Commissioned Composers

Conspirare commissioned 15 diverse composers to create emotionally potent, provocative music in response to Beethoven and our times.  We invite you to explore each composer’s commission through their composer note.  Get to know them through their homepage and music, linked below. Then join us to hear the world premiere of their music and meet them!

Alex Berko

Abbie Betinis

Christopher Ceronne

Saunder Choi

Carlos Cordero

Eliza Gilkyson

Jocelyn Hagen

Ted Hearne

Shara Nova

Gabriela Ortiz

Graham Reynolds

Michael Schachter

Derrick Skye

Dale Trumbore

Dorothy Walters

Alex Berko

Abbie Betinis

Christopher Ceronne

Saunder Choi

Carlos Cordero

Eliza Gilkyson

Jocelyn Hagen

Ted Hearne

Shara Nova

Gabriela Ortiz

Graham Reynolds

Michael Schachter

Derrick Skye

Dale Trumbore

Dorothy Walters

You Through Me

Alex Berko

You Through Me is a song about the Elizabeth Street Garden (SoHo, NY). It is a story about how a physical place is linked with our experiences and memories of it. The garden is a place for the current residents of the neighborhood to relax and escape, but it is also the potential spot for affordable housing units to be built. This dichotomy between who the space belongs to and what thoughts, emotions, and experiences we impress upon that place (and places in general) is at the heart of this piece. To express this concept more deeply, I chose to tell the story of the garden from the perspective of the garden itself; it observes, wonders, and at times, pleads, just as we do as humans.

What is death

Abbie Betinis

“Must it be? It must be!” Beethoven’s ‘Q & A-style’ inscription scrawled over the last movement of his final string quartet (Op 135) begs the question, “Must what be?” Using his 3-note “question motive” as a jumping off point, I started filling in the “what” with my own greatest fears: war, the climate crisis, endless gun violence. Realizing each ended in death (perhaps sharing that preoccupation with Beethoven), I re-visited a poem I’ve been wanting to set for decades. While I had always found it soothing before, this time it was eerie. Henry Scott Holland’s “What is Death? Death is Nothing at All,” read at countless funerals to comfort the living, made me wonder if I even believe that answer anymore. If death is nothing at all, why work to prevent it? The result is a tug-of-war between the human instinct to sugarcoat our deepest anxieties versus the courage of insisting on answers, even if those answers are distressing.

Wind Phone, Goleta, CA, April 2022

Christopher Cerrone

Wind Phone, Goleta, CA, April 2022″ was inspired by a walk along the beach in Goleta, California. I happened upon a strange object, a disconnected telephone. I later discovered that it was a wind phone, a replica of one from japan that allows people to speak messages to those they have lost.

When I began writing a piece for Conspirare, I reached out to my good friend and frequent collaborator, Stephanie Fleischmann. Together, we came up with the idea of a piece for choir that was an imaginary conversation between a protagonist and an unnamed lost loved one.

The piece makes extensive use of air sounds made by the choir to imitate the windy beach, and an antique rotary phone to evoke the call. Stephanie’s text is carefully constructed to make use of extensive ‘s’ and ‘shh’ sounds so that the words sung by the choir can drift gradually into the wind.

Sometimes We Talk Past Each Other

Saunder Choi

Sometimes We Talk Past Each Other is a commentary on our inability and oftentimes unwillingness to hear perspectives that do not align with our own. We have become so polarized as a society that even when we do have conversations, it is a struggle to find a middle ground that everyone can agree on. Individual, unwavering opinions have become the hill we choose to die on.

Musically, I tried to represent “talking past each other” by textures that start homophonically but eventually fray apart from each other. The call and response between the choir and string quartet mimics a conversation, often echoing themes from each other that are recolored or reinterpreted — mirroring the fact that people from both sides often want the same thing but have vastly different approaches in trying to achieve it.

HOW CAN YOU

Carlos Cordero

How Can You is equal parts bold and fragile. As a gay, latinx, immigrant, I wake up every day to another act of hate, unfair decisions, and irrational laws that deeply affect communities that are already fighting to exist. This piece challenges us to be agents of action and calls out the acts of injustice. Why is it so difficult for some people to see that they are doing wrong to someone else to please their own needs? And why are we not doing more to stop that from happening. I often ask myself: “How can you sit there and write music when the world is in such a chaotic state? Should you be doing more?” Writing How Can You is my small part in answering those questions, to help us all find ways we can be kinder to each other. I hope this message resonates with you and you can pass it along before it’s too late for some of us. Our latinx, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, female-identifying, and other marginalized communities need us to stand up with them and choose love.

