If There Were Water
Donald Nally, conductor
Crossings Cycle Stratis Minakakis
un/bodying/s Gregory W. Brown
Crossings Cycle (2015/2017)
Epigram 1 2:31
Epigram 2 4:16
…if there were water… 6:05
…who is the third… 3:49
Epigram 3 4:02
Gregory W. Brown
1. The Meeting of the Waters 8:03
2. The Valley of Lost Names 5:56
3. Questions for a Disincorporation/Atlantis 9:59
4. Poem with Any End 8:24
Stratis Minakakis (b. 1979)
July 2015, Island of Lesvos, Greece. We arrive at the island of Lesvos at the same time as a massive influx of refugees from Syria lands on the Greek shores. Lesvos is the primary destination for the hordes of flimsy inflatable boats, the transportation means of choice of the Turkish smugglers. The number of families with pregnant women or small children that arrive is astonishing. Toddlers younger than my then three-year-old daughter, newborns, and their exhausted parents, brave the unforgiving heat without food or water as they walk the 60 kilometers of mountainous terrain that separate our resort town of Mithymna from the port of Mytilene. There, they will endure unspeakable hardships for days until a boat chartered by the Greek government, itself collapsing under the uncontrollable financial crisis, transfers them to the port of Piraeus. From there, most will walk for three weeks to reach someplace in Europe, hopefully Germany or Sweden. As I am thinking about this piece, my wife suggests rereading the The Waste Land. The verses “if there were water and no rock” and “who is the third who walks always beside you” seem painfully relevant.
Crossings’ Epigrams is an elegy on things irretrievably lost. Once again, I turned to Ancient Greek literature because it expresses something about the human condition that resonates deeply within me. Three text fragments are interwoven throughout the three short movements that comprise Crossings’ Epigrams: the moment where Odysseus tries to grasp the fleeting vision of his mother, which escapes like a ‘shadow’, or a ‘dream’ (Homer, Odyssey, Book 11); the lines uttered to Antigone by the exhausted old Oedipus as they arrive in Athens, where they plan to seek refuge (Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus); Hecuba's lament over the fall of Troy and collapse of the House of Priam (Euripides, The Trojan Women). Epigram I is a fantasy on the words ‘shadow’ and ‘dream’ of the Homeric text. Epigram II interlaces Odysseus’ agonizing description with Oedipus’ painful realization regarding his current state. Epigram III presents Hecuba’s lament, echoed in distortion by the sea waves, transforming to a chaotic primordial cry. Shadows of the Homeric text trace an invisible but omnipresent line that connects the three Epigrams.
Crossings’ Epigrams can be performed autonomously, or in conjunction with Crossings. In the second case, as heard here, Epigrams I and II are performed as a unit before Crossings; Epigram III is performed immediately after the conclusion of Crossings.
Crossings’ Epigrams (set in the original Greek)
…Three times I sprang
Toward her, and my will said, ‘Clasp her’, and three times
She flitted from my arms like a shadow or a dream…
– Homer, Odyssey, Book 11, 206-208 (trans. A. T. Murray, rev. George E. Dimock)
…Little do I crave, and obtain
Still less than that little, and with that I am content...
– Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 5-6 (trans. Sir Richard C. Jebb)
…Lift your head, unhappy one, from the ground; raise up your neck;
This is Troy no more…
–Euripides, The Trojan Women, 98-99 (trans. E. P. Coleridge)
…if there were water…
If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water.
– T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land, V. What the Thunder Said, 246-250
…who is the third…
Who is the third who walks always beside you?
– T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land, V. “What the Thunder Said,” 360
[ NOTE TO PHILIP: THIS PERMISSION SHOULD FOLLOW TODD’S TEXT AS FOUND IN THE PDF]
Gregory W. Brown (b. 1974)
text by Todd Hearon (b. 1968)
The Quabbin Reservoir is located in the former Swift River Valley of western Massachusetts. Engineers had been considering the Swift River Valley for a reservoir to ease the growing demands for fresh water in Boston since about 1895. In 1938 the towns of Dana, Prescott, Enfield, and Greenwich were legally disincorporated and the valley, now cleared of all things human, was flooded until it reached its 400 billion gallon capacity in 1946.
