December 22, 2009

That foreign yet visceral language we call music. [Peter Lieberson, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson; videos]


When we first hear that a loved one or friend or colleague has died, the world skips a beat, then retraces its steps, turns about, lost, bewildered. Everything’s the same, but more hollow. I’ll miss you, sir.

Sitting in brand-new Alfalfa’s in Boulder, just learned that he passed away. I’m a bit heartbroken, though I haven’t seen him now in 15 years—he was so sharp, uplifted, classy, brilliant and bright. Here’s the NY Times article, which has some amazing quotes about love and music and his time with the Buddhist sangha/community.

Tribute via Joel Wachbrit, from the Shambhala Buddhist sangha/community:

I remember several years ago many of us who were then in the Los Angeles Ashe Society went en masse to hear Esa-Pekka Salonen conduct one of Peter’s orchestral works, perhaps it was Drala. And later, in 2005 my wife and I were fortunate to hear the world premiere of Neruda Songs with the same great orchestra and conductor, as well as hear the transcendent voice of his wife Lorraine. I was excited that there was an emissary of enlightened society in the world of classical music – as a musician and Shambhalian that always gave me hope. And that he was so highly regarded, as well.

The world has lost not just a great voice in his wife Lorraine but now a great voice in modern classical music. May all of us in the arts aspire to be able to bring such sanity to the world as Peter and his music did. And may he be smiling in the bardo to the painfully beautiful and out of tune voice of the Dorje Dradul singing the Shambhala Anthem.

Thanks for the music, Mr. Lieberson.

Joel Wachbrit {Reprinted with permission}

Now, I don’t know anything about classical music, or opera, despite my father’s lifelong passion and efforts. But I appreciate what little I’ve been exposed to.

When I lived in Boston, I’d attend a few performances at the Boston Symphony Hall, you could get cheap tickets through some program and it was amazing alone or with friends. The Hall was beautiful, the music stultifyingly awesome. It never failed to inspire me with a sense of Western lineage or history—for once, in a good way, an evocative, sublime and emotionally raw way.

One year I even wrote into some classical magazine [CD Review] about how they ought to be connecting with my generation, and it got published in the letters section. It’s still googleable, somewhere.

In any case, the below represent what little I could find on youtube under the name of Peter Lieberson (photo above), a well-known and talented composer who I know, or knew (he led my Warrior Assembly at Karme Choling in Vermont back when I was 16).

The videos below all feature his extremely famous, well-loved, late, great wife Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. The New Yorker:

It felt wrong to call her “great” and “extraordinary,” or to throw around diva-worship words like “goddess” and “immortal,” because those words placed her on a pedestal, whereas the warmth in her voice always brought her close. Nonetheless, empty superlatives will have to do. She was the most remarkable singer I ever heard. She was incapable of giving a routine performance—I saw her twelve times, and each appearance had something explosively distinctive about it—and her career took the form of a continuous ascent. New Yorkers saw her for the final time last November, when she came to town with the Boston Symphony to perform “Neruda Songs,” composed by her husband, Peter Lieberson. She sang that night with such undiminished power that it seemed as though she would be around forever. Then she was gone, leaving the apex vacant.

And, on Peter:
“When Peter Lieberson began composing in the early 1970s, his compositional hero was Stravinsky in his late acerbic style, and his teachers included Milton Babbitt and Charles Wuorinen. But he was also fond of musical theater, Minimalism and jazz; before he studied composition formally, he learned about harmony by figuring out the voicings on recordings by the jazz pianist Bill Evans. Mr. Lieberson’s works meld most of those influences into a cohesive, energetic and intensely communicative style, with brainy, atonal surfaces that attest to his post-tonal pedigree and a current of lyricism and drama that gives this music its warmth and passion.”
~ Allan Kozinn, NY Times, September 29, 2009
Peter Lieberson came to prominence in the mid-1980s with the Piano Concerto and Drala, two major commissions from the Boston Symphony, with whom he still enjoys a fruitful collaboration. Of profound influence on his music has been his practice of Tibetan Buddhism. Since 1980 many of his works have been inspired by Buddhist themes such as King Gesar (1991) and the opera Ashoka’s Dream (1997), both from a series of works based on the lives of enlightened rulers. Lyricism and vocal writing dominate his works of the last decade, reflecting the rich collaborations with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson for whom he composed Neruda Songs (winner of the 2008 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition). In addition to his associations with major orchestras such as Boston, New York, Cleveland, Chicago and Los Angeles, Lieberson enjoys long-standing artistic collaborations with Peter Serkin, Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax and Oliver Knussen. Recent commissions include The World in Flower for the New York Philharmonic, a new work for cello and piano for Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax, and a new song cycle for baritone, oboe and string quartet.
Peter Lieberson became a student of the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trunpga Rinpoche in the mid 1970’s and attended the 1976 Vajradhatu Seminary. He was the first east coast resident director of Shambhala Training in Boston, later becoming the regional east coast director. In 1989 moved to Nova Scotia as the International Director of Shambhala Training. During that time he also served on the Vajradhatu Board of Directors under Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. He taught Shambhala Training undergraduate, graduate programs and the Warrior Assembly in the US and Europe for many years. … He is also an award winning composer and has been commissioned and performed by the major orchestras in the US and Europe. Since 1980 many of his works have been inspired by Buddhist themes such as King Gesar (1991) and the opera Ashoka’s Dream (1997), both from a series of works based on the lives of enlightened rulers. In December 2007, Peter Lieberson won the University of Louisville’s 2008 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for Neruda Songs, his song-cycle for mezzo-soprano and orchestra on poetry of Nobel Prize-winning Pablo Neruda.

Anyways. I’m still friends, though I never see her anymore (she’s Director of the New York City Shambhala Center) with Peter Lieberson’s eldest daughter, and for some reason have been thinking of Peter these last weeks.

So, from an ignoramus, I hope some of you—particularly those of us whose connection with classical music doesn’t go far beyond a little Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky…”the greatest hits”—will take this humble post as an opportunity to do nothing for a few minutes, but listen to that foreign yet visceral language we call music.

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