2017 sTem commissions include works by Qin Ding, Sergio Cote, Frédéric Lacroix, Barry Sharp, Krystal Grant, and Can Bilir

Naughty Boy (2017) by Frédéric Lacroix (b. 1974)

Naughty Boy was written for Silvie Cheng, as a token of my admiration for her talents and my appreciation for her friendship throughout the years. When I first approached the composition of a piece for Silvie and sTem, my idea was to find a beautiful poem about nature and strive to write the most beautiful and atmospheric music. At some point, after reading a multitude of beautiful poems (though none that ignited a strong creative spark), I turned to Keats, remembering that I had enjoyed starting the composition of a song on his Ode to a Nightingale a few years ago. That is how I came across his Song about Myself, which is the text for this song cycle. Somehow, I connected immediately with this poem, full of mischief, fun, and whimsy, and I thought I would try to do something quirky with the text even though it did not seem to be conducive to song writing. The song cycle has two 'fun or mischievous' songs (1 and 3) and two thoughtful and more atmospheric songs (2 and 4).

Preludio de un Diamante (2014) by Giovanni Piacentini (b. 1979)

"It is a very satisfactory and, unfortunately, not a very common occurrence, to have a piece of music come together so naturally and swiftly. This piece, “Preludio de Un Diamante” commissioned by the sTem trio, is an example of this joyous phenomena. As soon as I thought of the adequate text to set to music, the vision of a work by, not only a living author but also a young one, seemed like a fresh response to an already saturated repertoire of classic literature.   

Alzati’s poetry is raw, vivid and full of muscle. I looked for a way to highlight these traits by contrasting the heavy text with a light yet harmonically haunting accompaniment. The strong and at times psychedelic imagery suggested by all three movements are injected into the audience by the voice, echoed by the shadow and ethereal presence of the clarinet and embraced by the piano. The personal nature of the lyric and the “in your face” attitude it projects, called for a less active, more textural canvas where the “loud” words could be engraved on."

- Giovanni Piacentini

Schoenberg’s Erwartung, op. 17
Arrangement and English Translation (2014) by Peter Andreacchi

"Erwartung is a modern masterpiece, and it's one of a kind.  Its composer, Arnold Schoenberg, called it an opera, though it has but one character and virtually no action.  It has been claimed that it's Schoenberg's only athematic composition, having neither recurring  tunes for the singer nor orchestral leitmotifs.  This musical "stream of consciousness" is well suited to the text, which was composed by a young medical student, Marie Pappenheim.  An unnamed, unhinged woman stumbles about in a dark wood - or is it the interior forest of the unconscious, a landscape favored by the so-called Expressionists in the heyday of Sigmund Freud?  She speaks to an unseen - or imagined - lover, by turns imploringly and cajolingly, Is it his dead body she finds?  And is she distraught, or guilty of murder?  These questions remain unanswered.

Written in 1909, the music comes from Schoenberg's "free - atonal" period, in which an irrational flow of dissonance is guided only by the composer's intuition.  There is in this music, despite its unrelenting tension, something strangely static, hovering - and this observation accords with Schoenberg's statement that the score amounts to an expansion into thirty minutes of a single, very intense moment.  It should also be recalled that, during this creative phase, Schoenberg was in close contact with the painter Kandinsky, founder of Abstract Expressionist art who, like the composer,  in abandoning the conventions of his craft, succumbed to the seductive promptings of the unconscious.

The full score calls for a large, Post-Romantic orchestra like those employed by Mahler and Strauss, and Schoenberg's writing is remarkable for its subtlety and unflagging novelty.  The piano reduction, by the composer, cannot render all the musical material.  In the present arrangement many of the missing melodies are restored through the addition of the clarinet, an instrument uniquely suited to expressing the full schizophrenic range of emotion this work encompasses, from the hysterical squeals of its uppermost register to the lugubrious whispers of its bass. 

Through all the phases of his career, Schoenberg never ceased being a lyrical composer, and Erwartung, despite its madness - or perhaps because of it - is a work of great melodic beauty and sensitive text-setting.  In making an English translation, my aim was to achieve a natural delivery that would be comprehensible while retaining, as much as possible, the delicate relation between word, rhythm and accompaniment. 

As Captain Kirk once said to some alien in an episode of Star Trek, you can't stay mad forever.  The white heat of Expressionism that inspired Erwartung's essential composition in an mere seventeen days eventually cooled, and Schoenberg's reliance on spontaneous feeling gave way to the more calculated chaos of the twelve tone system.  Thus Erwartung stands as a testament to a moment of great excitement and optimism from the Early Modernist period.  Perhaps because it speaks so eloquently of that moment, it has become timeless, a source of unending fascination."

- Dr. Peter Andreacchi

Das Stunden-Buch (2013) by Rex Isenberg (b. 1987)

"Das Stunden-Buch (The Book of Hours) (1905) is one of Rilke’s earlier works, consisting of a few dozen devotional poems expressing the poet’s intense and complex emotions towards God.  The traditional “Book of Hours” was a popular manual for Christian life used throughout the year during the Middle Ages, and Rilke adapts its structure to depict one’s relationship with God at different stages of life and worship.  My setting of Das Stunden-Buch includes four poems from the collection, which together reflect the overall dramatic narrative of the work, from wonderment and awe, to fear and misunderstanding, and finally to complete acceptance and embracing of a higher power.  This short prelude serves to introduce the characters of the piano and clarinet, which represent the mind and soul of the poet, and to set the mysterious and contemplative tone for the piece."

- Dr. Rex Isenberg