In the first part of un/bodying/s I took Todd’s language as a cue to represent an avalanche of culture enveloping a landscape. The music is dizzying at times, and references a variety of styles and textures. It is a jumble of rock tumbling down the hillside — a river cascading to the sea. Water symbolizes various things in various cultures: a bridge to the underworld, dream-space, the subconscious, flow and vitality (here dammed and controlled). Water has its own story here — its own migration through our environment.
Any story of diaspora is also a human story, and the second part of un/bodying/s settles into a calm and reflective pool. The music is relatively stable in harmony and style. We see individuals going about their daily work. We see human detail and intimacy.
Part 3 is all about place and time. Displacement can be a result of movement in space, in time, or both. The music goes into a deep nostalgic past, perhaps to the 1938 Enfield Farewell Ball itself, here inhabited by trees and birds made human in the mind’s eye. The record skips – itself a displacement of phonograph needle both in space (to another groove) and time (to repeat the immediate past). The 7,000+ graves are carefully removed and reinterred in a new cemetery. The fields, now covered in ice, are locked in summer. The birds return, and it is suddenly simultaneously winter, spring, and summer.
Humans collectively form a diaspora from the past, pushed out of the present into the foreign future. The islands, still referred to by their mountain names, poke through the surface of Quabbin and intrude into the present as a sort of geographic palimpsest. In a similar way, Atlantis intrudes into the reverie of Part 3. Utopic Atlantis has haunted Western culture for millennia: The notion that we were perfect… before it all fell apart… before the flood. The speaker looks up through the water at the sun, now turned blue and distant. Culture is rendered undecipherable and forgotten; the speaker longs to be moving.
Part 4 brings us to Boston, John Winthrop’s City Upon a Hill. The music is staid and implacable and references Renaissance techniques and textures, placing it firmly in the erudite and urbane city. We quickly detour into the madness that are the streets of present-day Boston and into an uncertain future, haunted by sea-level rise. Out of Boston we confront the question that is the heart of Quabbin, and of all civilization: How do cities meet the demand for water? At what cost? Rome had its methods, and their architecture remains and reminds us of the importance of water to all peoples at all times. We watch the water flow back downhill to Boston as it makes its cycle. That deep human longing to see our home through “unbeclouded eyes” is fleeting and ultimately we are reminded that all cultures pass.
– Gregory W. Brown
“I have made
an elegy for myself it
—Geoffrey Hill, i.m., 1932–2016
1. The Meeting of the Waters
Sempiternal waters, sing-
ly sing, gush glottal-less & all
triphthong’s liquid pluraling
through rock & ruck & rill
purl, pounce, pronounce & preen the sourceless
flourish of your sundry selves, unseamed
ensembling in simul-
taneous tumult the babbling
Earth’s eternal tongues;
Yggdrasil, within whose watery limbs
climbs the burgeoning current
of birdsong indistinguishable—
wren-trickle, thrush’s trill,
aria of orioles
dissolved in the dawn chorus
but intimated tributaries
voicings of a universal
dialect, a will
gone malleable & migratory
raptured in translation, diaspora
becoming at a stroke
in Bacchic spring come thundering
down the escarpment’s scree & skim
littering the valley
with erratics, scattered limbs
of a glacial language éxtant only in
kettle, esker drift,
where a village went; what crook
denotes you truly, what
wandering wand divines
your secular in-saecula-
your mouth’s green myth
pressed to the ocean’s ear,
your mountain tale in touch
with some ridiculous sublime
that slips like the gopher soul into its hole
surfacing into the world of time:
The score includes the following additions:
chipmunk, Massachusett, moose, Nichewaug, Nenameseck, racoon, skunk, woodchuck
1 There is a land of pure delight,
where saints immortal reign; infinite day excludes the night, and pleasures banish pain.
