Chester Biscardi: Sailors & Dreamers

By Berg, Gregory | Journal of Singing, May/June 2012 | Go to article overview

Chester Biscardi: Sailors & Dreamers


Berg, Gregory, Journal of Singing


Chester Biscanti: Sailors & Dreamers. William Ferguson, tenor; Sequitur: Tara Helen O'Connor, flute; Jo-Ann Sternberg, clarinet; Matthew Gold, percussion; Sara Laimon, piano; Miranda Cuckson, Sarah Crocker, violin; Daniel Panner, viola; Greg Hesselink, cello; Pawel Knapik, contrabass; Paul Hostetter, conductor, (chesterbiscardi. com; 26:38.)

"Head Out; You've Been on My Mind," "Play Me a Song," "Seven O'clock at the Cedar," "Do You Remember," "I Dance the Tango," "Falling Fast; Slow Wings," "It's Time to Feel Alright Now; The Edge."

Chester Biscardi is rapidly gaining stature as one of America's most capable and versatile composers, with a musical voice that if anything is growing more distinctive and compelling over time. Connoisseurs of vocal music will of course be most interested in what Biscardi has written for singers and might be inclined to view these works collectively as his finest artistic achievement. In fact, Biscardi has demonstrated consummate assurance and imagination in all of his compositions, including his many instrumental works. Sailors and Dreamers (like his opera Tight-Rope) is especially compelling because it combines his sensitive treatment of voice and text with his expert and imaginative skill at wielding instrumental colors, and one can only hope that there are going to be more such works in his future to showcase both aspects of Biscardi's considerable gifts.

Sailors and Dreamers was conceived by two faculty colleagues from Sarah Lawrence College, which would seem at a glance to be the most common-place of collaborations. Actually, there was nothing commonplace about how this intriguing and intensely personal work took shape. In 2007, Biscardi was spending part of an academic leave in Bogliasco, Italy, while a faculty colleague from the theater department, Shirley Kaplan, was spending a similar sort of leave in Majorca, Spain. At some point, Kaplan shared with Biscardi what have been described as "various ideas and samples" via email. What ensued is an artistic dialogue which the recording's liner notes likens to the figurative exchange of notes in a bottle. Building on mutual input, the two managed to create a work of haunting expressiveness and beauty that explores themes of friendship, memories, and the importance both of sailing out to sea and of returning to the shore (or "the edge," as it is referred to in these texts), where the experiences of the journey begin to make greater sense and find their true place in one's life. Ms. Kaplan, founder and codirector of the theater outreach program at Sarah Lawrence, is both a gifted playwright and painter, so it's no surprise that these texts are both theatrically and illustratively vibrant.

At some point, this project became a commission of The Koussevitzky Music Foundation under the auspices of the Library of Congress. With it, Biscardi was following in the footsteps of such previous recipients as Arnold Schoenberg, Samuel Barber, Bela Bartok, Leonard Bernstein, and Olivier Messaien. In fact, his new work would join the ranks of such important masterworks as Britten's Peter Grimes and Francis Poulenc's Gloria already commissioned by the foundation. Heady company indeed!

Sailors and Dreamers was crafted for one of New York City's most admired instrumental ensembles, Sequitur, which for more than fifteen years has been performing what it describes as "new and unusual music linking the worlds of theater, visual art and dance." The song cycle served as the finale for the opening concert of Sequitur's 2007-2008 season, and this disk captured that world premiere performance. The soloist joining Sequitur on this occasion was tenor William Ferguson, an exceptionally versatile musician who had already sung in at least four world premieres, including new operas by Lee Hoiby and Anthony Davis, as well as the comic oratorio Not the Messiah. Biscardi could not have placed his new composition in more capable hands. Ferguson's voice is lovely and pliant and used with unfailing musicality and grace, with every word of the text delivered clearly and expressively. …

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