“ Interestingly, the work that tried to please the least was the most compelling. Hayes Biggs’ piece Ave Formosissima harkens back to the dance-mad, melismatic and slightly raucous music of the Middle Ages. But the score, with its zig-zagging lines and pungent dissonances, is genuinely contemporary.”—New York Times
“ A Consuming Fire, a short, zesty trio by Hayes Biggs, led off the evening. The piece is framed by some engagingly angular rhythmic writing, with a lyrical nougat at the center.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“ [The] most convincing and coherent performance [was] Hayes Biggs’ homage to his composer/pianist colleague Eric Moe, E.M. am Flügel, a short piece with romantic gestures and echoes of Berg and Stravinsky.”—Aufbau
“ The Mass for All Saints would be an exciting challenge for those choirs skilled in precise intonation and rhythmic agility. Biggs writes with knowledge of and respect for the expressive capabilities of the human voice.”—Choral Journal
“ Hayes Biggs’s wedding motet Tota Pulchra Es, here being sung for the first time, impressed by its quiet solemnity and neat working of its expressive opening motif: not empty fanfares but a reminder of the seriousness and privacy of love.”—New York Times
“ Mass for All Saints by composer Hayes Biggs releases shadows transformed into tendrils of light by the arabesque of the vocal line. Contrapuntal procedures are used to their utmost expressive effect. [It] is a work of a melodist of talent in the manner of Puccini, or better yet, Respighi.”—La Liberté
“ The Biggs song, Northeast Reservation Lines, is a real party piece... the sneakiness of the changes, the liveliness of the music and the verve of the performance worked handily... a potential recital hit in the vein of Bernstein’s I Hate Music cycle.”—The Village Voice
“ All the works tried a return to tonality typical of the decade; the most successful made the return oblique and ambiguous. Hayes Biggs’ O Sacrum Convivium took off from the motet of Tallis, yet it handsomely reconfigured early modes in a modernistic scheme of free tonality.”—New York Times
“ Hayes Biggs’ To Becalme His Fever... is a vivid evocation of anxiety, fits and repose. The language embraces pointillistic colors, romantic lines and prickly episodes when the demons hover. Biggs claims a forceful and subtle dramatic hand, along with a keen command of instrumental resources.”—The Plain Dealer
Greetings to everyone! As usual it has been a while since my last missive, what with a very busy fall semester at Manhattan School of Music, holidays, C4 rehearsals, performances and recording sessions.
Sadly, I don’t always manage to get around to it anymore, but didn’t want to let this Christmas season go by without writing a piece as a holiday greeting, which I finally finished yesterday afternoon:
As those of you who have read my blog before know, for many years I composed something to use as a Christmas card. This year, for the first time, instead of a choral or solo vocal work, it’s instrumental—a short chorale prelude for organ on an old standby greatly beloved of J. S. Bach and other old masters. Given the text of Martin Luther’s hymn, it would have been more timely had I gotten around to it during Advent, but it will have to do. If nothing else, it’s the first double bar I have arrived at in 2016, and that’s something.
All in all, 2015 and what there’s been so far of 2016 have been good to me. Early in March I had back to back premieres: Rolf Schulte and Stephen Gosling gave the first performance of my first work for violin and piano, Inquieto (attraverso il rumore) on a concert at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City, sponsored by APNM (Association for the Promotion of New Music), followed a day later by the official premiere by C4 of a setting of 17th-century English poet Edmund Waller’s Goe lovely Rose. This summer I wrote a short prelude for piano, The secret that silent Lazarus would not reveal, after Billy Collins’s poem, The Afterlife. This little morceau was commissioned by pianist and composer Thomas Stumpf, for a recording project, Reflections on Time and Mortality, which will be released on the Albany label. I also passed a pleasant part of late June and early July at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, where I continued to make progress on Reveries. Passions, a quartet for piano and strings, a score I hope to return to shortly. In October, my friend and colleague Walter Hilse played two of my Three Hymn Tune Preludes for organ on a concert in New York City at Saint Peter’s Church on the East Side. I hadn’t heard them since the premiere of the entire set in 2012 by Gail Archer, who commissioned them, and it is gratifying to have, at last, a recording of at least these two.
This past Monday Susan and I returned from the Boston area, where I was present at the initial recording session (at Futura Productions) for what will be the first CD consisting entirely of my music, a disc that eventually will be issued by PARMA Recordings. The first piece to be recorded is from 1997, an instrumental septet entitled When you are reminded by the instruments, which was a Fromm Foundation Commission. The performance I link to here took place in San Francisco in 1999, played by the Empyrean Ensemble of UC Davis, under the skillful and insightful direction of good friend and wonderful composer Ross Bauer. The title comes from a line from Walt Whitman’s A Song for Occupations: “All music is what awakes from you when you are reminded by the instruments.” The recording session in Boston was fantastic, and many thanks are due to the folks at PARMA, including Executive Producer and CEO Bob Lord and A&R Representative Brandon MacNeil. PARMA’s Artist Coordinator Matt Konrad was responsible for assembling a superb and dedicated ensemble of musicians: Elizabeth England (oboe/English horn), Rane Moore (clarinet/bass clarinet), Kevin Owen (horn), Julia Okrusko (violin) Peter Sulski (viola), Minghui Lin (cello), Tony D’Amico (contrabass), led ably by conductor James Blachly. Kudos also to Lead Producer Andy Happel and Session Engineer John Weston. All of them made this a thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable day for me, and I can hardly wait to hear the results!
C4 had a very satisfying first concert cycle of the 2015-16 season, coming off our tenth anniversary season to begin our second decade with a second CD, named—like our current concert season—Cornerstones. I remain grateful to have the opportunity to perform with and write for this amazing group of friends and colleagues. My next work for them, which is to be premiered on our June 2016 cycle, is a setting of a poem by Jane Shore called Fortunes Pantoum. (A pantoum is a strict poetic form of Malaysian origin, somewhat similar in its rigor to a villanelle.) This particular pantoum is comprised entirely of fortunes from fortune cookies. Those of you who’ve known me for a while may recognize Jane Shore from the poem of hers I set many years ago, in 1984, Northeast Reservation Lines. I’m pleased to be working with her poetry again.
As I get back to work, I wish you all the best in this New Year!