Since their formation in 2009, The Bowers Fader Duo (Jessica Bowers, mezzo-soprano, and Oren Fader, guitar) has commissioned over 20 new works from American composers representing a wide range of compositional aesthetics. Between Us All, their debut recording, features performances of works by Paul Salerni, Scott Wheeler, Tim Mukherjee, and David Claman, that highlight the duo's precise realization of the musical score and expressive communication of the texts.
Something PermanentPaul Salerni
Canzoni ItalianeScott Wheeler
|Non mi mandar messaggi
Non mi mandar messaggi
|L'amor mio partì soldato
L'amor mio partì soldato
|Vieni, corri da me
Vieni, corri da me
|She Left for Good But Came Back
She Left for Good But Came Back
|The Maldive Shark
The Maldive Shark
|The Enviable Isles
The Enviable Isles
Folk Song SettingsTim Mukherjee
|O Come, Emmanuel
O Come, Emmanuel
The Bowers Fader Duo (Jessica Bowers, mezzo-soprano, and Oren Fader, guitar) formed in 2009 to promote contemporary art song by American composers, and has commissioned and premiered 20 works since their inception. This collection, their first full length recording, presents premieres by four of their closest composer collaborators, Paul Salerni, Scott Wheeler, David Claman, and Tim Mukherjee. The works present the texts in a transparent manner, alongside a colorful range of musical context and expression, focusing on shadings of musical and textual meaning. Throughout, these recordings highlight the duo’s warm and engaging performances and insightful readings of these new scores.
Paul Salerni’s Something Permanent sets seven Cynthia Rylant’s poems that are inspired by iconic photographs by Depression era photographer Walker Evans. Opening in the low register of the mezzo voice, the first song unfolds with flowing ascending arpeggios in the guitar, while the text depicts a complex relationship to the land, site of ceaseless labor but also of poignant nostalgia. “Mission” tells of a place of worship that, despite its outward shabbiness, contained within its walls salvation for the protagonist. “Minstrels” engages with the complicated history of African American musician entertainers, and the inherent human need to find freedom through performing -- Salerni’s music reflects ragtime influences and brings us back to a fraught time in American history. In “Boys”, a series of sequenced phrases evoke adolescent fantasies, while a churning riff conjures the urban scene of “Apartment.” A sensual habanera rhythm underscores “Bed”, a complex portrait of domestic intimacy, before the gentle lullaby “Rocker” closes the set.Read More
Scott Wheeler turns to his familial language of Italian for his set of love songs written for the duo. The chromaticism in “Non mi mandar messaggi” embodies the bristling text of the spurned wife seeking connection with another man. Bell like harmonics open Abruzze’s “L’amor mio partì soldato”, opening up into sonorous arpeggiation in this expression of devotion to a lover off fighting battles. “Vieni, corri da me,” by poet Ida Travi, is based on a 1934 popular song and is set here as a sultry tango. Also included is the setting of Anne Ross’ evocative “She Left for Good but Came Back,” a portrait of the American West, with a touch of “cowboy blues”.
Jessica Bowers beautifully conjures vocal traditions of the East in David Claman’s Ganga-Yamana, with a text in Hindu extolling the virtues of uniting one’s life with another. Claman’s other two songs set Herman Melville texts: first, “The Maldive Shark” with an ominous refrain, and second “The Enviable Isles”, a lush setting characterized by quartal harmonies and a lilting accompaniment.
Tim Mukherjee’s Folk Song Settings closes out the recording, featuring texts that explore longing, lost love, spirituality, and mortality. The work contains two instrumental solos as well as many extended passages for guitar alone, beginning with an introductory solo guitar “Prelude” that is alternatively virtuosic and pensive, highlighting Oren Fader’s technical prowess and expressive sensitivity. The setting of the Scottish song “Adieu, Dundee” is a flowing waltz basking in the resonance of voicings including the guitar’s open strings. Mukherjee’s approach to “O Come Emmanuel” is multi-layered and intricate. Engaging with the origins of the hymn in 12th century antiphonal chant along with its ubiquity in worship services up to the present day, Mukherjee’s musical material merges a modal sensibility pointing to the chant tradition with elegantly voice led chromatic re-harmonizations of the famous melody. The subsequent “Interlude” employs arpeggiations of chords planed up and down the guitar neck over an E pedal in the style of canonic guitar works by Villa-Lobos and Brouwer, and helps to establish a bridge between the modal “Emmanuel” with the earthy final song. “Idumea” is drawn from “The Sacred Heart” collection of four-part songs by American composers from the 17th to 19th centuries. Mukherjee draws on the American tradition of spirituals for this setting, as a powerfully sung melodic refrain in the voice is intensified by a guitar part that adds layers of complexity as the song unfolds, returning throughout to blues inflected material.
