Composer, pianist, and teacher James Adler recently brought to the attention of Q on Stage that the Spanish classical music magazine Sonograma has published his detailed analysis of the selections, composed by himself and dear friends Kevin Cummines, the late Paul Turok, and Seth Bedford, recorded on Adler’s Albany Records CD “Introspections,” reviewed in these pages last December and celebrated in a concert at the Cornelia Street Café in April. Adler’s scholarly commentary on these works, in “INTROSPECTIONS: An Introspective and a Retrospective,” accompanied by welcome excerpts from their printed scores and sound clips, is a treasure for music lovers to have.
Adler’s “3 Introspections,” the song cycle which gives the disc its title and its finale and is
the sole vocal work on it, was written for, dedicated to, and recorded by baritone and Saint John the Divine Choral Associate Malcolm J. Merriweather, singing words penned by David Cote, and oboist Virginia Brewer, whom Adler calls “my friend and muse,” “in honor of many wonderful collaborations and premieres” with these soloists, with Adler at the Yamaha piano. “The dark and brooding nature of the … second movement of Paul Turok’s Clarinet Sonata,” played on the recording by clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein with Adler, “inspired [Adler] to compose ‘3 Introspections.’” As for the words, Cote, quoted in the Sonograma article, wrote, “James handed me a poem: Edwin Arlington Robinson’s ‘Walt Whitman.’ His simple directive: ‘Let this be your guide.’”
“Insomniac,” the first movement of “3 Introspections,” depicts a poignant battle with sleeplessness. Adler explains, “the loping, single line quarter note triplet-figures descend, in desolate manner, slowly and diminishing volume into a B-flat pedal point. Why B-flat? I employ this as an element, a hue of hope. The vocalist yearns—perhaps for sleep? The creative process does create many sleepless nights for artists, writers, and composers. But our insomniac art restorer yearns for more. He is dreaming too much, but of or for what … Is he chasing a goal? A person? In m[easure] 54, I employ gentle dissonance in the piano right-hand. In mm. 55 and 56, the dissonant chords are less gentle. They’re downright jarring, punctuating and underscoring what our vocalist is sharing.” We are, happily, given the printed page of the score that includes the measures cited. Movement three, “Conservation,” concerns, according to Cote, “a man more interested in restoring art than living in the world, but realizing that his profession was a kind of vandalism, too.” “The musical setting here reflects the lonely, introspective and deeply personal statement about the creative process. Note the opening bars: it’s the same musical figure from earlier movements, only slightly different and in a more urgent tempo. Our insomniac art restorer is sharing his feelings about the creative process,” writes Adler. He also gives an extensive analysis of the oboe and piano interlude that separates the vocal movements and concludes by comparing what he has done here with his “compositional and emotion-oriented technique” in some of the other works on the CD.
Among the most affecting works on “Introspections” are those by Cummines, memorializing his HIV-positive partner Kyle Spidle, who succumbed to meningitis, in the piano piece “Three Works for James Adler,” and Adler’s own “Psalm for Michael,” written for Brewer, cellist Eugene Moye, Jr., and himself, in memory of his brother, who died of cancer at age 55 and, in part, of their mother, who passed away just months before Michael. Adler quotes Cummines, concerning the second movement, “Torque,” writing, “it’s about learning to politely hide & disguise the grief. The movement ends—it resolves. It’s the polite thing to do. But polite isn’t real. Polite is polite. The [resolving] B is a lie. The [dissonant] A-sharp is the truth,” and also quotes and responds to a listener who took issue with Cummine’s conclusion. In “Michael,” Brewer represents Mother, Moye portrays Michael, and Adler, at the piano, is “trying to help keep balance, musically speaking.” “In … mm. 99 and 100, the violoncello harmonic B-flat rise well-above the oboe line. Michael was raising his voice to his mother (at times, she became ‘his mother’ in his discussions with me), arguing a point. Respectfully, yes, but fervently. I put his line into the violoncello …. above the oboe … audience members and critics have pointed out how the yearning, introspective nature of my music here goes ‘straight to the heart.’”
To read James Adler’s “INTROSPECTIONS: An Introspective and a Retrospective” complete, visit http://sonograma.org/2015/06/introspections-james-adler/
is a link to the magazine’s home page.