“ 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 Alto Soli, SSAATTBB, Horn in F, and Organ Liturgical (Hebrew)
Ochila laEil was written in response to a commission from JoAnn Rice and the Florilegium Chamber Choir, an ensemble of dedicated musicians with whom it has been my honor to be associated since 1990, first as a singer and, later, also as a composer. It was with a considerable amount of trepidation and humility that I embarked on my first attempt at setting the magnificently complex and beautiful Hebrew language to music. The text JoAnn found for me is taken from one of the Rosh Hashanah services, in which the cantor, in a unique moment of turning inward, asks for permission to pray on behalf of the congregation, requesting fitness of speech. I am most grateful to JoAnn for her confidence in my ability to set this text, and for her help in understanding its pronunciation, accentuation and place in the liturgy. I am also indebted to the fine singers in this choir for their encouragement of this commission and their excellent and very hard work on the piece, and to Walter Hilse, musician extraordinaire, for his help with practical matters of organ registration.
My musical setting is fairly straightforward. The piece begins with an extensive instrumental prelude, based on a static harmony that permeates the entire work. At the words “asher bik’hal am ashira uzo” (“that here amidst his flock I might sing the praises of his power”), the tempo becomes fast and the character of the music more martial. At “umeiadonai maanei lashon” (“but the gift of expression comes from God”), an abrupt return to the general mood and character of the opening is effected. The final choral section, to the well-known text “yih’yu l’ratson,” begins in unison over a stark syncopated bass in the organ pedals and a legato horn line, and ends with warm polytonal harmonies in the choir, which cushion a final, ethereal solo line for a soprano and alto in octaves. A meditative postlude for the horn and organ, much briefer than the work’s prelude, brings the piece to its close. I can only hope that I have been granted sufficient fitness of musical speech for this task.
ochila laEil; achaleh fanav.
eshala mimehnu maanei lashon,
asher bik’hal am ashira uzo,
abia r’nanot b’ad mifalav.
laadam maarchei leiv,
umeiadonai, maanei lashon.
Adonai, s’fatai tiftach ufi yagid t’hilatecha.
yih’yu l’ratson imrei fi v’hegyon libi l’fanecha,
Adonai, tsuri, v’goali.
I place my hope in God;
I pray for His compassion.
I ask of Him the gift of expression (fitness of speech),
that here amidst His flock I might sing the praises of His power.
man’s thoughts are his own but the gift of expression
comes from God
Open my mouth, O Lord,
that my lips may proclaim Your praise.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable
to You, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Ochila laEil is available on the album When you are reminded by the intruments: The Music of Hayes Biggs, Navona Records, NV6191, performed by the Floriegium Chamber Choir; Daniel Grabois, horn; Walter Hilse, organ; Kathryn Hotarek, soprano; Ruthie McGonagil, mezzo-soprano; conducted by JoAnn Rice.