To me it is always gratifying when young composers write vocal works and because one of my favorite 'new generation' singers, mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey, will be premiering a new commission on March 16th with the New York Youth Symphony at Carnegie Hall I wanted to get some advance information about the piece, called "...among the leaves...". One of the great things about the Internet is the ability to contact people directly that we would otherwise not be likely to meet and so I was able to obtain some details directly from the composer, 26-year-old Jacob Bancks. I e-mailed him asking him about the new work, the choice of text, how the commission came to be and a little about his background. He replied as follows:
"Amazingly, the New York Youth Symphony commissions a new piece from a
young composer for every one of their concerts, and this year I was
lucky enough to be one of them -- even luckier to land my commission on
the concert featuring Kate Lindsey. (She sends her best, by the way.)
NYYS is an extraordinary organization... When I was in youth symphony during high school (in Sioux Falls, South Dakota), our conductor would frequently reference NYYS as the finest youth orchestra in the country (usually in the form of, "Why can't you be more like the New York Youth Symphony?!"). These are the great musicians of tomorrow, and their new conductor, Ryan McAdams, is unbelievably talented. I have no doubt he is going to be one of the major conductors of our generation.
My background? I grew up in the Midwest, and while I was an undergraduate at Wheaton College (near Chicago) I started studying privately with Augusta Read Thomas, while she was still composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony. After finishing my undergrad I went on to do a masters at Eastman (studying with Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez and Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon), and now I'm back in Chicago, working on a PhD at the University of Chicago with Shulamit Ran. This year, aside from NYYS, my major performances are a piano concerto with the South Dakota Symphony (the same weekend as the NYYS concert), an orchestral premiere with the Annapolis Symphony, and a new piece for eighbth blackbird.
In preparation for writing "...among the leaves...", having never met or heard Kate Lindsey before, I asked her for a demo recording. She sent me a recital recording of Berlioz's "Les nuits d'ete," and a few other things... Basically, hearing that recording, I was totally blown away by her musicality, dramatic timing, and artistic integrity. I knew I was dealing with a first-class artist, and I knew I could write whatever I wanted -- I didn't have to simplify anything for her sake. A few weeks ago I flew to NYC for rehearsals, and my expectations were more than met... Before meeting the orchestra, I rehearsed for a while with Kate, Maestro Ryan, and Kate's outstanding accompanist, Justina Lee -- I was in awe of all of them, they just brought an incredibly high level of professionalism and understanding to my music... made me proud to be a composer."
I took the text for "...among the leaves..." from James Joyce's PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN. I knew that around the time of the premiere I would be very ready for winter to be over, so I wanted a text that initiated Spring... and as usual with Joyce, when he writes about any topic, the subtext runs very deep. The text is extremely rich, and I've given him a bit of his own treatment, rearranging and deconstructing words, juxtaposing ideas, and focusing equally on both the sounds and meanings of the words.
The Joyce text for "...among the leaves..." follows:
"Wild Spring. Scudding clouds. O life! Dark stream of swirling bogwater on which apple-trees have cast down their delicate flowers. Eyes of girls among the leaves. Girls demure and romping. All fair or auburn. No dark ones. They blush better. Houp-la!" --James Joyce
Jacob Bancks bio:
During the 2007-08 concert season, the music of Chicago-based composer Jacob Bancks will be performed by the Millennium Chamber Players, the South Dakota Symphony (world premiere commission from Soli Deo Gloria/pianist William Phemister), the New York Youth Symphony (world premiere commission), the Annapolis Symphony (world premiere commission), and eighth blackbird. Other recent commissions have come from the International Double Reed Society, the Hanson Institute for American Music, and the Commission Project. His music has been performed by oboist Gordon Hunt, the Eastman Philharmonia, the Eastman Wind Ensemble, the Lute Song Project, OSSIA New Music, pianist Daniel Paul Horn, and many others. A 2008 recipient of a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, his other prizes include a BMI Student Composer Award, a Century Fellowship (University of Chicago), the Howard Hanson Orchestral Prize (Eastman), first prize in the Minnesota Music Teachers’ Association annual competition, a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and a nomination for the Lili Boulanger Memorial Prize.
His teachers have included Shulamit Ran, Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, and Augusta Read Thomas, and he has participated in master-classes with Luca Francesconi and Louis Andreissen. Having recently completed a Masters degree at Eastman School of Music, where he also studied piano with Vincent Lenti, he is working toward a doctorate at the University of Chicago, under a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education. He was recently named 2008-09 composer-in-residence for the Millennium Chamber Players.