Five Borough Songbook World Premiere Recording

“[The Songbook] is a love letter that will have the cognoscenti nodding in recognition of all that resonates, shimmers and knells in the Big Apple.”Sherri Rase, Q On Stage

Released on January 12, 2012, the Five Borough Songbook World Premiere Recording marks 5BMF’s first-ever studio album. Produced by GPR Records, this special 2-disc set contains the Five Borough Songbook in its entirety – 20 unique and exciting new works by 20 composers, celebrating every corner of New York City.

About the Album   |   Performers   |   Composers   |   Credits

Since 2007, Five Boroughs Music Festival has brought world class and affordable musical events to every corner of New York City, breaking away from the traditional concert venues of Manhattan and reaching new audiences in a variety of neighborhoods. While we present music of many genres, throughout all our programming we have remained devoted to the emergence of new works. As we searched for an adventurous centerpiece to mark our 5th Season, the combination of these musical and geographical missions led to our boldest project yet: the creation of a new Five Borough Songbook.

In early 2011, we commissioned twenty composers to write one new vocal work each, inspired by places, themes, and poetry from every corner of New York City. With texts chosen by the composers, the resulting Five Borough Songbook would serve as a celebration of the entirety of NYC, its literary history, and its most promising musical talent. What emerged was a collection of works of remarkable literary and musical diversity, and when the Songbook had its World Premiere in October 2011, we were thrilled to hear audience members raving about the great variety of musical styles represented, and how well they all fit together.

Despite its wide range of texts and lyrics, you will undoubtedly discover some common themes running throughout the Songbook. The representation of Walt Whitman was inevitable, but more than a few composers chose to reach back into the city’s past for inspiration. Two of our Staten Island songs, for example, are set in the 19th century: At Home in Staten Island (a poem by a visiting Englishman) and Days afield on Staten Island (excerpts from a naturalist’s writings). Fresh Kills, on the other hand, takes its name from this same Island’s not-so-celebrated landfill of more recent history. OuLiPo in the Bronx is actually the result of the composer’s complete overhaul of a 19th century poem, via an “Oulipian” literary technique of replacing all the nouns and adjectives with their close neighbors (+3, in this case) in the dictionary.

Several composers wrote or compiled their own lyrics for the Songbook, and a few songs are set to “found” texts. For instance, Breakfast in New York’s words were overheard by the composer in diners and coffee shops in all five boroughs, and the text of G is for Grimy combines original lyrics with internet postings about one particularly unreliable subway line. In fact, the many references to trains and transportation should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever visited New York City!

Just as every trip around NYC is a singular adventure, we hope your Five Borough Songbook journey will be full of new surprises each time you take the trip. Thanks for coming along for the ride, and stand clear of the closing doors
Jesse Blumberg, Artistic Director     Donna Breitzer, Executive Director
Five Boroughs Music Festival
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The Performers

Javier Abreu, tenor
Mireille Asselin, soprano
Thomas Bagwell, pianist
Jesse Blumberg, baritone
Meg Bragle, mezzo-soprano
Scott Dispensa, baritone
Jocelyn Dueck, pianist
Blythe Gaissert, mezzo-soprano
Martha Guth, soprano
Keith Jameson, tenor
David McFerrin, baritone
David Adam Moore, baritone
Harumi Rhodes, violinist
Alex Richardson, tenor

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About the Composers and their Songs

Click on the photos to read about the Songbook composers and their songs.
Click on names to travel to the composers’ websites.

