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FOR YOUR GRAMMY® CONSIDERATION

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A PICNIC CANTATA

Best Small Ensemble / Chamber Music Group

Amanda Lynn Bottoms, Naomi Louisa O'Conner, Amy Owens, Chelsea Shephard

Steven Blier, Michael Barrett, Barry Centanni

© NYFOS Records / New York Festival of Song. All rights reserved.

Producers: Michael Barrett, Steven Blier, Jonathan Estabrooks Recording/Mixing/Mastering: Adam Abeshouse

Design: Gillian Riesen, Emitha LLC

NYFOS Records 2022 

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NOTES ON THE ALBUM

A Picnic Cantata is the result of a one-time collaboration between a quartet of dazzlingly gifted artists: the piano-duo team of Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale (partners on- and offstage, and marquee names in 1953), the composer Paul Bowles (also their housemate), and the fledgling poet James Schuyler, then years away from publishing his first book of poetry. When the pianists received a commission for a new vocal work from the arts patroness Alice Esty, they tapped Bowles to compose the music and Schuyler to write the libretto. By that point, Bowles’s career as a composer was being overshadowed by his growing success as a novelist. Yet his musical inspiration was still riding high.

 

The result was the enchanting Picnic Cantata, a unique vocal suite that balances sensuality with innocence, lightness with hints of foreboding. In this hyper-realistic world, a picnic basket seems to hold the entire contents of Zabar’s, a car materializes on cue, and the gathering together of four friends, two sopranos and two altos, seems like an act of providence. Schuyler melds the directness of Gertrude Stein with the fantasy of Maurice Sendak, allowing simple things to become paradoxical and mysterious.

 

In Bowles, he found an ideal collaborator. The composer uses a range of vivid colors to paint the picnic journey: bitonality, Poulenc-style post-impressionism, the exotic sounds of Morocco and Ceylon, and pure American tunefulness.

 

A Picnic Cantata premiered at New York’s Town Hall in 1953, sung by a quartet of Black singers, all of them students at Juilliard. Although it was well received, it never was published. Ever since NYFOS rediscovered the piece in the early 1990s, we vowed to produce the first stereo recording of this work. This recording is the joyous realization of that dream.

Steven Blier

 

FOR FULL PROGRAM NOTES, GO TO www.nyfos.org/nyfosrecords

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