Perhaps Gilead – Video of Iowa City Premiere – Composer Statement & Media Interviews

We had a great premiere week for Perhaps Gilead that culminated in our May 22, 2011 performance at St. Raphael Church in Iowa City. St. Raphael provided wonderful acoustics and a beautiful backdrop to the video of the concert.

Movement 1:  Constructing a Horizon: Prairie Sunset and Moonrise


Movement 2: The Armed Man



Movement 3: Fantasy-Potpourri: Sunday Afternoon Music at Reverend Boughton’s


To get the composer’s thoughts on this music, you can:

  • Read his introductory remarks to the edition of the music

Perhaps Gilead Composer’s Introductory Comments by Harvey Sollberger

Perhaps Gilead would not exist without the novels Gilead and Home by Marilynne Robinson. Ms. Robinson’s gift for linking the everyday to the eternal shows us that life is here and now – here and now but also everywhere and everywhen in that our thoughts and deeds reach and reverberate far beyond our immediate surroundings and wildest imaginings. She reminds us of the distinguished history and implied promise (or is it a threat?) bound up in Ulysses S. Grant’s dictum, “Iowa, shining star of radicalism”, as her novels simultaneously depict our earthborne nature offset by our ability to hope and remember, dream and imagine. Hers is not an easy universe, but it is, coupled with our effort and attention, a redeemable one in which a field alight with flickering fireflies can evoke the smoldering earth: “well, it was and it is. An old fire will make a dark husk for itself and settle in on its core, as in the case of this planet. I believe the same metaphor may describe the human individual, as well. Perhaps Gilead. Perhaps civilization. Prod a little and the sparks will fly.” 

Perhaps Gilead is in three movements:

Movement I, Constructing a Horizon: Prairie Sunset and Moonrise, was inspired by an incident described on page 14 of Gilead where the boy who will become Reverend Ames, on a visit with his father to the wilds of Kansas to find his grandfather’s grave, looks up and sees the setting sun and rising full moon balanced on their respective horizons with “the most wonderful light between them”. “I never could have thought this place could be beautiful. I’m glad to know that,” says his father. I saw this myself on January 29, 2010 in Strawberry Point, Iowa.

Movement II, The Armed Man references the conviction and near-Biblical intensity of Ames’s grandfather, an abolitionist and fighter – in a literal sense – for slavery’s end. In Gilead, William Faulkner’s words – “the past is never dead, it’s not even past.” – return to doubly haunt us as we perceive slavery’s ongoing legacy both in the novel’s 1950s setting as well as in our present historical moment.

Movement III, Fantasy-Potpourri: Sunday Afternoon Music at Reverend Boughton’s, is set as an opera scene without words, and draws its scenario from pages 188 and 189 of  Home from “they ate their pie” through Lila’s saying, “that’s a good song, though.” The three characters who speak in this passage, Reverend Boughton, his son, Jack, and Reverend Ames’s young wife, Lila, are “sung”, respectively, by the first violin, cello and viola in a series of recitatives. The text, though not spoken or sung in performance, is written beneath the notes so that each player knows what he or she is “saying”. I think that much of Jack’s essence is captured in this scene – his mercurial imagination and playfulness, his sense of humor and self-wounding bitter irony and, finally, his despair. This is counterbalanced here by the serenity of Lila and the yearning severity of his father.

The medley-potpourri aspect of the title refers to the music Jack performs on the piano at this Sunday gathering – a succession of hymns (“potpourri” in French means literally “rotten pot”, and refers to a stew made of different kinds of meat; it later came to refer to a medley of different musical works joined together and played in succession). Movement III references and quotes all of the music mentioned in the novel’s text, making, in effect, a potpourri of the pieces performed in Reverend Boughton’s parlor. To further tax the opera metaphor, we might see Perhaps Gilead’s quoted hymns and songs as equivalent to the arias set between and counterbalancing characters’ recitatives in eighteenth-century opera.

Can Movement III makes sense if the audience can’t hear the words and follow the “libretto”? I’m betting that it can, as a kaleidoscopically-evolving mosaic of the new and the familiar, the exotic and the mundane, powered (I hope) by elements of musical contrast  and design, change and surprise that allow the music to penetrate beyond and behind the words to the emotional truths and experiences that called them into being

And finally, I think I should address the topic of musical quotation – or borrowing. During past years I’ve frequently found myself quoting from others’ works. I do this not from some rejection of the concept of authorship (hardly!) or from lack of inspiration, but to open a door to a broader context  of musical reference and expression than I’d have without the quotations. Each quoted work or passage draws new and extended meaning from its relation to the music of mine in which it’s embedded, and in the tiny space between the incited/new and the recited/quoted, a charge of metaphysical lightening is coiled -up, one which when released flashingly illuminates the musical landscape through which the listeners, performers and I are passing. In broader terms, the quoted works already reside in me and form part of my mental and spiritual furniture. To reference them in my music is, in my terms, to supremely compliment them, and I do so with full respect for their uniqueness and creators.

  • Click on Harvey Sollberger’s photo below to hear Iowa Public Radio’s story of Perhaps Gilead for All Things Considered and Morning Edition by John Pemble
  • Click on Harvey Sollberger’s photo below to hear an interview with rehearsal out takes by videographer John Richard

Perhaps Gilead is an all Iowa Chamber Music Project with Great Traction


Click on this photo of Red Cedar Chamber Music musicians and composer of Perhaps Gilead to read Gazette article by Diana Nollen

Get tickets:

May 21st & May 22nd Setting Sun to Rising Moon tickets available in advance or at the door for both concerts.