“Between Us All” is a rich collection of new art songs for guitar and voice, performed with elegance and commitment, that invites the listener to lean in closely to hear subtleties of text setting, harmonic color, and stylistic reference points. One can look forward with eagerness to subsequent Bowers Fader Duo releases of their growing repertoire.
– D. Lippel
Produced by Adam Abeshouse
Tracks 1 - 11, Salerni and Wheeler: Adam Abeshouse
Tracks 12 - 14, Claman: Jeremy Tressler
Tracks 15 - 19, Mukherjee: Pablo “Tonton” Gho
Tracks 7 - 11, Published by Scott Wheeler Music, ASCAP
Tracks 12 - 14, Published by David Claman Music, ASCAP
Tracks 15 - 19, Published by Tim Mukherjee Music, ASCAP
Something Permanent: Poems reprinted by permission from Cynthia Rylant
“Vieni, corri da me” used by permission from Ida Travi.
“She Left for Good but Came Back” is used by permission from Anna Ross.
“Ganga-Yumana” used by permission from the Ved Prakash Vatuk.
Cover/back photos by Zachary Shakked on Unsplash (unsplash.com)
Design: Marc Wolf (marcjwolf.com)
Created in 2009, The Bowers Fader Duo performs both classical and contemporary repertoire. Their ongoing mission is to promote new American art songs for mezzo soprano and guitar, through commissions, performances, and recordings. To date, they have presented over 20 world premieres of works written for them.
In the fall of 2016, the Duo created the New American Art Song Concert series, presented annually, featuring new works written for the Duo. The series is presented at three venues in New York City throughout the season. Future commissions for this series will include works by Harold Meltzer, Pulitzer Prize finalist, and Anna Weesner, winner of the Virgil Thomson Award in Vocal Music.
The Duo performs in New York City and across the US. They have been guest artists at the Manchester Music Festival, Taconic Music Festival, Classical Guitar Society of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Composers Concordance, Queens New Music Festival, Musical Chairs Ensemble Hampden-Sydney College, and Lehigh University where, in addition to being featured performers, they worked with student composers.
Paul Salerni’s music has been described by the New York Times as “impressive” and “playful.” Henry Fogel has said “It is…music that sings and dances.” Salerni’s numerous commissioned orchestral and chamber music works have been performed throughout the US, Canada, Europe and China. Salerni’s one-act opera Tony Caruso’s Final Broadcast won the NOA’s Chamber Opera competition in 2007, and a definitive recording of the opera was released on Naxos. His second one-act, The Life and Love of Joe Coogan, is an adaptation of a Dick Van Dyke TV Show episode. His music is published by Presser, Alfred, BERBEN, and Fischer. Two CDs of Salerni’s chamber music (“Touched” and “Speaking of Love”) can be found on Albany Records.
Salerni is the NEH Distinguished Chair in the Humanities and Professor of Music at Lehigh University. Salerni received his Ph.D. in composition from Harvard, where he studied with Earl Kim. He is a leading exponent of Kim’s music, and his service to the larger community includes seven years’ service on the Board of Directors of the Suzuki Association of the Americas with two years as its Chair.
Scott Wheeler’s four full-length operas have been commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera/Lincoln Center Theatre, Washington National Opera, White Snake Projects and Boston Lyric Opera. His songs have been commissioned, performed and recorded by Renee Fleming, Susanna Phillips, New York Festival of Song, Brooklyn Art Song Society, Songfest, and many others. Scott’s CDs are on Bridge, Albany, Naxos and BMOP Sound. He is Senior Distinguished Artist in Residence at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches musical theatre and songwriting.
