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Reviews | STACY GARROP

STACY GARROP

a composer with a story to tell

a composer with a story to tell

REVIEWS

GENERAL QUOTES
ClassicsToday.com
David Hurwitz
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.

Classical Candor
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.

Fanfare Magazine
Colin Clarke
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.

Fanfare Magazine
Huntley Dent
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.

Fanfare Magazine
Stephen Kruger
…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.

PIECE-SPECIFIC REVIEWS (in alphabetical order)
Boston Classical Review
Aaron Keebaugh
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.

onStage Pittsburgh
George B. Parous
The program opened with what was, hands down, the best of the short curtain raisers played by the PSO this season, with Friday night’s performance being its world première. In her Forging Steel, commissioned by the PSO, Stacy Garrop has composed about ten minutes of original, brilliantly orchestrated music that thrills on a first hearing. In a style entirely her own, Garrop has set to music exactly what her title implies. The piece begins with tremendous chords, powerfully, loudly depicting what one would imagine the works of Pittsburgh’s defunct steel mills might have sounded like if set to music. The orchestration makes the listener feel the heat and chaos. The music swirls with excitement and is a perfect performance length. Ms. Garrop was on hand to receive one the heartiest and most sincere ovations of the evening.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jeremy Reynolds
…the world premiere at the symphony by American composer Stacy Garrop was a musical depiction of the steel-making process — titled “Forging Steel” — and it was thoroughly enjoyable.

The piece began chaotically, all formless heat and energy in the brass and strings and winds. Before long, though, the energy began to cool and take shape — melodic ideas emerged, industrial and percussive at times. Throughout, textual explanations appeared on screens to keep listeners apprised of what the music was representing. Far from feeling simplistic, this granted a more engaging window into the music’s function and form.

…Garrop’s music was clear and engaging, even cinematic. There was no trace of academic dickering or needless complexity, and the orchestra thrilled in the work’s tectonic expansions and contractions…

(This was Garrop’s first PSO commission. Here’s hoping she returns.)


San Francisco Chronicle
Joshua Kosman
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.

New Haven Independent
Brian Slattery
[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.


KDXH.org

Chuck Lavazzi
Up next was the scheduled local premiere, which was also a world premiere: the “Goddess Triptych” by contemporary (b. 1969) American composer Stacy Garrop. Written for the SLSO and commissioned by the League of American Orchestras, the work is a brief (15 minutes) suite depicting scenes from the legends of three Hindu goddesses: Durga, Lakshmi, and Ganga. Scored for a massive orchestra with a substantial percussion battery (including a thunder sheet and a LOT of drums), the “Triptych” tells its tales in the kind of vivid detail which would have impressed even Richard Strauss.

“Durga Battles a Buffalo Demon” starts big and gets bigger as the eighteen-armed goddess engages in violent conflict with the fearsome demon. The orchestra unleashes a wild array of sounds, including a semi-musical scraping noise created by strumming the undampened bass strings of a piano. Durga finally beheads the demon in what Denève, in his pre-concert talk, called “the loudest sound I have ever heard from an orchestra,” after which the strummed piano strings have the last word, slowly fading into silence.

In “Lakshmi Sits on a Lotus Blossom,” a contemplative piccolo solo (neatly done by Ann Choomack, who also had some fine moments later in the concert) introduces us to the four-handed goddess of beauty, fertility, and fortune as she meditates serenely in the middle of a lotus blossom. Playing at the top of her register, Principal Harp Allegra Lilly joined Choomack to suggest Lakshmi floating in some ethereal, sparkling light. The brass and percussion sections joined the harp to depict Lakshmi opening her lower two hands to spill gold coins from her palms, after which the meditative mood returned.

In final section, “Ganga Cascades from the Heavens,” the titular personification of the river Ganges dances through the skies to the sound of scurrying strings until Vishnu, in the brasses, kicks a hole in the wall of heaven and Ganga plummets to earth in rapidly descending string figures accompanied by a rainstick. Shiva breaks the fall of Ganga’s massive liquid column and she flows off into multiple melodic streams.

Does this sound like a film soundtrack? Yes, it does; but in a good way. The form of the symphonic poem—music inspired by and descriptive of a non-musical source—has been in decline for far too long. It’s good to see new composers taking it up again, especially when it’s done with the degree of imagination and inventiveness Garrop shows in her “Goddess Triptych.” I was pleased to see that Garrop herself was present Saturday night to share in the richly deserved standing ovation.

Broad Street Review
Peter Burwasser
Conductor Donald Nally has always been interested in programming choral music for the Crossing that is not only beautiful, but also socially relevant. Commissioned by the Cleveland Museum of Art, Chicago-based composer Stacy Garrop’s In a House Besieged manages to cover two significant contemporary topics at once: climate change, and the physical and cognitive challenges of aging in our increasingly isolated society.

The piece got its world premiere in a program from the Crossing at the Cleveland Museum of Art on March 25, 2022, and landed in Philly two days later for a performance at St. Mark’s Church, presented by Penn Live Arts.

Garrop has set the prose writing of Lydia Davis, grouping five selections from her short stories in a narrative that reveals the slow deterioration of an old woman’s mind. At the same time, the composer addresses the menaces of mankind’s indifference to nature’s ineffable powers, specifically, the receding shoreline, as the sea engulfs the manmade world. The bold and sensitive playing of organist Scott Dettra, at the keyboard of the grand St. Mark’s instrument, seemed to mimic the waves of brackish water relentlessly washing over the land.