Christopher Berg has made many appearances with Opera on Tap and American Opera Projects’ “Opera Grows in Brooklyn” series, including a performance of scenes from his opera Cymbeline. Since 1996, he has composed numerous pieces for the Mirror Visions Ensemble. His musical, “Back Home,” was featured at the 2007 NYMF. Of his new work, he writes: “Though Walt Whitman and Edgar Allen Poe both lived in the Bronx (where Mr. Berg currently resides), an extensive search found, disappointingly, no mention of the borough in their output. A poet named Joseph Rodman Drake (1795-1820), though, did write a poem called “Bronx.” Mr. Berg’s poem, the text of his song, is adapted from Drake’s poem, changing all the adjectives and nouns (except one) by a method referred to by Oulipians as NA+3 (though leaving all the verbs intact). The poem thus obtained makes sense dramatically, despite making none literally, much in the manner of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” The music takes all this into account.”
Christopher Berg
OuLiPo in the Bronx
Lisa Bielawa is a 2009-10 Rome Prize winner in Musical Composition, co-founder of the MATA Festival, and vocalist of the Philip Glass Ensemble. Her discography includes A Handful of World (Tzadik), In medias res (BMOP/sound) and Chance Encounter (Orange Mountain Music). Of her new work, she writes: “This year I am celebrating 21 years of living in New York City, which is exactly half my life. During those years I have lived (or couch-surfed) in 14 different apartments in four boroughs. ‘Breakfast in New York’ weaves together conversations I overheard in diners and coffee shops in all five boroughs this summer. Whenever possible, I revisited places that were regular breakfast joints for me at various times of my life. You will hear voices from: George’s Coffee Shop in Washington Heights; Tom’s Restaurant on 112th & Broadway; Riverdale Diner in the Bronx; Mike’s Place in New Dorp, SI; Cobble Hill Diner on Smith St. in Brooklyn; New Post Coffee Shop on Queens Blvd.; Alpha Donuts on Queens Blvd.; Westway Diner in Hell’s Kitchen; Hungarian Pastry Shop on Amsterdam Ave.; and Kitchenette in TriBeCa.”
Lisa Bielawa
Breakfast in New York
Tom Cipullo is the composer of over 200 songs and a dozen works for voice and chamber ensemble.  His opera, Glory Denied, has been called “intriguing and unconventional” (The New York Times), and “a luminous score that offer[s] vivid embodiments of the protagonists’ mental states” (The Washington Post).  Mr. Cipullo’s music is published by Oxford University Press and by Classical Vocal Repertoire.  His works are recorded on the Albany, CRI, PGM, Capstone, and MSR Classics labels. Of his new work, he writes: “The G train is the only subway that does not travel into Manhattan. As you might expect then, the line is marked by decrepit stations, unpredictable service changes, and constant breakdowns.  G is for Grimy uses texts from various internet postings to give the listener a glimpse into what has been called ‘the red-headed stepchild of the MTA.”“
Tom Cipullo
G is for Grimy: An Ode to the G Train
Christina Courtin is a violinist, violist, singer, and songwriter/composer person who was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. She currently lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.  She has recently completed her second solo album with a release date that is still up in the air.  She has supported such acts as Suzanne Vega, Ray Davies, Robyn Hitchcock, Brooklyn Rider, Andrew Bird, The Punch Brothers, and Mike Doughty.  As a sideman, Christina is a member of the Knights, Marc Ribot’s Film Noir Project, Christopher Hoffman’s Sad Companion, and has worked alongside Marianne Faithfull, Jon Brion, Benmont Tench, Ryan Scott, Dawn Upshaw, and Yo-Yo Ma.  This is her first official attempt at writing a piano part. Fun times!Christina Courtin
Fresh Kills
Mohammed Fairouz’s music engages Eastern as well as Western idioms. This season sees the performance of his opera Sumeida’s Song at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall and a celebration of his chamber music at Weill Recital Hall as well as the world premiere of his choral Symphony #3 “Poems and Prayers” at the Miller Theater. He is, according to Poets and Writers magazine “a composer obsessed with text”. Of his new work, he writes; “I’ve thought about setting Auden’s beautiful and terrifying Refugee Blues for a few years.  I imagine the narrator of the poem as one of those women who crossed the Atlantic carrying the weight of the whole world on her shoulders. When Five Boroughs Music Festival commissioned a song about New York for Blythe Gaissert it acted as the perfect catalyst to have my narrator sing her blues.  There are many voices in this song that emerge as we move from one episode to the next: from the inflexible consul to Hitler calling for the annihilation of an entire race. The result of telling this story is a hymn to resistance: how a group of people who were meted out one of the most tragic trials in human history are ‘still alive, my dear’ and how they have impacted and enriched our city and the world.”