David Claman hails from Denver, Colorado. He received a B.A. in the music of South India from Wesleyan University in Connecticut in 1982, where he studied with K.S. Subramanian, T. Viswanathan, and T. Ranganathan. He received an M.M. in music theory and composition from The University of Colorado in 1993, and a Ph.D. in music composition from Princeton University in 2001. His principal composition teachers have been John McDonald, Steve Mackey and Paul Lansky.
He is an associate professor at Lehman College-City University of New York where he teaches music theory and electronic music. Recordings of his music are available on Albany, Innova, Capstone, Bridge, White Pine, and Vox Novus labels. In 1998 he received a fellowship from The American Institute of Indian Studies for research and study in Chennai, South India. He has held residencies at the MacDowell Colony and at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy. He has received commissions from The American Composers Forum, Tara Helen O’Connor, The Cygnus Ensemble, Christopher Creviston and Oren Fader, The Da Capo Chamber Players, Tufts University, The Zephyrus Duo, and The Cadillac Moon Ensemble. In 2012 he received a Fromm Foundation Commissioning Grant from Harvard University. In 2018-19 he was a Fulbright-Nehru Scholar and visiting professor of music at Delhi University.
Tim Mukherjee is a composer and performer based in New York City. His writes for acoustic and electronic instruments and media. He has conducted operas, orchestras, vocal and instrumental ensembles and has worked with Jeff Lohn, Karole Armitage, Boston’s Dinosaur Annex and Composers in Red Sneakers. He also plays in an electronic improvisatory group, RMA. Tim attended UCLA where he earned his BA in music composition, studying with Alden Ashforth, Paul Reale and Henri Lazarof. He went on to earn his MA and PhD degrees at Harvard University where he studied with Earl Kim, Leon Kirchner, Fred Lerdahl and Ivan Tcherepnin. He attended two sessions of the Dartington Summer Festival where he studied with Peter Maxwell Davies, Tim Souster and Robert Saxton. He taught for a while at Boston Conservatory and Bowdoin College, leaving academia to do music technology full time.
In music technology, Tim has been active in the music software industry, joining Mark of the Unicorn (MoTU) at the beginning of their music software product development and was one of the creators of Professional Composer, their initial music notation editor and Performer, now called Digital Performer, a Digital Audio Workstation application. He is still active in music software, creating proprietary applications for his own use. He also spent some time at IRCAM and the MIT Media Lab researching music workstation concepts.
Formed a decade ago, the Bowers Fader Duo has released its first recording, featuring “New American Art Songs for Voice & Guitar”—a testament to its commitment to commissioning contemporary composers. Mezzo-soprano Jessica Bowers and guitarist Oren Fader are to be commended just for helping to expand the art-song catalogue to include a relatively uncommon combination of instruments. But the works on Between Us All are also more than mere curiosities, reminding listeners of the genre’s innate power as a vehicle for storytelling.
Fader’s guitar-playing immediately stands out. The use of classical guitar lends a distinctive clarity when accompanying vocals, a quality that can be lost in harmonic murkiness on a piano. Fader brings deliberate energy and intensity to the songs. His articulate fingerpicking accentuates sparkling riffs and contributes subdued timbres as a counterbalance to Bowers’s penetrating vibrato.
The mezzo-soprano’s initial intonation when attacking the consonants is precise and engaging, though occasionally as she extends the tone through the vowels, the phrases lose their emotional punch as the vibrato widens and the vocal timbre gets darker and heavier. The result detracts from the immediacy of the melodies but not enough to undercut Bowers’ gift for conveying the unpretentious, personal stories detailed in the songs.
Bowers is exceptional at exuding charisma while interpreting the texts with emotional sensitivity for the songs’ subjects. This empathy is especially apparent in composer Paul Salerni’s song cycle Something Permanent—set to Cynthia Rylant’s stark yet beautiful poetry, imagining the inner thoughts and lives of people during the Great Depression—and Scott Wheeler’s sobering dream of a song, “She Left for Good But Came Back.” The latter, set to words by Anna Ross, captures the Bowers Fader Duo at its most hushed and musically intimate.
Written by David Claman, The Enviable Isles is similarly hypnotic but for different reasons. Claman cleverly juxtaposes a homey modern folk progression with a more disorienting series of chord modulations. As set to the poetry of Herman Melville (“Through storms you reach them and from storms are free”), the music becomes fittingly ambiguous and ethereal.
