A musical response to prize-winning novels:
A project of new music inspired by the prize-winning novels of Marilynne Robinson. January-June, 2011.
Gilead is a three-movement (35 minute) composition by Marion, Iowa
native and internationally renowned composer Harvey Sollberger.
Gilead was 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 performed
it in a series of 27 concerts and educational events – 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. The project Perhaps Gilead was funded in part by
the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
and the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation
deserves great art.
are members from left: John Dowdall (guitar), Lisa Ponton (viola), Jan
Boland (flute), Harvey Sollberger (composer), Marilynne Robinson (author),
Nancy McFarland-Gaub (violin), Miera Kim (violin), Carey Bostian (cello).
Photo taken by John Richards after the concert at Grinnell College, April,
is an All-Iowa Project!
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.
• Sollberger was born in Cedar Rapids but was raised and attended
elementary through high school in Marion and then attended the University
• Sollberger has had numerous major commissions but is recently
retired from University of CA San Diego.
• Sollberger 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
• Harvey became engrossed with the Iowa-based novels Home &
Gilead 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 :
Home & Gilead are companion novels by a renowned
Iowa author Marilynne Robinson about her fictional small town of Gilead,
Iowa. Set in the 1950s, Home & Gilead 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 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-Artistic Director of the critically
acclaimed Roycroft Chamber Music Festival and a Lecturer in Music at Grinnell
* Flutist Jan Boland & guitarist John Dowdall are founding directors
of Red Cedar Chamber Music
The Iowa Sponsorship and Collaboration :
* The Iowa Arts Council awarded a grant of $9,700 in support of the premiere performance and man of the pre-premiere concerts.
* The Iowa City premiere on May 22nd was presented in collaboration with
the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature. (Special thanks to Jeanette Pilak).
• January 10–13, 2011 • 4-day Residency (16 events)
Music for Kids. At Jefferson High School, Cedar Rapids.
• January 15 • 2 p.m.
Music for Seniors. At Summit Pointe, Marion, IA.
• April 19 • 7:30 p.m.
Music for Seniors. At Oaknoll Retirement Residence, One Oaknoll Ct., Iowa
• April 21 • 7 p.m.
Music for Marion. Family Concert at Lowe Park, Marion,
• May 11 • 1 p.m.
Iowa City Connection. For Music Study Club. Parkview Church, Iowa City.
• May 18 • 10 a.m.
Open Rehearsal. In the Great Room at Cottage Grove Place, Cedar Rapids, IA
• May 18 • 7 p.m.
Rural Outreach. At First Presbyterian Church, Marengo, IA.
• May 19 • 1:30 p.m.
Music for Seniors. At Village Place, Marion, IA.
• May 19 • 7 p.m.
Rural Outreach Concert. At Ainsworth Opera House, Ainsworth,
• May 20 • 2 p.m.
Music for Seniors. At Meth-Wick, Cedar Rapids, IA
• May 20 • 7 p.m.
Rural Outreach. At Wesley United Methodist Church, Vinton,
• May 21 • 8 p.m.
Main Stage Concert. Perhaps Gilead At First Presbyterian Church, Cedar Rapids, IA.
• May 22• 2 p.m.
At St. Raphael Church in Iowa CIty. Gala reception following at 715 East
College (Historic Musser-Dixon House). Iowa City, IA
Composer, conductor and flutist Harvey Sollberger has been active in
many world musical centers. Performers of his music have included the
New York Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, Tanglewood, June
in Buffalo, Interlink (Tokyo), Radio France and Pierre Boulez’s
Domaine Musical (Paris), TRANSIT (Belgium) and Incontri di Musica Sacra
Among his honors are the Award of the National Institute of Arts and
Letters, two Guggenheim Fellowships and commissions from the Fromm,
Naumberg and Koussevitzky foundations, Music from Japan, the NEA and
various state arts councils.
Sollberger was a co-founder of the New York Group for Contemporary Music
and has led the Contemporary Ensemble of the Manhattan School of Music,
Indiana University’s New Music Ensemble and SONOR and Sirius at
the University of California, San Diego, where he served, as well, as
Music Director of the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus from 1997 to 2005.
His orchestral performing credits include appearances with the San Francisco
Symphony, the San Diego Symphony, the American Composers Orchestra,
the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Slee Sinfonietta.
His work as composer and performer is represented on over 150 commercial
records. Numbered among his premieres are works of Babbitt, Carter,,
Davidovsky, Felder, Martino, Scelsi and Reynolds and the American premieres
of music by Feldman, Stockhausen, Tiensuu and Xenakis.
He has, in addition, been Resident Composer at the American Academy
in Rome and Composer-in-Residence for the San Francisco Contemporary
Music Players and Red Cedar Chamber Music. In his spare time Harvery
Sollberger studies Italian, and has recently translated the autobiography
of Italian flutist Severino Gazzelloni. He lives in Iowa where he feeds
hummingbirds, grows arugula, and is at work on plans for a 30-acre sound
ABOUT THE MUSIC: BY HARVEY SOLLBERGER
Perhaps Gilead was written in 2010 for flute, guitar and string
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, Medley-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
as well as a sentimental ballad (“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.
“I am so pleased to be in on the genesis of a major work!
I love the Marion, Iowa Connection, both Red Cedar and the composer.”
“Wonderful! I can't tell you how much I enjoyed and profited from
your concert (I read both books). And it was to wonderful hear you all
play so gorgeously.” E.H
“Unforgettable. A privilege.” N.B.
“I could feel the story in each movement. The background is an excellent
teaching tool; were you aware that the stained glass window was the ideal
setting for this music? The full moon last night was just as described
in the book – I live in the prairie and could see it and hear the
sounds of birds and breezes- incredible depiction.” N.B.
Cedar is amazing – for this selection and performance of beautiful
and sometimes unknown works, for their personally presented concerts that
teach us as well as inspire and entertain us. We like the venues, too
– charming settings for a full experience. A crown jewel for this
was the most meaningful music experience I’ve ever had.” K.M..
June, 2011: "Words fail me . . .it's been a wonderful and
restorative experience on every level. Thank you for "giving"
my piece – first commissioning it and then seeing it so beautifully
through all stages of its realization. I feel rewarded in
every pore!" Harvey Sollberger (composer)
And then the work was recorded . . .
In June, 2011 the artists recorded Perhaps Gilead in King Chapel
college campus of Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa.
Recording engineer: Peter Nothnagle. The work appears on the compact disc titled "Spillville and Gilead: Chamber Music by Harvey Sollberger" published by Fleur de Son Classics (NY) and distributed by Naxos International.
recording project was funded by gifts from the Sollberger Gang of Five
(Chuck Peters, Joanne Chadima, Grinnell College, Laird & Patricia
Addis and Clara "Peach" Moore) – the Iowa Arts Council,
and a generous gift from Mr. John Castle. The disc was recorded and edited
by Peter Nothnagle and released by Fleur de Son Classics (Buffalo, N.Y.)
Special thanks to Cornell College (Mount Vernon) for providing the recording
space – King Chapel, with its beautiful acoustics.