— music by Jeremiah Ingalls
text by Isaac Watts
2. The Valley of Lost Names
Think of a time our own names conjure
nothing but a body of unbroken water
(Moon over Quabbin. Body of bottled light
poured across the body of the water,
something far, at the surface—finned or feathered?
rolling in distress—)
at dawn the sudden, trumpeting eagle
The drowned towns, four-square, hymned in stave & stanza,
swallowed walls on walls of song, each stone a tongue
where the salmon canter over the meadow baffle dam
& small-mouthed bass hosanna…
Too deeply now for any to remember
so why does it seem important to remember
when we will ourselves, these fluent selves, like water
subsumed in greater water be impossible to remember
to distinguish the veins in the hand that worked the lathe
wove the straw, rippled at morning into a gesture of love or praise
or clipped the dewy lilac from its stem
or turned the fieldstone into the sunken wall
of a cellar hole, the jam jars lined within
the vagrant bittersweet unwinds among
when the shore recedes (in the twinkling of an eye)
the tombs stick out like knees.
Deep in a time that is no longer time
but the greater dissolutions of the water
within whose workings ever unspool our names
as it were (as it will be) upon a ghostly bobbin . . .
3. Questions for a Disincorporation
“to undo, separate or dissolve from a body”
Dana, MA; Prescott, MA; Greenwich, MA; Enfield, MA: April 28, 1938
A solitary grebe
filling itself, in reflection,
into a globe—
Where does the body go?
Is it the same
as the wind in the trees
the wind in the highest limbs
that sweeps them uniformly like the necks of swans
swimming in consort
so they seem in time
with a music it is impossible to hear
from this distance
(we are very far)
—as in a silent film, the couples dancing,
the sweeping of light & limbs across the floor
as across the water’s surface, in reflection,
when the wind lifts
& the glacier of a cloud pulls over
& the mares’ tails fly
like tribes, nomadic tongues, erratic stars?
the bodies of lost deer
lie littering the ice.
The human graves, carved up & carted
to the minted cemetery on the hill.
The summer fields, under the frozen surface . . .
(Something of us remains Something of us shall not suffer
to be changed)
In spring, when the small birds come
back to the north meadow & the eagle-fretted bones
rise from the ice
across the breaking floes
as it were upon another shore
where does the body, through the fields of other bodies,
About that country there’s not much left to say. Blue sun, far off, a watery vein
in the cloud belt. The solid earth itself
unremarkable: familiar ruins
littered with standing stones our people
had lost the ability to decipher.
How deeply had we slept? Beneath the jellyfish umbels of evergreens, each one a dream,
and the effervescent stars, cold currents
tugged at our thoughts like tapestries unraveling into war. All spring
the nightingale perched on the green volcano’s lip.
The rats had abandoned the temples.
My mind was a voyage hungering to happen.
4. Poem with Any End
When all this All doth pass from age to age—
this City on a Hill, its golden dome
and cupolas a quiet sea floor,
the crabbed, neurotic streets still disentangling
obsessive thirst, obsessive westwardness…
what is a city without
Rome, its spidered aqueducts
bearing the bounty of barbaric springs
down mountaining arches, a song in the valley
over the sunken ponds & soapstone quarry,
the Dipper rising with inscrutable stars
over the village where they made the bobbins
to slip down dark, infernal aqueducts
(like shades to slake the high, titanic thirst
5 O could we make our doubts remove,
those gloomy doubts that rise, and see the Canaan that we love with unbeclouded eyes;
— Ingalls / Watts
The poems of "un/bodying/s” are printed with kind permission of Todd Hearon. © 2016 All rights reserved. “Atlantis” first appeared in Strange Land (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010) and is reprinted with permission of the author.
Karen Blanchard 6
Steven Bradshaw 1
Robert Eisentrout 4
Maren Montalbano 2
James Reese 1, 4, 5
Rebecca Siler 3
Elisa Sutherland 2, 5
Donald Nally, conductor
John Grecia, accompanist
1 lead voices in Crossings Cycle
2 solos in The Meeting of the Waters
3 soprano in The Valley of Lost Names
4 duet in The Valley of Lost Names
5 duet in Poem with Any End
6 Karen Blanchard's performance is made possible through a generous gift from Beth Van de Water in memory of Hank Van de Water.
