“ 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 all my Friends, Family, and Colleagues.
This coming Thursday, February 21, 2019, at 7:30 PM in Greenfield Hall at Manhattan School of Music, it will be my privilege to hear the world premiere performance of my third piano prelude, „du aber bist der Baum” (“but you are tree”), performed by Thomas Stumpf, a wonderful pianist and composer who teaches at Tufts University. This event is part of a long-standing concert series at MSM, The Lives of the Piano, directed by my colleague Lisa Yui; the program is being presented as part of this year’s ongoing centennial celebrations at the school, and features distinguished students, faculty and friends of MSM performing American music from every decade of the last 100 years. I am honored to be in such excellent company.
Many thanks are due to Thomas, who not only has graciously agreed to travel here from the Boston area to perform this prelude, but also commissioned it, along with two others. All three are responses to poetry. The first, “The secret that silent Lazarus would not reveal,” takes its cue from Billy Collins’s poem “The Afterlife,” while the second, “The presence of still water,” is a meditation on Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things.” The third, in memory of my mother-in-law, Lois J. Orzel, takes its title from Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “Annunciation: The Words of the Angel,” from Das Marien-Leben (The Life of the Virgin Mary, 1912).
When asked her thoughts about a fitting poem to use as the basis of a memorial work for her mother, my wife Susan suggested something about the Virgin Mary might be appropriate. Lois was a faithful Roman Catholic, and thus Mary was an integral part of her devotional life. I immediately thought of Rilke’s poems on this subject, which speak not only to the grace and compassion of the Virgin Mother, but also to her strength. The two annunciation poems in particular show the awe in which she is held by the mighty angel Gabriel. In Annemarie S. Kidder’s translation, Gabriel presents variations on a refrain: “I am the day, I am the dew, but you are tree”; “I am just breath in woods, but you are tree.” In the prelude I attempt to suggest Gabriel’s overpowering presence as he enters Mary’s dwelling, only to be met — and astonished — by her quiet and serene fortitude.
I hope that any of you who are able will join me at this event.