The Music Department and Dimond Library Collaborate on Amy Beach Production
By Donna J. Eason
November 12, 2008
The idea to present both a concert and conference highlighting the life and work of Amy Beach, one of New England’s most important composers, began as a chance meeting between colleagues David Ripley, professor of music, and Sherry Vellucci, dean of the library, when they attended a Boston Lyric Opera performance.
Both Ripley and Vellucci agreed it was time the university reprised such an event, and the idea for “Amy Beach: The Journey from Song to Opera” was born.
On Nov. 14, 15, and 16, the UNH Opera Program will present more than 20 of Beach’s songs as well as “Cabildo.”On Nov. 15 the conference will feature renowned author and musicologist Adrienne Fried Block. Block is the author of “Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian: The Life and Work of an American Composer, 1867-1944.”
In addition to the performances at UNH, Ripley is taking the show to the Peterborough Playhouse in Peterborough, N.H., on Nov. 22 to honor Beach’s relationship with The MacDowell Colony. Beach spent many summers composing at The MacDowell Colony and, in gratitude, bequeathed them the rights to her works. Under the leadership of UNH videographer Scott Jones, a videotape will be made of this performance.
“What began as a very simple idea has grown into so much more,” Ripley says. “Through this rare event, we have the opportunity to give life to the work of Amy Beach, a true New Hampshire story, and to the scholarship of renowned scholar Adrienne Fried Block.”
Much of Beach’s vocal music, explains Ripley, has four key themes: romantic love in the Victorian ideal, nature, faith, and humor. The music students will perform pieces selected to showcase these themes.
“Beach’s music is beautiful and challenging. The opera Cabildo is different from everything the students have done before; it is ‘through–composed’ without stopping, and they have embraced the challenge,” says Ripley. “The songs themselves are very poetic, and it has been a privilege to see how the poetry in the music has affected the performers. We’ve also been affected by Amy Beach’s own life story, her tremendous work, and her unique connection to New Hampshire. This event also is a chance for Adrienne Block to come back to UNH where she did much of her research for her biography and to ‘pass the torch’ to a new generation of students and scholars
Before the first performance, Ripley has arranged for Block to meet privately with the UNH opera cast. “It will be a great honor to meet with Adrienne Block,” says junior Andrew Sokol, who plays the lead in “Cabildo.” “This is a very unique event for all of us, and for many, this is our first exposure to nationwide attention at this level. It is an honor to be able to pay tribute to both Amy Beach and Adrienne Block.”
The Amy Beach materials in Special Collections, which include personal correspondence, diaries and notebooks, clippings, photographs, and ephemera, have also shaped the conference. The collection, under the care of Professor Bill Ross who is co-sponsor with Ripley of the event, has more than 60 manuscript scores, including the entire penciled score of Beach’s “Gaelic Symphony,” the first work by an American woman composer to be performed by an American orchestra (the Boston Symphony Orchestra), and more than 250 pieces of published music.
A DVD of the concert and the conference will be made available to university libraries across the country to encourage further research into Beach’s music.
Performances will be held Fri., Nov. 14 at 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 15 at 7 p.m.; and Sun., Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. in the Bratton Recital Hall, Paul Creative Arts Center. The conference will be held Sat., Nov. 15 at 3 p.m., 5th Floor, Dimond Library. Admission is free and all events are open to the public.