Stephen Paulus

paulusIt has to be 30 years ago now; I was sitting in a cafe with composers Jennifer Higdon, Rob Maggio, Sylvia Glickman, and a fellow in town from Minnesota, who was advising us on a composer organization start-up. He was already well-known in composer circles as the one who, with Libby Larsen, began in Minnesota what became the largest composer service organization in the world, the American Composers Forum.

His name was Stephen Paulus. He died at age 65 on Sunday, October 19th. He had suffered a debilitating stroke on July 4th, 2013, saddening musicians and audiences everywhere. Now we mourn.

At that table, his enthusiasm and positive energy were contagious, but I remember most of all his kindness. His music reflects that, too. A few months ago I programmed a short work, his Prelude No. 3 for piano, on WRTI’s contemporary American music program Now Is the Time. “Sprightly” is Paulus’s subtitle, and it encapsulates what I always hear in his music—be it choral, orchestral, operatic. From his more than 500 works, what I always hear is simplicity (even with complicated materials) and melodic openness.

from Stephen Paulus, Prelude No. 3, “Sprightly,” Lara Downes, piano: 

(We’re re-broadcasting this show on Saturday, November 1st, 9 pm on HD-2 and streaming at

This excerpt from his Organ Concerto, performed by Alan Morrison with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia on January 19th, 2014, shows, through all the gnarled chromaticism and virtuosic display, an element of—what shall I call it?—friendliness.

Stephen Paulus Organ Concerto, Finale. Alan Morrison, organ, Dirk Brossé conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia:

So I remember Stephen Paulus from his music, from his work as a composer advocate, and from that one meeting at a Center City restaurant 30 years ago. Some of us there were young, some of us, unbelievably young. Stephen was seven years older than I, but with seeming decades more experience, he looked like he was 17. Thirty years later, he still did: always smiling, always youthful. That was the only time I met Stephen Paulus, but people all over are saying the same things. He was always generous, always supportive, always working, always positive, and kind, kind, kind.

Read Minnesota Public Radio’s appreciation of the legacy of Stephen Paulus here.

Here is his Pilgrim’s Hymn, perhaps his most-heard work:

Rehearsing Psalm 46 in Montana

not this time...

not this time…

Having a great time with Allan R. Scott, Music Director of the Helena Symphony & Chorale, and with baritone Ron Loyd, preparing for the performance of Psalm 46 on Saturday, October 18 at the Civic Center in Helena. A piano rehearsal earlier today, followed by an interview on Montana Public Radio, and off to a full orchestra and chorus rehearsal tonight.

Ron Loyd sounds perfect for this, such a beautiful, intelligent, big, thrilling voice—a Verdi baritone is what singers call it. Opening the concert will be selections from the Old American Songs of Aaron Copland. Yet again am I reminded of how good Copland is, I mean, really, honestly, fully engaged and original. It’s the old problem of appreciating popular repertoire. These are sung all the time. There’s a reason.

Anyway, I’m reveling over the perfect match of Ron Loyd to the Old American Songs and to Psalm 46. Allan Scott is on top of every detail and is brimming with energy, imagination, and commitment to the music and the Symphony. I’m thrilled to be working with them. (Though no Dodge Ram for a rental car this time!)

The notes, choral score, text, and a recording of Psalm 46 are here, along with an explanation of how and why it came to be composed. I’m glad to report that I’ve forgotten most of the theoretical business behind the harmonic language of the piece, and I think it works just fine without anyone else knowing that, either, but since I went to all that trouble, that’s in the notes, too. If you read it, don’t say I didn’t warn you, but my hope is that it may be appreciated simply as a meditation on this Scripture.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

The Consolation of Apollo premieres

earthriseStill soaring from the premiere performances of The Consolation of Apollo over the weekend, but in the meantime, kind words about it this morning from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Donald Nally led The Crossing in the three concerts at two very different-sounding venues, The Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton (Fri., 10/10/14 and Sat., 10/11), and The Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia (Sun. 10/12). Combined with rehearsals at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, those constitute a whirlwind tour through three very different acoustics. The Crossing’s talent and musicality include a big dose of flexibility.

