Saxophonist Michael Couper and pianist ChoEun Lee will present the world premiere of John Plant’s “Insomnia” at a Halloween-themed recital Oct. 31 at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall.
The program is entitled Lurking, Soaring and is sequenced to represent a journey from darkness to light. It also stars soprano Yungee Rhie as guest artist, and also features a new commissioned piece by composer Joseph Waters, professor of music composition and computer music at San Diego State University and leader of the genre-crossing modern music ensemble Swarmius; Couper is the junior saxophonist of Swarmius and commissioned Waters to write a piece to honor the memory of his mother, who died suddenly last spring and was a passionate fan of Joni Mitchell and especially her album Blue.
The performance begins with William Bolcom’s “Lilith,” a dramatic piece for alto sax and piano that concerns the demonic mythological figure who has more recently come to symbolize female strength and empowerment. Waters’ “Summer” follows, and according to the composer, is “a reflection on quietude, yearning, fond remembrance of gentle and simple times and relationships–a rose-colored lens to soften the present.” It begins with “an evocation of softly rustling wind chimes, pushed into random melody by the wind. Although there are no quotes, the melodic, harmonic and lyric style of Joni Mitchell’s Blue was a garden in which ‘Summer’ germinated. Wind chimes, coincidentally, held a special charm for Michael’s mom.”
Next on the program is Mohammed Fairouz’s “Three Novelettes,” which was also written for Couper. It is followed by “Insomnia,” which features Rhie and provides a setting for poems by Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva describing a nocturnal quest in which physical and spiritual experience are interwoven. The finale is Takashi Yoshimatsu’s “Fuzzy Bird Sonata,” which depicts the indistinct and colorful images of a bird as it soars.
Couper, who has been hailed by the New York Times for his “sweet intensity” and “insinuating smoothness,” is a classically trained saxophonist with a background in stage acting and an obsession with electronic dance music. Besides Swarmius, he is involved in the development of a “digital practice assistant” to help students practice when away from the studio, as well as students lacking access to private tutors.
Lee is a pianist and harpsichordist, and a vocal coach and chamber musician. She has performed in her home country of Korea as well as the U.S., Germany, Italy, Australia, and New Zealand, in major venues including Tanglewood Music Center and the Aspen Music Festival. She currently teaches at California State University of San Bernardino as a collaborative pianist, coach, and opera music director.
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