Mohammed Fairouz
Refugee Blues
“Corin See’s poem ‘Looking West...’ recounts memories of youth in 1980s Park Slope, Brooklyn. The gesture that caught my ear is the motion of taking off then falling flat – a couple of times – then the third time, flying. Also, I focused on the shift from a close, noisy, dirty space to an expansive, seemingly silent and shining place – reality aided quite a bit by distance and a generous imagination. Corin and I are happy to be living near (but upwind of) an actual stratovolcano these days in Portland, OR – though we come back and visit NYC whenever we can to get our fix of screeching trains coming around the corner in Union Square, twinkling lights of skyscrapers from across the river in Brooklyn, and mostly our dear friends. This fall, I’m teaching composition at Portland State and writing a cycle of songs on astronomy for Hai-Ting Chinn’s ‘Science Fair.’”
Renée Favand-See
Looking West on a Humid Summer Evening
“I’ve never felt more at home than I do in New York, but I’m most certainly a transplant. Growing up in Detroit before heading to Indiana University and USC in sunny LA for my training, I stumbled into Gotham only a few years ago. Since arriving I’ve been madly scribbling notes for all sorts of projects, including an upcoming chamber opera commissioned by Houston Grand Opera. When asked to contribute a song to this evening I knew the text would come from my friend, poet and Astoria resident, Matthew Hittinger. Though I never imagined I’d write a piece referring to a tragic moment in the early fall of 2001 - in fact I’d wanted to do nothing of the kind - this poem of Matthew’s pulled me in. Perhaps because the poem, layered and subtle like so many of his texts are, is not really a ‘9/11 poem’. His gift is the ability to communicate both the immediacy and universality of an experience. In this case, the anxiety within all of us can unexpectedly surface when a train delay breaks us from the rhythm of a morning commute.”
John Glover
8:46 AM, Five Years Later
Ricky Ian Gordon’s credits include: Rappahannock County (Virginia Opera), Sycamore Trees (The Signature Theatre), Green Sneakers (Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival), The Grapes of Wrath (Minnesota, Utah, and Pittsburgh Operas, Carnegie Hall), Orpheus and Euridice (Lincoln Center), My Life With Albertine (Playwrights Horizons), Dream True (Vineyard Theater), The Tibetan Book Of The Dead (Houston Grand Opera), Only Heaven (Encompass Opera). His songs have been recorded and performed by such artists as Renée Fleming, Audra McDonald, Kristin Chenoweth, Frederica Von Stade, Dawn Upshaw. Upcoming projects include a Metropolitan Opera commission; an operatic monologue, Night Flight To San Francisco, for Renée Fleming; and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis with librettist Michael Korie. Of his new work, he writes: “‘O City of Ships’” is setting of a Walt Whitman poem that at one point my friend Tina Landau sort of abridged for a theater piece we were going to try and put it in. That never happened so using the text here, I found an opportunity to see if I could musically illustrate the intensity of the pulsing life at the heart of New York City. The way one NEVER senses quiet... you awaken to a throbbing, and you either adjust to it, or leave. It is that heartbeat that I seek to announce here from the first repeated inexorable note to the last.”
Ricky Ian Gordon
O City of Ships
Yotam Haber is a Brooklyn based composer. He was a 2005 Guggenheim Fellow, and a 2007-2008 Rome Prize recipient. He is currently serving as Artistic Director of MATA, and is working on a commission from the Alabama Symphony for 2013 to commemorate the 1963 16th St. Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham. Of his new work, he writes: “I chose this poem (from EVE’S STRIPTEASE, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998) because its tones of grief, exile, memory, and loss immediately resonated with me, a transplanted Dutch Israeli who grew up in Nigeria and Milwaukee. Kasdorf plainly mirrors Psalm 137, ‘By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion....’ It is a small, delicate motet – a bright little lamentation.”
Yotam Haber
On Leaving Brooklyn
