“ 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
Soprano and Piano
Northeast Reservation Lines (1984) was commissioned by soprano Beverly Morgan and premiered by her in December 1984 with pianist Mark Pakman at Merkin Concert Hall. As I recall, Ms. Morgan had requested a piece that would be “funny and/or bizarre.” In looking through an old magazine that was published for a limited time during the late 1960s, I came upon Ms. Shore’s poem, which seemed to fit the bill on both counts more than adequately. In keeping with the form of her poem, the musical setting consists of three statements of a rather quirky (to say the least) theme, followed by increasingly twisted variations, the last of which is a parody (an affectionate one) of a Webernian or post-Webernian style, with the attendant exaggerated dynamics, wide leaps, etc.
At the center of Beverly Morgan’s song recital Monday at Merkin Concert Hall came a brilliant theatrical success with Northeast Reservation Lines, commissioned for the occasion from the composer Hayes Biggs. The text, by Jane Shore, is one of those recorded messages asking the caller to wait for the next available agent, repeated three times ‘straight’ and then four times with mounting, hilarious perversion.
Miss Morgan…gave the exposition not in the vapid tones one hears over the line, but rather as one speaks along with them through clenched teeth, seething. As the telling imagery of the distorted repetitions progressed she made every word clear (no small achievement, and one of which she was so rightly confident that she didn’t have the text distributed with the program). The hall erupted in laughter at every line.
The deadpan manner was suited to the wry comedy of the scenaNortheast Reservation Lines, which was given its first performance. It is a setting of verses by Jane Shore that begin ‘Northeast Reservation Lines are busy. As soon as an agent becomes available we will connect you’ and move into increasingly surrealistic variations as that message returns, returns, returns.
The Biggs song, Northeast Reservation Lines, is a real party piece. The text is Jane Shore’s poem of the same title, a wackily Joycean prank that gradually transforms a recorded airline message into some naughty utterances. The fact that the original message must be repeated obliges musical repetition as well, but by the fourth time around, as the words start to change, so does the quirkily chromatic music. To give you an idea how the verbal land lies, and a hint at what happens to the music, consider the three lines in the first and last stanzas: From ‘Northeast Reservation Lines are busy. As soon as an agent becomes available we will connect you’ to ‘Northeast Masturbation Lions are itchy. As soon as an urchin becomes inflatable we will infect you.’ It reads sophomoric this way, but the sneakiness of the changes, the liveliness of the music and the verve of the performance worked handily. No masterpiece, but a potential recital hit (who just said ‘rectal’?) in the vein of Bernstein’s I Hate Music cycle.