The album ends, oddly, with Tim Mukherjee’s Folk Song Settings. The five-part collection elicits some of the recording’s most poignant guitar playing from Fader—in particular, the evocative instrumental interludes—but the composer’s postmodern approach to the Christmas classic “O Come, Emmanuel” and the Sacred Harp standard “Idumea” feels disjointed. Sung with captivating solemnity by Bowers, the tonal sonorities of both well-known tunes are subverted by ominous, alternate harmonic voicings from Fader.
You’re left with an unsettling feeling of uncertainty, but the esoteric mystery of final musical moments of Between Us All is enough to compel more listens. The Bowers Fader Duo displays an intriguing, polished chemistry, and it’ll be interesting to see how the group builds on it in subsequent projects.
-Daniel J. Kushner, 12.2019, Opera News
I was very pleased to be sent this exquisite recording of new music for voice and guitar with new compositions by American composers. The musical language and writing for guitar and voice is excellent throughout. With great ensemble performances, intricate and musical guitar work, and soaring vocals, this is a very exciting release.
-Bradford Werner, 6.26.19, This is Classical Guitar
This collection of songs for mezzo and guitar is simply delicious; the deep oak of Jessica Bowers’s lower range and the lush honey of her higher range mix well with the steady and sensitive guitar playing of Oren Fader. From Paul Salerni’s Something Permanent with its striking texts concerning the most everyday of every day life to the sumptuous Canzoni Italiane by Scott Wheeler, which transports listeners to the most beautiful summer day in some small Italian village in some time past, to Tim Mukherjee’s Folk Song Settings that take the well-known and re-contextualize it in a surprising and pleasurable way, this is a lovely peek into the truths of humanity through the lens of Bowers, Fader, and their instruments.
-Boyd, 8.2019, American Record Guide
A classical duo that commissions art songs shows a punk sensibility as they do a bunch of songs inspired by the Depression photos of Walker Evans, many included in the program notes. Eggheads and highbrows have a potential top 40 of their own right in these grooves.
-Chris Spector, 4.4.19, Midwest Record
The new album “Between Us All: New American Art Songs For Voice & Guitar” by The Bowers Fader Duo suggests some interesting aesthetic questions. This record, made in 2019 by New Focus Recordings, is based on a nearly nineteenth-century-romantic formula: the duo for classical guitar and voice, in this case the guitarist Oren Fader and the mezzo-soprano Jessica Bowers. Given these assumptions it would be almost reasonable to expect a CD based on music taken from Schubert’s lieder or from reductions of Italian operas of the same period, perhaps by Mauro Giuliani. Instead we are faced with a record of music composed by contemporary American authors such as Paul Salerni, Scott Wheeler, Tim Mukherjee and David Claman.
The result is slightly alienating: you listen to music composed with new modules, but where the attention to melodic forms is always present and worthy of high attention, in its executive form, which seems to come out of time overlap. I am not questioning the artistic quality, both by composers and performers, which is always at the highest level. My questions concern some aesthetic aspects of the music performed and recorded here. How could they be defined? Another form of neo-classicism or neo-romanticism? It would be the simplest and also the most obvious solution. What would be more banal than a group of composers who longs for a more than classical return to the past, proposing traditional compositional models in an equally traditional context with a simple dusting? Very easy. At this point I could move on to talk, to quibble about the contrasts between neo-classicism and “real” contemporary music, perhaps re-proposing the figure of Castenuovo-Tedesco and Darmstadt’s ideas …. but … how boring and what basically useless it would be? I would produce only a clone review of other clones, with no quality and no idea.
Instead, I try a different path. This music doesn’t transcend any form of nervousness. There is no atonal form. No noise. No improvisation. No random shapes. In short, none of the forms most easily ascribable to what can be easily recognized as contemporary and experimental. And if this were a new possible interpretation key? If these “dated” forms were no longer experimental and contemporary? Then the return to a voice-guitar duo like that of The Bowers Fader Duo would have a different meaning than that of yet another neoclassical revival. The return to more melodic forms could be a direct response to well-established avant-garde structures that are beginning to lose a lot of their original potential. Could it be a new avant-garde form?
Quiet is the new loud?
Is Duo voice-classical guitar the new black?
-Andrea Aguzzi, 7.19.19, NeuGuitars