Jamie Barton and Charles Ives

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Mezzo-Soprano Jamie Barton; Photo Credit Fay Fox

New England Echoes, American Composers Orchestra’s upcoming concert at Carnegie Hall, is a celebration of composers with ties to New England. It includes new orchestrations of Charles Ives songs for mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton by composers Jonathan Bailey Holland, Hannah Lash, and Hilary Purrington. We will also feature the world premiere ofPurrington’s Harp of Nervesfeaturing guitarist JIJI as well asthe New York City premiere of Matthew Aucoin’s Evidence.

Jamie Barton chose her favorites from Ives’ 114 Songs, and then that list was passed on to the three composers, resulting in the following orchestrations:

  • Holland: The Cage, The Housatonic at Stockbridge
  • Lash: Autumn, Immortality
  • Purrington: Two Memories: (a) Very Pleasant (b) Rather Sad

Our Director of Emerging Composers and Diversity, Aiden K. Feltkamp, asked Jamie Barton about the inception of this project and her process of learning the music. Below are the highlights of Ms. Barton’s responses.

Aiden Feltkamp: You’ve done quite a lot of Ives in recital. What draws you to Ives’ art songs, and Ives’ music, in particular?

Jamie Barton: I’ve always been drawn to both Ives’ texts, as well as his use of familiar folk and sacred music woven into the songs. The way he utilizes borrowed music is like injecting little musical snapshots of memories into his extremely progressive compositional language. Those moments have always been incredibly evocative to me as a listener. There’s something truly nostalgic about a lot of his music, though he still manages to be a completely unique compositional voice.

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AF: What is your process for learning and preparing music when it’s completely new for orchestra and you don’t have any recordings to study?

JB: Well, given that these are songs that I’ve sung for a very long time, there’s already a familiarity there. I think this will be more of a process of getting with the orchestra and figuring out how it translates from piano to orchestra. It’ll be a lot of fun to discover how different this music sounds when orchestrated!

AF: Ives wrote the text for all these songs except “The Housatonic at Stockbridge.” Do you feel there’s a different relationship between the text and the music because he wrote both?

JB: I do think that there has to be another layer of dedication — and scrutiny, I imagine! — when the text is your own, but Ives was very deliberate in the text he chose. I really feel like his music was inspired by the text, whereas I’ve heard other composers say that the music comes first and the words develop out of the music. I honestly love that the music is so closely tied to the words — it helps the experience of this music rise to a new level of storytelling.

AF: Is there one song in this set that speaks to you differently in this moment in your life than the last time you performed it? If so, why?

JB: I think that “Memories: (a) Very Pleasant; (b) Rather Sad” is probably that song for me. I first learned it (and loved it!) back in the early 2000’s while I was doing my undergraduate degree at Shorter College, and a lot of life has gone by since then. Every time I return to this song, I have a new perspective, and I think that’s really helpful with this one. Particularly with the “Rather Sad” portion — what’s always stood out to me is how beautifully nostalgic the sadness is for Ives at that point in the song. Sadness is not always as tragic as it tends to be in opera — sometimes it can be bittersweet. I have to wonder if perhaps the notion of that dichotomy is part of Ives’ point.

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Photo Credit Fay Fox

AF: What are you most looking forward to, in regard to this concert?

JB: Several things: I’m looking forward to singing some of my favorite music — now orchestrated, thanks to ACO! I’m really looking forward to meeting these composers who are orchestrating this music, and I’m really looking forward to getting to make music with an orchestra that I think is doing some seriously good, forward-thinking work in this industry.

AF: Ives was famously a successful insurance agent. What was one of your most memorable day jobs?

JB: I had a lot of day jobs, but I think my most memorable was my time as a Boy Scouts of America camp counselor! I taught woodcarving, leatherwork, and metal work for several summers when I was younger — all artistic stuff, but so removed from what I do now!

AF: Do you think Ives would have watched Doctor Who? If so, who would be his favorite Doctor?

JB: I’m going to take a stab in the dark here, and say that with how progressive Ives was in his music and life, he’d probably be a big fan of our first female Doctor, Jodie Whittaker.

Hear these orchestrations come to life on November 13 at our New England Echoes concert. For more information and tickets, go to our website at bit.ly/ACOEchoes.

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