Lembit Beecher’s A Year to the Day

Lembit Beecher at Copland House (photo credit Karen Ouzounian)

A Year to the Day is a new song cycle, with lyrics and concept by Mark Campbell, composed by Lembit Beecher for tenor Nicholas Phan, violinist Augustin Hadelich, cellist Karen Ouzounian and pianist Orion Weiss. This is an exquisite work, and the performance of the musicians, both singly and in ensemble, are brilliant. But don’t take my word for it: listen!

Beecher’s program note for the work may be found here, and an excerpt is below:

“This is a piece about a singer’s relationship to music and the way that relationship, both personal and professional, is tested by the pandemic. Though the onset of the pandemic is the instigating narrative event of the song cycle. and though at the center of the cycle is the question of what we do and who we become as performing artists when the act that defines so much of our lives, performing, is taken away, the cycle does not focus on the pandemic but rather on an artist’s complicated love of music.”

An interview with Beecher about the piece may be found here, and an excerpt is below:

“LB: Mark Campbell brought me into the project and came to me with the concept for the cycle in late 2020. I really resonated with the idea; I think since the relationship of musicians to music during times of upheaval is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about. My grandmother was a young pianist when WWII broke out, and she had to escape her homeland of Estonia: her relationship to music through the war, years of immigration, and her new life in America was critically important, both professionally and emotionally.

“For the first year-and-a-half of the pandemic, I had weekly Zoom calls with a small group of musicians, mostly string players. This group became a very tight circle of friendship and support, and we talked a lot about our intense and complicated emotional connections to music and how the lack of performing opportunities and lack of opportunities to make music with each other were affecting us.

“Everyone’s experience was different, but I think we all experienced moments of darkness, sorrow, self-discovery, and rediscovery. These potent personal experiences were always on my mind as I wrote the music for ‘A Year to the Day.’”

A conversation with Beecher, Campbell, and Hadelich about the piece may be found here, and an excerpt is below:

“Augustin Hadelich: I think most musicians went through some version of what the protagonist of this work goes through. The interruption of normal life, followed by isolation, anxiety, manic efforts to keep busy, reflection, grief, and eventually new hope. I recognized many of these emotions and thoughts!

“I think the story of A Year To The Day will resonate deeply with listeners.”

2 thoughts on “Lembit Beecher’s A Year to the Day

  1. Curt Barnes

    Haven’t yet heard much more of Beecher’s work, but this piece is spectacular after only one hearing, and hope many connect with it here, Sue. This seems to me a complex piece in which all performers have a turn at virtuoso solos, form different relationships with each other as the piece progresses, show great variety of mood and method. An untrained ear like mine can hear it after a day or two and it’s fresh again. So impressed that even though I can’t seem to find a birthdate for Beecher (possibly because he doesn’t want to be dismissed for being too young?) I’m heartened by the fact that he looks to be still in his thirties. That may mean decades more work can be expected from him. Thanks for a link I might have missed altogether without your being alerted to it, by the composer himself I’m guessing!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Curt: To me, a second listen felt fresh too. It revealed also, as I was sure would be the case, that there was much, much more to discover in the piece. His settings are completely attuned to the text, and his use of violin interludes offered mesmerizing shifts of mood. You’d mentioned the interlude at ~33-37, and oh, yes, is that a wowser, not to mention brilliantly performed by Hadelich. I’d love, actually, to hear a conversation with all the musicians talking about what it was like to perform this work, both their individual parts and in ensemble. Though the ensemble work felt to me completely seamless, it doesn’t seem they’d all worked together before this. I sure do hope they will again, as this is definitely a winning team.

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