Sunflowers

Eliza Gilkyson

A beloved musician on the American folk scene, Grammy-nominated folk singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson lived for many years in Austin and now resides in Taos, New Mexico. Although not familiar with these lesser known Beethoven works she says this about her point of departure for writing “Sunflowers”:

“I was trying to get into the frame of mind of the Ukrainian people and their more everyday wishes for their families and homeland, honoring the small things that make a life meaningful and rich. Craig had sent me the Opus 132 in A minor, and I was taken with the first movement. I found that I needed more form for my contribution but the mood of it spoke to me, and Craig gave me the freedom to wander unfettered. The first movement of the Opus is a somber and respectful passage that has a small passionate build towards the end. This song was written to dovetail out of that section.”

To Be Known

Jocelyn Hagen

Freya Manfred sets these words in her poem “To Be Known:” “How can we truly see and hear each other?” I think it will take us years to heal from what we went through with the pandemic, and during this tumultuous time we became more separated than we ever had been. In the piece, I explore who we were, what we became, and how we can heal from events in the past few years. The third movement of Beethoven’s F Major String Quartet, Op. 135: III. Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo, serves as the foundation, our perceived “normal life” and what we expected our future to look like. From there it deconstructs itself, forcing us out of where we think we belong and requiring us to analyze our positions and paths in a changed world. Social distancing pulled us from our communities to self-isolate and quarantine, and I believe that in many ways it helped divide us further, for it became harder to connect with each other’s humanity. But on the other hand, our increased time alone helped us deepen our self-reflection, sparking or renewing our commitments to a better life that is more aware and inclusive.

photo credit: Jen Rosenstein

In the Language of Truth

Ted Hearne

In the Language of Truth is a setting of a correspondence sent by newly elected U.S. President Andrew Jackson to the Creek Indians, in the Spring of 1829. In this letter, Jackson uses familiar and familial language as part of an argument to compel the Creek to “voluntarily” leave their ancestral lands and remove to territory West of the Mississippi.

photo credit: Jen Rosenstein

Stay With Me

Shara Nova

The String Quartet No. 14 in C♯ minor, Op. 131, was completed by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1826. It is the last-composed of a trio of string quartets and said to be Beethoven’s own favorite.  A performance of it was requested by composer Franz Schubert, who wrote over 600 songs, on his deathbed in 1828.  

Upon first listen of the quartet, composer Shara Nova was reminded of harmonies in Samuel Barber’s choral song The Coolin’ and taking fragments of text from that original Irish poem and collaging elements of the string quartet for “Stay With Me”, she has created a picture of fractured public discourse, and the difficulty of truly hearing another person’s experience. 

photo credit: Mara Arteaga

Tierra

Gabriela Ortiz

The founding ideas for writing “Tierra” come from the collaboration and deep admiration of two big artists: James Drake, a North American painter, and his epic work “Can We Know the Sound of Forgiveness;” and Benjamin Sáenz Lira, a Mexican-American writer, poet, and activist, and his touching poem “Opus No. 1”.

To me, Art is a living manifestation that watches us, challenges us, and shows us the worst and the best of the society to which we belong. This is why I have always advocated for the possibility of collaborating, of creating bridges through the most diverse artistic expressions to talk about the issues we face as humanity.

In my piece “Tierra,” I tried just that: to interpret and respond to the works of two prime artists under the process of introspection and creative reflection to be able to provoke, enrich, and question the world we live in and, maybe, why not, move to another fairer and balanced society, forgetting about borders, walls, and racial and cultural distinctions that damage us so much as human beings.

The piece is divided into two parts. In the first part, I tried to make the music navigate through diverse moods, some of them telluric or obsessive, with a rhythmic counterpoint emulating the beating of the earth, interwoven with passages of more lyricism and harmonic color.  In the second part, I only used the word “earth” to create a nourished polyphony of voices that are out of phase and develop little by little, creating a song of spirituality and hope for a better world. 

photo credit: Mara Arteaga

photo credit: Bill McCullough

Veronika

Graham Reynolds

“Veronika”  was composed in honor of my Great-Grandmother Veronika Naudzus.  She was in her 90’s when I knew her growing up.  Born in the 1890’s, she and her mother immigrated from Lithuania to the United States after her mother discovered that her father had a secret second family.  I shared my memories of her, as well as my mother’s, with Lithuanian poet and playwright Gabrielė Labanauskaitė, who wrote the lyrics.

