot, the invasive sonic assault, nor the kind of piece that gives away everything it has in the first two minutes. In the final analysis, perhaps the most remarkable accomplishment of this music is that a listener can both appreciate the visceral appeal on a first hearing and delight in discovering the subtleties of its construction on repeated hearings. Every note of Rogers’ music carries with it the conviction and heart behind it.
John Fitz Rogers grew up in Wisconsin, where he studied classical and jazz piano and began composing at age twelve. His output ranges from chamber, vocal, and symphonic works to Transit, a rock-inspired 44-minute concerto for solo electric guitar, keyboard, and computer-generated virtual orchestra that explores tempos and textures beyond the ability of human performers.
Rogers's music has been performed in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, the National Cathedral, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and by ensembles, festivals, and performers such as the Albany, Louisville, Charleston, and Tulsa Symphony, Bang on a Can Marathon, Eastman Wind Ensemble, the Rockport, Bumbershoot, and Keys To The Future Festival, New Century Saxophone Quartet, Antares, Lionheart, Composers, Inc., New York Virtuoso Singers, Meehan/Perkins Duo, guitarist Michael Nicolella, and saxophonist Arno Bornkamp. His many awards, commissions, and fellowships include those from ASCAP, Music At The Anthology, New York Youth Symphony, American Composers Forum, American Music Center, National Flute Association, MacDowell Colony, Massachusetts Cultural Council, South Carolina Arts Commission, and the Heckscher Foundation.
Rogers holds degrees in music from Cornell University, the Yale School of Music, and Oberlin College, where he studied with Martin Bresnick, Jacob Druckman, Roberto Sierra, and Steven Stucky. He is currently an Associate Professor of Composition at the University of South Carolina School of Music. A dedicated advocate for contemporary music, he founded and is Artistic Director of the Southern Exposure New Music Series, which received the 2005-06 Chamber Music America / ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming.
For more information, visit www.johnfitzrogers.com.
Recorded April-May 2005 (Blue River Variations); May 2005 (Once Removed); January 2007 (Sonata Lunaris); and September 2007 (Memoria Domi) at the University of South Carolina School of Music Recital Hall, Columbia, South Carolina. Producer: John Fitz Rogers. Engineer: Jeff Francis. This CD is partially supported by a grant from the University of South Carolina Research Opportunity Program. Special thanks to Andrew, Bill, Bob, Cameron, Jeff, Joe, Lynn, Marina, and Scott, for their artistry, dedication, and support in making this recording possible.
Percussionist and composer N. Cameron Britt was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. He holds degrees in music theory and percussion performance from Northwestern University, as well as a degree in composition from the University of South Carolina. As a Fulbright Scholar, he worked with composer, improviser and vibraphone virtuoso Anders Āstrand in Stockholm, Sweden. Cameron has performed extensively with the North Carolina Symphony as well as with numerous other orchestras throughout the Southeast. In addition, he performs with cellist Tom Kraines as the free improvisation duo Dithyramb. Cameron is currently a graduate fellow in composition at Princeton University.
Joseph Eller is an Assistant Professor of Clarinet at the University of South Carolina. A native of Ypsilanti, Michigan, he studied at Eastern Michigan University (BM), Louisiana State University (MM) and the Peabody Institute of Music. His teachers include Steven Cohen, D. Ray McClellan, Armand Abramson, Laura Ardan, Steven Barta, Ted Oien and Dan Silver. Mr. Eller has given recitals and has been soloist with ensembles throughout North America, Europe and Japan. He was co-Host and co-Artistic Director of the 2006 International Clarinet Association convention (ClarinetFest2006) in Atlanta, GA. Joseph Eller is an artist/clinician for the Buffet Crampon clarinet company.
Scott Herring is currently an Associate Professor of Percussion at the University of South Carolina, where he directs the Percussion Ensemble and the Palmetto Pans Steel Band. Previously he served as Assistant Professor of Percussion and Assistant Director of Bands at Emporia State University. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from East Carolina University, and a Masters and Doctor of Music degree from Northwestern University, where his primary teachers included Michael Burritt, Mark Ford, James Ross, and Harold Jones. While residing in Chicago, Scott performed for two seasons with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. He has also presented clinics and concerts throughout the United States, including a clinic at the 2002 Percussive Arts Society International Convention.
Cellist Robert Jesselson is a Carolina Distinguished Professor at the University of South Carolina, and was the national President of the American String Teachers Association from 2000-2002. He is now the Executive Director of the National String Project Consortium. Dr. Jesselson has performed in recital and with orchestras throughout Europe, Asia, South America, and the United States, and has participated in music festivals at Nice, Granada, Santiago, Aspen, Spoleto and the Grand Tetons. He holds degrees from the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg, Germany, from the Eastman School of Music where he studied with Paul Katz, and the DMA from Rutgers where he studied with Bernard Greenhouse. He has served as principal cello of the South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orquesta-Sinfonica de Las Palmas, Spain.
Pianist Lynn Kompass maintains an active career as vocal coach, chamber musician, recital collaborator, and teacher, and is currently an Assistant Professor in the voice department at the University of South Carolina. As an opera coach, she has worked at the University of Michigan, University of Tennessee, Aspen Opera Theater, Palmetto Opera, and Opera Brasil, and has also performed in association with the Ravinia Music Festival, Chicago Opera Theater, Chicago Chamber Musicians, Michigan Chamber Players, and Chicago Civic Orchestra. Recent performances include recitals at Weill Recital Hall in New York, Strings in the Mountain Festival, University of Texas at Austin, and the International Conference of Arts and Humanities in Honolulu. Ms. Kompass received her graduate degrees in Collaborative Piano at the University of Michigan, where she studied with Martin Katz and Katherine Collier.
Marina Lomazov, an Associate Professor of Piano at the University of South Carolina, has been awarded top prizes in several of the world’s major piano competitions including Cleveland International (Silver Medal), Kapell International (Carmen Sasmore Prize), Bachauer International (Brahms Prize), and Hilton Head International (First Prize). Her performances in North and South America, Europe, Japan, Russia, and throughout the United States have prompted several reviewers to call her “one of the best young pianists in America today”. Ms. Lomazov holds degrees from The Juilliard School and the Eastman School of Music, the latter granting her the highly coveted Artist’s Certificate – an honor the institution had not bestowed upon a pianist for nearly two decades. Her principal teachers include Natalya Antonova, Jerome Lowenthal, Barry Snyder, and Valeri Sagaidachny.
Opus Two has been hailed for its “divine phrases, impelling rhythm, elastic ensemble and stunning sounds” as well as its commitment to expanding the violin–piano duo repertoire. Since winning the 1993 United States Information Agency’s Artistic Ambassador Auditions, Opus Two has performed throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, Latin America, Australia, and Russia. Recent highlights include debut recitals in London and New York, and appearances at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, Spoleto, and Round Top. In addition to performing with Opus Two, pianist Andrew Cooperstock is chair of the keyboard department at the University of Colorado, and has performed as soloist or chamber player in most of the fifty states. He has also given lectures and recitals at the Hochschule für Musik Hans Eisler in Berlin, Germany, the Academy of Music in Riga, Latvia, and the Universities of Bordeaux and Nice in France, among others. William Terwilliger is Professor of Violin and director of chamber music at the University of South Carolina, where he also directs the annual USC String Quartet Workshop. He previously taught on the faculty of the University of Toledo, and has given masterclasses on four continents.