The Board of Directors of The Crossing
Mary D. Hangley
Cynthia A. Jarvis
Mary Kinder Loiselle
Michael M. Meloy
Donald Nally, Conductor
Pam Prior, Treasurer
Kim Shiley, Vice President
Carol Shloss, Secretary
M. Kathryn Taylor, President
Elizabeth Van de Water
The Staff of The Crossing
Maren Montalbano, Interim General Manager
Mitchell Bloom, Grant Manager
Lauren Kelly, Production Manager
Kevin Vondrak, Artistic & Communications Coordinator
Elizabeth Dugan, Bookkeeper
Ari Wyner and Laura Roth, interns
Recorded by Paul Vazquez and Dante Portella
Audio Post Production by Paul Vazquez
If There Were Water was recorded June 20 and 23, 2017 at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Wayne, Pennsylvania.
The Crossing is a professional chamber choir conducted by Donald Nally and dedicated to new music. It is committed to working with creative teams to make and record new, substantial works for choir, most often addressing social issues.
Highly sought-after for collaborative projects, The Crossing’s first collaboration was as the resident choir of the Spoleto Festival, Italy, in 2007. The Crossing has appeared at Miller Theatre of Columbia University with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE); the Mostly Mozart Festival and Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival; joined Bang on a Can’s first Philadelphia Marathon; and has sung with the American Composers Orchestra, Network for New Music, the LA Philharmonic, PRISM Saxophone Quartet, Beth Morrison Projects, Allora & Calzadilla, and The Rolling Stones. The ensemble has performed at Walt Disney Concert Hall, The Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Cleveland Art Museum, National Sawdust, The Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston, The Barnes Foundation, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville.
With a commitment to recording their commissions, The Crossing has thirteen recordings on a variety of labels. Their collaboration with PRISM, Gavin Bryars’ The Fifth Century (2016), was named one of The Chicago Tribune’s Top 10 Classical CDs of 2016 and their recording of Thomas Lloyd’s Bonhoeffer (2016) was nominated for the 2017 GRAMMY as Best Choral Performance. In 2017, they released Clay Jug: music of Edie Hill, Ted Hearne’s Sound from the Bench, John Luther Adams’ Canticles of the Holy Wind and Seven Responses, the culmination of a collaboration with the International Contemporary Ensemble featuring new works of David T. Little, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Santa Ratniece, Lewis Spratlan, Hans Thomalla, Caroline Shaw, and Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen. Previous recordings include Lewis Spratlan’s Vespers Cantata: Hesperus is Phosphorus (2015, with Network for New Music); Moonstrung Air (choral music of Gregory Brown, 2015); Christmas Daybreak (2011, with world premiere recordings of James MacMillan and Gabriel Jackson); I want to live (2011, with the complete to-date choral works for women by David Lang); and It is Time (2008, featuring music commissioned for our first Month of Moderns).
The Crossing is represented by Alliance Artist Management.
Donald Nally is artistic director at The Crossing and director of choral organizations at Northwestern University where he holds the John W. Beattie Chair of Music. Donald has served as chorus master at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Welsh National Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and for many seasons at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. He has also served as music director of Cincinnati's Vocal Arts Ensemble, chorus master at The Chicago Bach Project, and guest conductor throughout Europe and the United States, most notably with the Grant Park Symphony Chorus, the Philharmonia Chorus (London), the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, and the Latvian State Choir (Riga).
Donald, with The Crossing, was named the American Composers Forum 2017 Champion of New Music; he received the 2017 Michael Korn Founders Award for Development of the Professional Choral Art from Chorus America. He is the only conductor to have two ensembles receive the Margaret Hillis Award for Excellence in Choral Music: in 2002 with the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia and in 2015 with The Crossing. Collaborations have included the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center, Mostly Mozart, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall, National Sawdust, the Barnes Foundation, Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the American Composers Orchestra, and The Big Sky Conservatory in Montana where The Crossing holds an annual residency.