This serves as a potent metaphor for mental erosion. Garrop’s music, scored for chorus and organ, is marked by a dramatic ebb and flow, reflecting the run-on sentences of the text that in turn mirror the stream of consciousness of a mind struggling for an elusive cohesion of thought. The sections are linked by a brief, haunting leitmotif, depicting the ravages of dementia, as the subject struggles to recall how to pronounce a common word, in this case, “woman.”

Seen and Heard International
Mark S. Jordan
The Philadelphia-based chamber choir The Crossing premiered a new work by Stacy Garrop in this concert at the Cleveland Museum of Art, which commissioned it in memory of Robert G. Schneider who was long involved with the museum. In a House Besieged takes on the subject of aging in settings of flash fiction stories by contemporary American writer Lydia Davis. It was an impressive piece, ranging from hypnotic to hallucinogenic, presented with great skill and care.

The piece opens with a prologue that saw the women of the choir uncertainly vocalizing syllables while the men began chanting the opening of a Davis poem. These elements were to return as linking interludes throughout, only completing their statements at the end of the work. Running under the interludes and in substantial moments was a series of virtuosic organ solos, played with fiery brilliance and steely control by Scott Dettra.

The first movement, ‘A Natural Disaster’, depicts a couple determined to stay in their home as water begins to rise inexorably and inundate the property, a terrifyingly apt metaphor for aging. As the couple watches, they begin to see fish swimming through the branches of their tree, and an eel looking up at them from beneath the wheelbarrow. Garrop’s music for this was hypnotic, post-minimalist in its dissonance and free-ranging associations, but using a minimalistic sense of waves of repeated tropes. It cast a spell and immediately created tension, the singers intoning the complex harmonies with rock-solid pitch. The second movement, ‘Almost No Memory’, was about a sharp-minded woman who had lost her memory and kept notebooks to anchor her. The music was kinetic scherzo that blew off steam without resolving the tension.

‘The Cottages’, the central slow movement, offered warmth. It tells the story of a woman going to bed in the evening and watching the darkening woods. The calm warmth turns to chill as the text says ‘she is not so much watching as waiting’. The fourth movement, ‘Order’, portrayed a woman struggling with housekeeping in a place falling apart around her. It was a careening scherzo, even wilder than the second movement, and the singers demonstrated tremendous rhythmical assurance as they negotiated the music under conductor Donald Nally’s firm direction.

The fifth movement, ‘In a House Besieged’, finds a couple living in a house besieged by small explosions they cannot explain. It brought back the hypnotic music of the first movement, then deftly segued into the epilogue, which wrapped up the running series of interludes. The women had been trying all this time to assemble the syllables of the word ‘woman’, and the men were putting together the lines of Davis’s most famous piece, ‘The Busy Road’: ‘I am so used to it by now / That when the traffic falls silent / I think a storm is coming’. It ended quietly but terrifyingly with a small gasp from the vocalists. The performance was authoritative, and Garrop was present to receive the audience’s enthusiastic ovation.


CVNC.org
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.

Chicago Tribune

Howard Reich
“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.

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 Daily Gazette
Geraldine Freedman
Garrop writes with a great sense of color and drama that is both visual and visceral. For “The Lovely Sirens” [from the Mythology Symphony]…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” [from the Mythology Symphony]…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. 

NewMusicBuff.com
Allan J. Cronin
Stacy Garrop is a favorite of this reviewer. Her work has been reviewed elsewhere in this blog. She is a freelance composer of immense talent and skill. Her work is featured on at least 12 Cedille albums as well as other labels. Phoenix Rising (2016-18) was originally for alto saxophone (subsequent versions were made for flute and for violin) is presented here in a world premiere transcription for clarinet. As with all her music, Garrop shows herself to be a master of color and texture. She uses both traditional and extended techniques to achieve her compositional visions. These can be challenging for performers but the end result is always worth the effort. Garrop derives inspiration, as she frequently does, from world mythology. Here, of course, the familiar Phoenix bird that lives some 500 years and rises again from the ashes of its funeral pyre.

Fanfare Magazine
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.

The Strad
David Kettle
At 23 minutes, Stacy Garrop’s Sanctuary is the disc’s most substantial work, and it’s a moving, highly personal exploration of family connections, conveyed with just the right degree of heart-on-sleeve emotion and an almost theatrical sense of pacing and gesture from the Lincoln players. It’s not an easy ride, but it makes for a cathartic ending to a disc that may be a mixed bag, but whose performances are unerringly persuasive, captured in close, warm sound.

San Francisco Chronicle
Joshua Kosman
Handel’s pageantry was introduced by “Spectacle of Light,” a winsome curtain-raiser by Chicago composer Stacy Garrop that was written in 2020 as a companion piece for the “Fireworks Music.”

Inspired both by Handel’s work and by a lithograph of the 1749 pyrotechnics display on the River Thames for which it was composed, Garrop’s score evokes colorful explosions of light across the water. She uses Handel’s instrumentation and harmonic language, but within that framework she creates a vivid nocturnal picture all her own.

The Boston Musical Intelligencer
Steven Ledbetter
… 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.

The News-Gazette
John Frayne
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.

Chicago Tribune
Howard Reich
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 [The Transformation of Jane Doe] 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.

Hyde Park Herald

M.L. Rantala
Chicago composer Stacy Garrop has created a splendid score [The Transformation of Jane Doe]. 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.

Chicago Tribune
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
Richard Buell
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.

The Post and Courier
William Furtwangler
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.