“An Earthen Man,” a concert featuring poetry by Wendell Berry set to original music by Jonathan B. McNair, will be presented in the Roland Hayes Concert Hall, UTC Fine Arts Center (corner of Vine and Palmetto) on Tuesday, February 16, at 7:30 p.m.  Hugh Prevost, Director of Cooperative Education and International Programs, will give a reading of Wendell Berry poems used in the composition during the concert, just before Berry’s music is performed.

Jonathan McNair

Jonathan McNair

Written for string quartet and baritone voice, the concert will additionally feature three new instrumental works by McNair, and arrangements of African-American spirituals and art-songs by Harry T. Burleigh. The public is welcome and admission is free.

The concert will be presented again on Thursday, February 18, at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 848 Ashland Terrace, Chattanooga, on the “Counterpoint” concert series, at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary. Admission is free.

Wendell Berry, a noted American poet, essayist, and novelist, is also a full-time farmer using natural methods of soil improvement, plowing, sowing, animal husbandry, and land management. His poetry is full of imagery drawn from his deep connection to the land, his chosen place; and to the forested areas left on and around his farm. This song cycle, titled An Earthen Man, begins with “The Mad Farmer Revolution,” a kind of allegory about the transformation, perhaps even the saving, of a place through farming. There are also prayers, terse and witty sayings, humorous musings, and a meditation on peace that is rather psalm-like.

“The music draws inspiration and influence from a range of sources, including bluegrass, the blues, the great art-song tradition, opera, and a touch of the avant-garde. The music seeks to convey the sense of the texts through the melodic lines, rhythms, and harmonic and textural colors, thus supporting the words as they are sung by the gifted baritone, Ron Ulen,” McNair said.

Also on the program is “Digressions” for violin and piano, which was commissioned by the Tennessee Music Teachers Association through their Composer of the Year program in 2008. It will be performed by Xiaoqing Yu and Alan Nichols, who gave the premiere. “Digressions” has also been performed at regional and national conferences and in a recital tour, and has been recorded for future release. The musical flow is based in part on the digressive nature of conversation and informal story-telling. The music is often playful and energetic, interrupted by three pensive solos, two fast, assertive duos, and sweetened by a recurring tune.

“Danza” for unaccompanied cello was inspired by the folk dances of Eastern Europe, some of which have asymmetrical meters, and which were made known more widely by Bela Bartòk and by ethnomusicological field recordings. There is a sense that folk dancing in older traditional societies served purposes beyond recreation and social gathering, expressing deeper emotions as well. This will be the premiere performance, given by Hans Anderson.

“Indignation” for string quartet is a brief, one-movement work with a self-evident title. The music is by turns edgy, powerful, lyrical, and playful. This will also be a premiere performance.

The February 16 concert will close with music by the noted African-American composer Harry T. Burleigh. Burleigh’s art-songs “Elysium” and “You ask me if I love you?” will be grouped with the spirituals “Wade in the Water” and “Deep River,” both arranged by Burleigh.

This concert is a partnership between faculty members of UTC, Lee University, Chattanooga State, and CreateHere, which provided funding.

For more information, contact Jonathan McNair, (423) 425-4679.

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