Stratis Minakakis is a Greek composer and conductor. His creative work engages issues of memory, cultural identity, and art as a social testimony; it also explores the rich possibilities engendered by the interaction between arts and sciences.
As a composer, he has collaborated with leading performers and ensembles across Europe, North America, and Japan, such as The Crossing choir, the PRISM and Stockholm saxophone quartets, the Harry Partch Ensemble, the Arditti String Quartet, Ensemble counter) induction, Noh actress Ryoko Aoki, recorder virtuoso Tosiya Suzuki, flutist Orlando Cela, pianist Pavlos Antoniadis, and conductors Donald Nally and Rüdiger Bohn.
As a conductor, Stratis has directed and coached numerous chamber music and orchestral ensembles in contemporary repertory. Also active in the field of music theory, his recent work focuses on interpretive analysis of the late string quartet manuscripts by Beethoven. He is the recipient of numerous artistic prizes, grants, and academic awards from institutions such as the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, the New England Conservatory, the Takefu International Festival in Japan, the Fondation Royaumont in France, the Center for Mediterranean Music in Greece, the Greek Composers Union, and the International Society for Contemporary Music. Deeply committed to music pedagogy, he was awarded the Dean’s Award for Distinguished Teaching at the University of Pennsylvania and the prestigious Louis Krasner Award at the New England Conservatory.
He currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and teaches Music Theory and Composition at the New England Conservatory.
Gregory W. Brown
Gregory W. Brown’s works have been performed across the United States and Europe — most notably in Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City, Cadogan Hall in London, and the Kleine Zaal of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. His commissions for vocal ensemble New York Polyphony have been heard on American Public Media’s Performance Today, BBC Radio, Minnesota Public Radio, Kansas Public Radio, and Danish National Radio; his Missa Charles Darwin (2011) received its European debut in March 2013 at the Dinosaur Hall of Berlin’s Museum für Naturkunde. In 2017 Missa Charles Darwin was released in a remastered special-edition to coincide with Dan Brown’s novel Origin, in which it appears.
Gregory’s 2015 CD of original choral and vocal works — Moonstrung Air — features The Crossing and was Q2’s Album of the Week in February 2016: “[Brown’s] command of transcendent sound is constant” and Gapplegate Classical-Modern Review remarked: “The performances are exemplary, the sound excellent and the compositions show us that Gregory W. Brown takes to vocal writing as a natural. The music has eloquence, verve and old-in-new panache.”
Todd Hearon is the author of two books of poems Strange Land (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010) and No Other Gods (Salmon Poetry, 2015). Work from his most recent manuscript, Crows in Eden, has appeared in The Kenyon Review and The Common. He has received a PEN/New England “Discovery” Award, the “Friends of Literature” Prize from Poetry magazine and the Poetry Foundation, The Rumi Prize in Poetry (Arts & Letters), and the Campbell Corner Poetry Prize (Sarah Lawrence College). Most recently, he served as Poet-in-Residence at Dartmouth College and The Frost Place. He lives and teaches in Exeter, New Hampshire.
Our artists, for giving so much of themselves to each project, and the staff and board that support the creation and recording of new music.
The staff and congregation at our home, The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill; Rev. Cindy Jarvis, Minister; Daniel Spratlan, Director of Music; Jo Ann West and Esther Cole, Church Administrators; Ken Lovett, Associate Director of Music.
For housing our artists, Rev. Cindy Jarvis, Viorel and Miki Farcas, David and Rebecca Thornburgh, Jeff and Liz Podraza, Beth Vaccaro and Landon Jones, Linda Lipscomb, Colin Dill, Rebecca Siler, Corbin Abernathy and Andrew Beck, David Newmann and Laura Ward, Jonathan Blumenfeld.
This recording is made possible through the generosity of the composers, the Board of Trustees of The Crossing, and a New England Conservatory Faculty Development Grant.
All photos are of the Quabbin Reservoir, shot by Gregory W. Brown on a vintage Argoflex 75 camera.
Innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.
Philip Blackburn, director, design
Chris Campbell, operations director
Tim Igel, publicist