I’ve said it before, but they amaze me. I cannot overstate Donald’s alertness to sound, and the choir’s intuition and suppleness. On top of gorgeous singing and the ability to make everything sound easy! I love being in their company; they love their music and their mission and each other so much. Such an encompassing joy to work with them.

David Patrick Stearns said that this “dauntingly high-concept new choral work” “indeed has a future,” and called The Consolation of Apollo my “most consistently high-level work, though one in which the composer of his breakthrough 2008 Vespers is barely recognizable.” (I’ll need to sift through that, as the works from then to now are all one line to me! But I may be in a poor position to say.) It “arises from a clear vision and sure purpose without losing any of its otherworldliness.” Read here his entire review of it and the work with which it was paired (indeed, the reason for Apollo‘s existence), David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion.

The complete Apollo-8-astronaut-and-Boethius text, and my program notes, are here. Looking ahead to 2015, and January 4th and 5th concerts in Philadelphia and Wilmington.


Soliloquy on Now Is the Time

TakeSixFtWorthCDIt’s one voice among all on Now Is the Time, Saturday, October 11th at 9 pm at and WRTI-HD2. Two concertos—the ultimate one vs. many format—bookend a lone flute on this week’s program. Meditation and Caprice are the two movements of the engaging, mesmerizing Violin Concerto by Kevin Puts.

Robert Baksa’s Soliloquy from 1997, and from a CD of his flute music, is subtitled “Krishna’s Song,” as the Hindu deity is often pictured playing the flute. The energetic and moody Clarinet Concerto of Paul Moravec features soloist David Krakauer. Moravec wrote this while he was in residence at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton.

from Kevin Puts: Violin Concerto 

Kevin Puts: Violin Concerto
Robert Baksa: Soliloquy
Paul Moravec: Clarinet Concerto

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream. Just go to and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. In the Philadelphia area with an HD radio? Dial us up at 90.1 FM-HD2, or find all the frequencies here, from the Jersey Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Delaware. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! 

Apollo preview in Times of Trenton

earthriseRoss Amico previews at the Friday and Saturday concerts of The Crossing, with David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion and the world premiere of The Consolation of Apollo. (I would normally just have written “premiere,” but for the photo to the left.) The 8 pm performances are at Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Studies, Wolfensohn Hall, October 10th and 11th, with a third on Sunday, October 12th at The Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia at 5 pm. (January 4th and 5th concerts will be in Philadelphia and Wilmington.)

My notes on the piece are here, but Amico uses a good bit from a long interview with me. Much in the article is not in the notes, along with quotes from The Crossing’s conductor Donald Nally, so I encourage anyone interested in Apollo to take a look.

Rehearsing Apollo

earthriseThe Crossing has been rehearsing this for weeks, but I attended a rehearsal of The Consolation of Apollo for the first time last night.

I don’t know how to say it without repeating myself. I am simply amazed by these singers, amazed by Donald, amazed that I am so fortunate to have the chance to offer music to them. They re-create it and with unmatched artistry, with understanding, and with love offer it back to me. I’m amazed.

This Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Come, see, hear them. More about the piece here.

Commissioned by Eric Owens for The Crossing, Donald Nally, conductor, The Consolation of Apollo premieres at Princeton University, Institute for Advanced Studies Wolfensohn Hall, on October 10th and 11th, 2014, and at The Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, on October 12th.


Lyric Fest and Vienna, City of Song

LyricFestMastheadI had such a great time the last two days narrating/lecturing/gabbing at the Lyric Fest concerts, centering on Lieder, centering on Vienna. And what singing! Erica Miller, Suzanne DuPlantis, and Gabriel Preisser, wow to all, singing Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Wolf, Marx, Strauss, Mahler, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern—I think I got all of them, and in kind of chronological order. Laura Ward accompanied… I always leave shaking my head over her all-encompassing artistry.

As Lyric Fest’s first-ever Composer in Residence, my job this weekend was just to talk here and there on what I thought was up with art song, Vienna, Schubert, and all that. I navigated to Romanticism, Little Women, and floor buffing machines somehow, I recall.

So that was the talking; the music will come later. I’m finishing up a trio on a Shakespeare text for the next concert in November, then a song cycle and an audience-participation piece are due later in the season.

We’re off to a great start, and I’m fortunate just to be in the same room to hear the wonderful artists of Lyric Fest!