Tickets in advance: Mail check by Thursday May 19th to –

Red Cedar Chamber Music

PO Box 154

Marion, IA 52302

Tickets will be held for you at the door.

Tickets at the door: Show up at the concert site 45 minutes prior to the performance.

Tickets price:

  • Cedar Rapids: 8 p.m. May 21, 2011, First Presbyterian Church, 310 Fifth St. SE; $18 at the door, $15 in advance; $10 ages 30 and under; (319) 377-8028
  • Iowa City: 2 p.m. May 22, 2011, St. Raphael Orthodox Church, 722 E. College St.; followed by gala reception at the Musser-Dixon Victorian home, 715 E. College St.; $35 in advance or at the door (319) 377-8028
  • Information: www.redcedar.org or (319) 377-8028


This is it! My first blog about  Red Cedar Chamber Music and oh my is this an exciting time!

We are just 11 days away from the official premiere weekend of Perhaps Gilead, a terrific new composition by Marion, Iowa native and internationally renowned composer Harvey Sollberger.

Perhaps Gilead is inspired by the companion novels Home and Gilead written by Pulitzer Prize-winning Iowa novelist Marilynne Robinson. Red Cedar Chamber Music commissioned Perhaps Gilead and will be performing it in an upcoming series of concerts called Setting Sun to Rising Moon, culminating with official premiere concerts at First Presbyterian Church at 310 5th St. SE in Cedar Rapids at 8 p.m. on Saturday May 21, 2011 and at St. Raphael Orthodox Church at 722 E. College St. in Iowa City at 2 p.m. on Sunday May 22, 2011.

Order tickets:

Media Coverage: I will give you some of the highlights of this amazing all-Iowa project here, but check out this terrific media coverage to get the full flavor of the project

  • Click photo of Diana Nollen to read her great, in-depth article that beautifully describes the Perhaps Gilead project and lists all the performances! (Cedar Rapids Gazette April 10, 2011)


  • Click on Harvey Sollberger's photo to hear Iowa Public Radio's story of Perhaps Gilead for All Things Considered and Morning Edition by John Pemble


  • Click on Harvey Sollberger's photo to hear an interview with rehearsal out takes by videographer John Richard


  • Click on musician's photo to see a video of Perhaps Gilead performed at Grinnell College featuring a section from the third movement Fantasy-Potpourri: Sunday Afternoon Music at Reverend Boughton's (4-22-11)


  • Click on photo to hear KCCK Setting Sun to Rising Moon Interview on 5-12-11 by George Dorman

  • Click photo of Laird Addis to read his article – Iowan Sollberger composes 'Perhaps Gilead', which appeared in the Iowa City Press Citizen on 5-1-11


  • Click photo of Carey J. Hahn to read his article – Marion composer to bring to life Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which appeared in the Marion Times on 3-21-11

So, what makes this project so special and an all-Iowa treat?

Our Iowa composer:

•                Harvey became a leading exponent of contemporary composition and expanded instrumental techniques on the flute while at Columbia University where he co-founded (with Charles Wuorinen) the Group for Contemporary Music in New York at Columbia University in 1962 and directed that ensemble for 27 years.

•                He was born in Cedar Rapids but was raised and attended elementary through high school in Marion and then attended the University of Iowa.

•                He has had numerous major commissions but is recently retired from University of CA San Diego.

•    He now lives in Strawberry Point, Iowa and is Red Cedar Chamber Music’s composer in residence.

The Iowa Inspiration of Perhaps Gilead : Red Cedar Chamber Music commissioned Harvey Sollberger to write a 15 minute work for flute, guitar and string quartet and he became so immersed in the project he wrote us a 30 minute work .

•                Harvey became engrossed with the Iowa-based novels HomeGilead by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson, who teaches at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop

•                 His new musical work interprets the philosophical and emotional content of these novels in soundscape.

•     Harvey believes Perhaps Gilead is the best piece he has created in over 50 years of composing

The Iowa Author and Novels that Inspired Perhaps Gilead :

HomeGilead are companion novels by a renowned Iowa author Marilynne Robinson about her fictional small town of Gilead, Iowa. Set  in the 1950s, HomeGilead deal with important social & philosophical issues ie. slavery/integration as seen through the eyes of two ministers in the town who are lifelong friends

The Iowa Performers :

All 6 performers of Perhaps Gilead are well-known Iowa musicians

  • Carey Bostian is principal cellist with Orchestra Iowa
  • Lisa Ponton is principal violist with Orchestra Iowa
  • Miera Kim is associate principal second violin with Orchestra Iowa
  • Violinist Nancy McFarland Gaub is co-Artisitic Director of the critically acclaimed Roycroft Chamber Music Festival and a Lecturer in Music at Grinnell College
  • Flutist Jan Boland & guitarist John Dowdall are founding directors of Red Cedar Chamber Music

The Iowa Sponsorship and Collaboration :

  • The Iowa Arts Council is proudly sponsoring the premiere performance and many of the pre-premiere events.
  • Artist sponsorship of Carey Bostian is provided by Mary Lou Pazour.

Oh, and once the premiere concerts are completed, we get a one – week break and then we record Perhaps Gilead, which will be released on our 10th Fleur de Son Classics compact disc.

But that is the subject of another blog.

Stay tuned!!

John Dowdall

Artistic Director

Red Cedar Chamber Music

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