JULIANA HALL | AMERICAN ART SONG COMPOSER

REVIEWS

By the time [Dawn Upshaw] sang her encore Saturday at the Library of Congress…she had given a breathtaking display of virtuosity in ‘Night Dances,’ a brilliant cycle of songs to texts by women poets…whose composer, 30-year-old Juliana Hall, used every trick in the book—melodic and half-spoken, tonal and nontonal…to deepen the impact of the texts dealing with night and sleep, to explore the implicit emotions in sounds that ranged from a whisper to a scream, with the piano supplying illustrations and comment and engaging in vivid dialogue.

— Joseph McLellan, The Washington Post

When joining words with music, gifted American composer Juliana Hall perhaps does not consciously set out to create songs that close the circuits via which emotional currents flow from the individual to the universal, but the three song cycles recorded for MSR Classics’ new disc Love’s Signature reveal her extraordinary talent for crafting music that translates the meanings of texts into sounds that can be felt as well as heard. Whether handling the words of William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, or Marianne Moore, Hall exhibits an uncanny faculty for amplifying the innate musicality of poets’ diction…The songs’ novelty is wholly organic, never contrived, and the composer perpetuates the American Art Song tradition of Beach, Barber, and Bolcom with music of ingenuity and integrity…Anyone who doubts the health of the Art of Song should hear this performance. In it, composer, poet, singer, and pianist uphold the standards established when Schubert made songs of the words of Goethe and Heine and when Pears and Britten performed them.

— Joseph Newsome, Voix des Arts

[Jayne] West’s recital Sunday afternoon in the French Library with pianist Karen Sauer featured settings by seven composers of some of America’s finest poets, and the results were exceptional…Juliana Hall caught much of Emily Dickinson’s humor and gentle lyricism in seven songs drawn from her letters, ‘Syllables of Velvet, Sentences of Plush.’ A bright, extended tonality and a moving, spare lyricism allowed the texts to breathe. Her first setting of “To Susan Gilbert” was the most genuinely moving music of the afternoon.

— Richard Dyer, Boston Globe

Recital convention was stood on its head when Dawn Upshaw began her London programme with a dozen songs by her American contemporaries all born within five years of herself…her commitment to the music of our own time is beyond question. Her choice of American songs, however, did not suggest there was much to catch the listener’s imagination…most looked askance at poetic conceits. Exceptions might be made for Juliana Hall’s beguiling ‘Sonnet’…[to] which Gil Kalish at the piano brought sensitive insight…

— Noel Goodwin, Times of London

…the most touching perhaps is in the final “Fear no more the heat o’ th’ sun” (Cymbeline), delivered with impeccable beauty from both musicians…Hall’s own piano playing is exemplary and, where appropriate, powerful, but it is the obvious connection between her and [Darryl] Taylor that defines the success of this performance…

— Colin Clarke, Fanfare Magazine

Last to be mentioned in this long article, but I think finest of all the works, we were treated to four extraordinarily beautiful RILKE SONGS by Juliana Hall. With Hall at the piano accompanying soprano Karen Burlingame, the world of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire was juxtaposed with the nearly-intact, then gradually distorted, Chopin E-major Prelude. These songs were intimate, melancholy, haunting. Not as adventuresome as other works on the program, they nonetheless belong as legitimate modern heirs to the great tradition of German lieder…Strong praise? Perhaps. Let other listeners, even those who thought they hated all that modern stuff, choose the works they enjoyed to listen to more.

— Philip Greene, New Haven Register

The evening’s most compelling music was Juliana Hall’s settings of four Rilke poems in a Sprechstimme idiom reminiscent of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, powerfully performed by soprano Pamela Jordan and cellist Lori Barnet. Rilke’s dark imagery needed no more than the cello’s eerie harmonics and Jordan’s splendidly menacing vocal morphing from singing to declaiming and back again to make its message felt.

— Joan Reinthaler, Washington Post

The saintly Dawn Upshaw…spent 40 minutes Wednesday in Herbst Theater presenting songs from a dozen American Thirty-Something composers…So how are we doing in the young composer department? Judging by the evening, the future of American art song is safe, robust even…On top of the list: Juliana Hall’s ‘Sonnet’ (E. Bishop), with its unaccompanied opening, rich, Straussian line arching through the song.

— Janos Gereben, Oakland Post

A third theater piece was Juliana Hall’s ‘Masques,’ another of her poised, witty song miniatures, this time a setting of two poems by Paul Verlaine for soprano, piccolo, cello and piano. There were props: a chair, a table with a mask on it. Toward the end, the performers moved around and off the stage. Much of ‘Masques’ suggested the musical and theatrical gestures of George Crumb.

— Philip Greene, New Haven Register