Garrop, one of Chicago’s most keenly sensitive composers, has penned a score that revels in long legato lines but never to cloying effect. Quite the contrary, Garrop keeps the musical material in flux. So though the opera opens with ribbons of melody as Abigail dreams about a critical moment in her youth, it soon shifts to Jazz Age bustle when she’s in the newsroom, then moves on to Sondheimesque flavorings, elegiac arias and more.
“My Dearest Ruth,” by composer Stacy Garrop, adapted a letter that Martin D. Ginsburg – the Justice’s husband – penned as his death neared, in 2010. To hear his poignant words of devotion paired with Garrop’s exquisitely understated music was to sense the Ginsburgs’ deep and enduring love, as well as the pain of separation. With the handwritten letter projected onto a screen onstage, more than a few listeners were seen dabbing their eyes.
San Francisco Chronicle Datebook
It’s much trickier… to write music that respects both the sounds and the sense of some pre-existing utterance, while adding something vital and original of its own. “Glorious Mahalia,” an extraordinary recent work by Chicago composer Stacy Garrop, shows just how beautifully that can be done…Garrop’s 20-minute masterpiece served as the crowning finale of a concert at the SFJazz Center on Thursday, May 30, by the Kronos Quartet, which commissioned the piece two years ago.
The voices in the piece belong to Mahalia Jackson, the pathbreaking gospel singer who died in 1972, and the great Chicago journalist and interviewer Studs Terkel…The interview is limpid and far-ranging, as Jackson talks about the personal impact of life under Jim Crow and about the politics of the burgeoning civil rights movement…Throughout and around their words, Garrop arrays music that keeps echoing, furthering and elaborating on the discussion — doing it, astonishingly, in a way that is neither intrusive nor overly deferential. Jackson and Terkel — what they’re saying, how they’re saying it — are always allowed to hold center stage, yet the music is always on hand to deepen the listening experience.
That deepening happens on a variety of levels…Perhaps the most dazzling evidence of Garrop’s virtuosity comes at the end of the piece, when a few simple chords transform the interview sign-off into an unexpectedly bittersweet life passage. You’ve heard radio interviewers close out a show countless times; you’ve never heard that moment carry such a burden of tenderness and grace.
Boston Classical Review
Garrop’s music often paints stark, even hallucinatory images, and Bohemian Café, which lasts a mere eight minutes, conjures vivid sounds of Prague’s bustling streets. Scored for the unusual combination of woodwind quintet and double bass, the music of Bohemian Café buzzes and churns. Episodic in structure, the work pits different groups of instruments against each other in multilayered, conversational fashion. Flute and oboe figures flutter while the French horn sounds out clarion calls. Clarinet phrases slither through the work’s prickly texture and bassoon and bass engage in a polka-like rhythm that eventually evolves into a jazzy groove. Garrop’s athletic and ear-catching melodies made Sunday’s performance fun, and the Chamber Players rendered the work with verve.
Hyde Park Herald
Chicago composer Stacy Garrop has created a splendid score. Her compositional vocabulary is accessible yet never predictable or formulaic. Her originality is delightful and with a very small pit ensemble (four strings, two winds, and piano) she is able to create a full and compelling sound.
Garrop’s music envelopes you in mystery and magic…Garrop’s music is gloriously haunting, but never hokey or spooky, never stereotyped carnival fare. The sound is bracing, lyrical, complex, and even occasionally light-hearted. It features some early jazz influences so thoroughly communicated in her own musical vernacular that you never feel as if it were simply tacked on for effect.
New Haven Independent
[Kronos] quartet was able to dig deep into the legacy of the 1960s thanks to Glorious Mahalia, an ingenious and emotional piece by composer Stacy Garrop (born in 1969), which used as its centerpiece the audio from a 1963 interview that historian Studs Terkel recorded with gospel singer and activist Mahalia Jackson. Even in speech, Jackson’s voice is musical, and it might be tempting to read solace into that. But neither Garrop nor the quartet were fooled. The more Terkel and Jackson talked, the more honest Jackson became — a move Garrop anticipated by setting the interview to music that invoked anxiety and anger much more than spiritual uplift.
In playing Garrop’s music, the Kronos Quartet showed why the group is considered among the most accomplished in the world. Its exploration of tone, forgoing the simply pretty for qualities that ranged from airy to austere to gritty to rich, brought out the shades of emotion in Garrop’s piece from moment to moment even as the music built a dramatic arc.
John W. Lambert
Immediately after the Strauss came Stacy Garrop's "Lo Yisa Goy" (2007), originally an elaborated choral setting of a traditional Jewish song of peace that the composer rescored for strings during the pandemic…This is a powerful addition to the repertory of such compositions, one that evokes sadness tangibly while speaking timelessly in old and new musical languages, concurrently.
The subject of this oratorio sounded quite daunting, nothing less than the relationship of humankind to the planet Earth from the earliest creation myths down to today's anxieties about climate change…It was a big subject, one which might have been a temptation to write a ponderous work. But Garrop's "Terra Nostra" is not like that. It expresses strong emotion, but with a lightness of touch that makes its 72-minute length go by quickly, considering the variety of moods and ideas it expresses.