Daron Aric Hagen has composed four symphonies, twelve concerti, over 150 art songs and song cycles, and forty chamber works, along with five highly-acclaimed operas: Shining Brow, Bandanna, New York Stories, and Amelia as well as two one-act operas: Vera of Las Vegas and The Antient Concert. This season Hagen’s operas will receive revivals and/or premieres in Austin, California, Chicago, Como (Italy), New York City, Sarasota, and Sondrio (Italy). LyricFest and Virginia Tech will premiere new song cycles; the Hawaii and Seattle Symphony Orchestras will premiere new works. The Voxare String Quartet will premiere String Quartet No. 2 in Washington and release a CD of Hagen’s works on Naxos. He lives in New York City with his wife Gilda Lyons and sons Atticus and Seamus. Of his new work, he writes: “The New Yorkers is a suitably ambivalent love song to New York sung by two 62-year-old Manhattanites while strolling down Broadway one autumn afternoon.”
Daron Aric Hagen
The New Yorkers
Composer/pianist Martin Hennessy lives and works just above the huff and spew of Amsterdam Avenue in the 90’s. Over two decades he has composed a plethora of art songs there, in addition to varied chamber works and two operas with librettist Mark Campbell: A Letter to East 11th Street and The Good Friar. Recent projects include music for Tom Rowan’s new play, The Blue Djinn, and a theatrical song cycle for vocal quartet based on Millay’s long poem, Renascence. His music has been presented by NYCO’s Vox series, AOP, NYFOS, Guggenheim W & P, and Mirror Visions Ensemble, among others. Coming soon: the next installment in his new concert series, MARTIN HENNESSY IS DEAD…! Of The City’s Love, he writes, “Claude McKay (an early voice in the Harlem Renaissance) stages a sexual power game between a black immigrant and a feminized New York. Waltz and bluesy vamp chart the progression of this heated affair, cooled by the poem’s formal restraint.”
Martin Hennessy
The City’s Love
Gabriel Kahane lives on the border of the Ditmas Park and Kensington neighborhoods of South Brooklyn, across the street from a certified Kosher Dunkin’ Donuts which, unsurprisingly, does not purvey sausage and egg breakfast sandwiches. Nevertheless, they sling a mean iced coffee, albeit a bit sweet. A high school dropout and Ivy League graduate, he just released his second album, Where are the Arms. His musical February House will be produced this season by New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater and New York’s Public Theater, which commissioned the work. Through a Music Alive! grant from Meet-the-Composer, he was named the first ever composer-in-residence with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra for 2011-2013. A two-time MacDowell Colony fellow, he makes his Carnegie Hall debut this season in the premiere of an orchestral song cycle for American Composers Orchestra. The song “Coney Island Avenue”, whose eponymous thoroughfare is home to the aforementioned Dunkin’ Donuts, is unapologetically confessional.
Gabriel Kahane
Coney Island Avenue
Gilda Lyons, composer, vocalist, and visual artist, combines elements of renaissance, neo-baroque, spectral, folk, agitprop Music Theater, and extended vocalism to create works of uncompromising emotional honesty and melodic beauty. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel described her Nahuatl Hymn to the All-Mother (Clarion) as “hair-raising, yet elegant [with] slides, dips, yips and yelps amid ceremonial intensity.” 2011/12 highlights include commissions for koto virtuoso Yumi Kurosawa; pianist Thomas Bagwell and soprano Adrienne Danrich (for the AIDS Quilt Song Book); Finisterra Piano Trio; and Two Sides Sounding. Of her new work rapid transit, she writes: “The moment I realized I had mastered my morning commute was the moment I felt like a real New Yorker. rapid transit musicalizes the language of the subway, weaving together vocalisms with the gestures and rhythms I associate with making my way through our glorious city on a good day.”
Gilda Lyons
rapid transit
“I was born in Cuba; raised in New Jersey (always within view of the Manhattan skyline); went to Yale, Munich, and Columbia (MA DMA); live in Vermont and haunt NYC; am a freelance commission-seeking composer. I’ve set a lot of Whitman, somehow, and when 5BMF asked me to write a song, I immediately turned to the Good Gray Poet. ‘City of Orgies’ caught my eye almost immediately and I knew I had the right poem. But it sat leadenly on the piano for a long time before I hit on the idea of writing it for a male and female singing duo (befitting Walt’s ‘all-inclusive’ nature) in a honky-tonk style, and then adding a violin obbligato part for added fun — the extra singer and instrument a luxury, and inspiration, 5BMF afforded. You may hear Bach and who-knows-who-else turning in their graves. Or tittering. Imagine Bach tittering.... Whether the cantus ‘infirmus’ has any theological implications I leave to others to decide.”
Jorge Martín
City of Orgies, Walks, and Joys!