O Vorsehung

Michael Schachter

O Vorsehung is a work of creative musical archeology. It’s something new, fashioned from something old: or, more precisely, from two musical artifacts of Beethovenian lore, which share connections to one another and to the present moment in surprising ways.

The first of these is the famous Heiligenstadt Testament, the 1802 letter Beethoven wrote to his brothers, despairing of his encroaching deafness. The second of these is the slow movement from Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 (op. 132), subtitled the Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart (“holy song of thanksgiving from a convalescent to the godhead, in the Lydian mode”). In my imagination, I fancy these artifacts calling to one another through time — the Heiliger Dankgesang a hard-earned answer to the deeply painful questions posed decades earlier in the Heiligenstadt Testament.

The word heilig (“holy”) has particular resonance here — but with it, and its power, comes a warning. In the twentieth century, the word heil (meaning “sanctify” or “protect,” from the same root) would take on a much more horrific meaning in its ubiquitous perversion by the Nazis to praise their leader. As odd as it might seem, I was thinking on this a lot in writing this piece: the devastatic potency of music and words to connect us, uplift us, to make sense of the world — while yet, as current events continue to remind us, this can be a power that can be just as readily weaponized in service of darkness as of light. Ultimately it is up to each one of us to seek truth, act with courage, and make beauty as we move through the world.

Black Ocean

Derrick Skye

Black Ocean explores the human experience of the universe as being simultaneously vast and open, yet intimate and personal on an individual level. The text of the piece are fragments from a stream of consciousness poem by Kiara Skye called Cosmic Byproduct. Musically, the piece includes both F natural and F quarter-tone flat in the strings, to reflect the flexible ability of people to shift their macro/micro perspectives and everything between. The piece also incorporates elements of indeterminacy, including body percussion and vocal effects, allowing performers to cotribute in their own unique way to the larger piece. The fragments of text that repeat and shift to create different patterns are meant to reflect the multi-dimensional nature of human thoughts and experiences. Black Ocean also includes elements of Hindustani classical music, with a  Dumdhar Chakradhar Tiahai in a 9-beat taal (rhythmic cycle) that starts on beat 4 of measure 98 and ends on the downbeat of measure 145. The piece uses vocal effects of sounds rather than text and body percussion with the tapping of the chest, claps, snaps, and the rubbing of two hands together. From measure 41 to measure 87 the string quartet writing is inspired by West African fiddle music.

The Opposites Game

Dale Trumbore

Brendan Constantine’s text for The Opposites Game plays with the idea of having a “right” answer as it asks what may be an unanswerable question: What is the opposite of a gun?
As the piece explores the answer, the idea of opposites is reflected in the music as well. Near the beginning of the piece, the melody used for “My life had stood a loaded gun” is inverted, reflected over C, to create a second melody for the sentence made of up antonyms: “Your / Death / Will Sit / Many / Empty.”
Near the end of the piece, the music for “the opposite of a gun is wherever you point it” is the retrograde—a musical term for when the notes of a melody are played in reverse order, and another kind of musical opposite—of the melody used for “Your death will sit through many empty poems.”

Beethoven Enters Heaven

Dorothy Walters

Dorothy Walters has been hailed by many as a leading mystical poet of our time, ‘a modern-day Rumi.’ She spent most of her early professional life as a professor of English literature in various Midwestern universities and she was a co -founder of one of the first women’s studies program in the country. She underwent a major Kundalini awakening in 1981 and since then, has devoted her life to researching and writing about this subject. We spoke with Dorothy in the early days of this project, and she stayed connected with the idea of creating a response to late Beethoven in some way. She offered her poem Beethoven Enters Heaven. Dorothy, now in her mid-nineties, lives in Boulder. About her recent and current work she writes: My themes today are a continuation and refinement of those I have long dealt with: the sacred journey, the ecstatic moments, the infusion of divine energies within the self. Sometimes I write ecstasy poems, sometimes those that are more reflective. All proceed directly from source, the unseen mystery that infuses directs our lives. We sense rather than see this presence and proceed in partnership with it to “bring the gift back home.”
– Craig Hella Johnson