Vespers Cantata: Hesperus is Phosphorus
Network for New Music
Linda Reichert, artistic director
Donald Nally, conductor
Hesperus is Phosphorus – Lewis Spratlan
Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill
Saturday, June 2, 2012 ~ 8:00 pm
8855 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia
Tickets: $18/$27 in advance, $20/$30 at the door
Buy your tickets through The Crossing website!
Due to heavy demand, advance purchase is strongly recommended.
Pre-concert Events on June 2:
6:30 pm: recital of works by Settlement Music School advanced theory students and Philadelphia composer Roberto Pace, based on award-winning poetry by Lamont Steptoe.
7:00 pm: composer talk with Lewis Spratlan
When composers and musicians are inspired by words — by poems or stories or simple everyday talk between friends — they find new and expressive ways to make those words part of the music itself. In this collaborative program, the Philadelphia-based Network for New Music joins the dazzling singers of The Crossing, directed by Donald Nally, in the world premiere of a major new chamber work by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Lewis Spratlan, described by the New York Times as “a master of timbres and how to blend them.”
Hesperus is Phosphorus takes the form of a secular Vespers service. Drawing on the words of American poets, playwrights, and physicists (Wallace Shawn, Adrienne Rich, Richard Feynman, A.R. Ammons, Wallace Stevens, and David Eagleman among others), Spratlan’s beautiful new work explores growth and loss in our ever-expanding world of discovery.
by Lewis Spratlan and Donald Nally
Phosphorus is the morning star, Hesperus the evening star. Or, so the Greeks thought for
many centuries until their astronomers concluded that the Babylonians were correct; the morning
star is the evening star – a single celestial body, our Venus, seen at dusk and at dawn. Hesperus
We come to such conclusions periodically; perception – based on our experiences and
limited by the confines of our vantage point – often requires modification as our view widens.
For the Greeks, at that moment, this required a doctrinal change, a revised theological landscape,
for in the heavens they saw their gods; those whose positions move (our planets) were of a
greater deity than the lesser, stationary gods (the stars). Hesperus is Phosphorus; their unity
created a new, greater, god.
We live in a world in which perception changes quickly as our knowledge base grows
exponentially; it is easy to be confused or lost, drowning in an ever-growing sea of seeming
paradoxes; the American physicist Richard Feynman reminds us, “A paradox is not a conflict
within reality. It is a conflict between reality and your feeling of what reality ought to be.”
Tonight, his words stand as a kind of ‘reality check’ in the midst of a libretto we’ve constructed
from contemporary authors which takes us through an undulating journey of humanness – of our
perceptions and hopes and disappointments, of unimagined possibilities and limitless
imagination, of stark truths and of those ideas that lie beyond our grasp.
The Romans translated Hesperus as Vespers, which has passed down to us in images of
peaceful twilight and of evening prayer and serves as the inspiration for a yearlong Vespers series
by The Crossing that is the thematic frame for this cantata. Conceived of as a secular work, it
nonetheless partakes lightly of Magnificat texts towards the end, as these words of Mary that
most characterize Vespers enfold humility and modesty.
The piece falls into two parts. Three “tales of the afterlives” from David Eagleman’s
Sum articulate this structure by opening it, closing Part I, and closing the entire work. These
movements serve as pillars upon which the piece is built, but beyond structure they represent
progression: The Afterlife I offers hope of true equality in Heaven; in The Afterlife II God is
missing and arguments about his whereabouts explode into war and carnage (“We have ascended
and brought the front lines with us”); The Afterlife III entertains a world in which our atoms drift
off and combine with those of myriad other beings, animate and inanimate, while retaining
markers of ourselves – we expand from the corporeal to the universal.
In Big Light, following The Afterlife I, Wallace Stevens contemplates floods of
moonlight under the “westward evening star.” Paradox, in physicist Richard Feynman’s
reconsideration, is coupled to Unity, A. R. Ammons’s sermon on the unattainability of unity and
The Absolute. These lead to The Afterlife II and the conclusion of Part I.
The Magnificat emerges for the first time in Esurientes, the opening number of Part II.
This unique a cappella movement evokes through its structure the filling of the hungry with good
things and the rich “sent empty away.” Falling, the conclusion of Wallace Shawn’s dramatic
monologue The Fever, envisions with horror a return to familiar surroundings forever changed.
Stepping Backward, Adrienne Rich’s autumnal reflections on an old love affair – noting losses but
buoyed by truths uncovered – leads to The Afterlife III and a celebration of our limitless existence
as members of the universal community of atoms.
Hesperus as Phosphorus will also be performed at
Park Avenue Christian Church, New York City, Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 7.30 pm