The Boston Musical Intelligencer
… the highlight of the evening came in Garrop’s Spectacle of Light, in all its five and a half wonderful minutes. In planning for the piece, Garrop looked at many images of fireworks to get a sense of the image of celebratory explosions of colored light. She converted these images into orchestral colors both grandiose and delicate. The work begins with a brass- and bass-heavy rhythmic drive that suggests thundering energy as the remainder of the orchestra joins in. It calls for virtuosic players in a texture that sounds like a happy cross between Handel and, say, John Williams at times. The quieter central section features solo lines and dialogue particularly from the woodwind sections. In Baroque orchestral writing, such passages would normally have been given to paired soloists—two oboes, trumpets, violins, etc.—over a bass line. But Garrop planned her Spectacle as an homage to Baroque style, not an imitation of it.
John von Rhein
"Thunderwalker" evokes the image of a "huge godlike figure who lives in the sky and whose footsteps fall loudly among the clouds." Cast in three sections, this is a big, bold tour de force for large symphony orchestra, that seizes your attention at once and refuses to let go. Garrop knows her modernist antecedents but she also knows how to deploy a large, colorful orchestra confidently, indeed audaciously, lashing her ritualistic rhythms forward in a manner that leaves both the orchestra and audience exhilarated.
The Boston Globe
The overall impression was of something bracing, highly colored, strongly motivated; and the effects usually had causes, which isn't always the case with this sort of thing. You could imagine an idealized kind of opening-credits music from Hollywood's golden days sounding the way "Thunderwalker" does. But in this case it wasn't Bernard Hermann composing it, but Stacy Garrop.
Garrop is an eclectic modernist, and while she readily exploits dissonance, she has one foot planted in Barber-like lyricism and often transforms short motifs into melody. But what is most striking is her depth of mastery in orchestration.
…what stands out for me is its perfect sense of balance--of when to move on--when to stop--when to go soft--when to change rhythm--when to throb richly--when to quiver--when to find us something from before and take us back--when to be sad. Nothing too much. Nothing too little.
Narrative thread lies at the heart of her creative process, even in non-vocal works, as the underlying ideas of three works clearly demonstrates. The disc represents a fascinating journey into the mind of a most talented composer.
John J. Puccio
…unlike so much modern music that often sounds like experimental exercises in pure soundscapes, Ms. Garrop’s music most often has a narrative attached, little tone poems that unfold clearly enough without too much guidance from program summaries… As you would expect from a score about mythologic characters, there is plenty of excitement, creativity, and impact from the music, without its ever appearing bombastic or overwrought.
David DeBoor Canfield
The Chicago-based composer’s Phoenix Rising for solo soprano saxophone was written especially for Christopher Creviston, and opens in haunting fashion, partly through sustained notes that sometimes glide from one to another. The piece also allows the saxophonist to demonstrate his complete mastery of breath control, fading out in places to inaudibility (something quite difficult to master on this instrument)... The piece is quite a tour de force, and is one of the most effective works I’ve heard for any solo member of the saxophone family.
Cedille has given Stacy Garrop’s music a lot of attention, and it isn’t difficult to understand why. She is one of the few modern composers in the latest “back to tonality” style who has managed to create a genuinely personal idiom, both attractive but never cheap or “dumbed down.” It has something to do with her handling of dissonance. A phrase may begin in a kind of atonal nether-region, but as the musical paragraph takes shape and builds to a climax, it becomes harmonically clearer and more focused. Rather than sounding conventional, this technique gives her music direction and impulse, and permits her to achieve drama without resorting to cliché. In short, it’s good stuff.
The Daily Gazette
Garrop writes with a great sense of color and drama that is both visual and visceral. For “The Lovely Sirens” (part II), the mood was urgent and dark with strong rhythms, blaring brass, and much percussion. Garrop used an expansive range of sound and color to create monsters of the deep — those sailors didn’t have a chance.
For “The Fates of Man” (part III), the three mythological sisters who spin, measure and cut the fiber of man, the music was dark and foreboding as it built to high volumes with many counter themes in complex harmonies. The road was tortuous and filled with angst and terror. Big thrilling chords were like bursts of fire only to ebb into a mournful demise.
Classical-Modern Music Review
Grego Applegate Edwards
The program shows us a composer of promise, filled with lucid musical ideas and a sure sense of the orchestral forces at hand. The music alternates between modern and tonally expressive, while remaining consistently eventful and scintillating. The "Mythology Symphony" is the most accomplished of the three. The other two works add to our appreciation of her development and are a good listen in themselves.
The Post and Courier
The work that emerged as the most significant was Garrop's aptly named "Thunderwalker." In three movement following classical style - a fugue, a passacaglia, and a scherzo and trio - her music is all about primitive rituals: the invocation of gods, descent of gods and a "summit." "Thunderwalker" started thunderously, with a frightening clatter of percussion and timpani and continued to build. Garrop's orchestration was inventive and fascinating, with traces of the sound of Benjamin Britten.