Russell Platt, a native New Yorker (Doctors Hospital, 1965), was educated at Oberlin, Curtis, Cambridge, and the University of Minnesota. He has won two Charles Ives Awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and is admired for his songs, concertos, and chamber pieces; “Eurydice: A Serenade for Strings” was premiered by Orchestre Symphonique Bienne in Switzerland in September. He spends much of his time as a music editor at The New Yorker magazine. Of “The Avenue (II)” he writes: “My acquaintance with the poetry of Paul Muldoon—now my distinguished colleague at The New Yorker—began in the early nineties, and I loved this poem so much that I sketched two settings of it. This, “II,” has finally been brought to term, as it were, thanks to Jesse Blumberg and 5BMF. I hope its style might be thought of as Times Square Romantic—lyrically abundant but a touch cynical. Chopin lurks in the background.”
Russell Platt
The Avenue (II)
“Although I’ve been doing this music thing for almost thirty years, this is the first time I’ve ever been commissioned to write an art song, so when Jesse called I was over the moon. I produced the best-selling poetry CD of all time (Poetic License: 100 Poems/100 Performers) so I am very familiar with poetry, but as Brooklyn is my ancestral homeland, I wanted to find the perfect poem about the borough I had to escape. I love Michael’s work and vaguely remembered his poem about riding the F train from DUMBO. When I re-read the line about the flasher’s dick getting caught in the closing doors, I knew I found my poem.”
Glen Roven
F from Dumbo
Matt Schickele is a composer and songwriter. His concert music has been performed by the Da Capo Chamber Players, the St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble, and the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, among others. As a songwriter his releases include The Badger Game, April/November, Cities Filled With Lights, and he is a founding member of the M Shanghai String Band. A graduate of Bard College, where he studied composition with Joan Tower, he co-hosts the podcast Scopes Monkey Choir.
Matt Schickele
Days afield on Staten Island
Richard Pearson Thomas¸ composer and pianist, has had works performed by the Boston Pops, Covent Garden Festival, Houston Grand Opera, Chautauqua Opera, Portland Opera, Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Banff Centre, Skylight Opera Theatre, Westchester Philharmonic Orchestra, and Riverside Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir. His songs have been sung in Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Wigmore Hall, Joe’s Pub, and before the U.S. Congress. He is a frequent collaborator with Mirror Visions Ensemble, is on faculty at Teachers College/Columbia University and has taught at Yale and the University of Central Florida. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music and the Univ. of Southern California, and is a native of Montana.  He composed both words and music for “The Center of the Universe” in June 2011.
Richard Pearson Thomas
The Center of the Universe
Christopher Tignor’s work as a composer, performer, and software creator is best known through his avant-rock bands Slow Six and more recently, Wires.Under.Tension with which he tours internationally, as well as solo records under his own name, available through the Western Vinyl and New Albion labels. He has also contributed to numerous artists’ records and tours as a violinist and string arranger. Of his new work, he writes: “Secret Assignation is a setting of the poem ‘Back in the Bronx’ by Bronx-born poet Lewis Warsh. Lewis and I spent time together while both living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where we met through his daughter, Marie. Now, perhaps a decade later, it is I who live in the Bronx. But as the poet in this work reflects upon his earlier life, I often think of those restless days in our once-neighborhood now so changed.”
Christopher Tignor
Secret Assignation
Scott Wheeler is currently working on a commission from the Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center Theatre, an operatic adaptation of The Sorrows of Frederick by the late Romulus Linney. He received the 2010 Composer of the Year award from the Classical Recording Foundation for his Naxos CD Wasting the Night. He teaches at Emerson College in Boston. The poem At Home in Staten Island, by Charles Mackay, was published in the weekly London periodical All The Year Round in 1869. This setting draws on Victorian parlor song and older English folk song. The violin accompaniment may be considered a set of variations.
Scott Wheeler
At Home in Staten Island

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Album Credits

Produced by GPR Records (Glen Roven, Peter Fitzgerald, Richard Cohen, Megan Henninger)
Co-produced by Five Boroughs Music Festival
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Megan Henninger and Peter Fitzgerald

Recorded at Sound Associates in October and November, 2011
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