Just a couple of centuries ago, longleaf pines covered about 90 million acres of the southeastern part of this continent. About 5% of that forest is left. Much of what remains is there thanks to Helen Boyd Dull, who visited the Southern Pines area of North Carolina a hundred years ago, saw the destruction that was taking place, and saved the pines from extinction.
Over the last few years, composer David Ludwig has been collaborating with poet Ray Owen on an opera about the rescue of the longleaf pines. Starting with individual songs, at this point they have developed the project into a series of songs – "Songs from the Bleeding Pines"- scored with a chamber ensemble and linked by narrative. Ludwig came to UNCSA on September 7-8 for the premiere of that version, the featured work of our season opening concert.
While here, Ludwig was a guest in our Composition Seminar, talking about his music in general and about this project specifically. He proved to be an affable and energetic person, full of ideas, full of curiosity, and generous in his dealings with both students and colleagues. As Chair of the Composition program at The Curtis Institute of Music, he’s well-attuned to the student-composer perspective. The class was spirited and insightful. David got to know a bit about each student (although he already knew two of them through Curtis Summerfest and the Atlantic Music Festival).
"I had a terrific and meaningful experience visiting the UNC School of the Arts and meeting the musical community there,” he wrote afterward. “The composition program lived up to its reputation of being top-notch, and it was such a pleasure to get to know its excellent students and faculty in a master class together.”
For the performance, Ray Owen performed the narrating role of the Spirit of the Pines, while soprano Lindsay Kesselman performed the role of Helen Boyd Dull. The design was a seamless flow of spoken and sung text:
1) INTRO/SPIRIT: “You know the Wise Men made a gift to the lord….”
2) SOPRANO: “I rode the evening southward…”
3) SPIRIT: “Trees not fallen what am I, bleeding pines…”
4) SOPRANO: “Where are the words that say…”
5) SPIRIT: “The freedom we got was two snakes full…”
6) SOPRANO: “What will be remembered from the bleeding pines….”
7) SPIRIT: “Tree of life, burning in the sun…”
8) SOPRANO: “Peace be still, burning world…”
Ludwig’s music reflected the poetic and visionary qualities of the text, even capturing remnants of the musical world Helen Boyd Dull would have found familiar. The performance also featured lovely images of the longleaf pines by Brady Beck, projected on a large screen. The faculty ensemble was comprised of Immanuel Davis, flute; Oskar Espina Ruiz, clarinet; Janet Orenstein, violin; Brooks Whitehouse, cello and Dmitri Vorobiev, piano. “Hearing 'Songs from the Bleeding Pines' sung by Lindsay Kesselman and played by the incredible musicians of UNCSA was a treat,” said Ludwig.
The rest of us in attendance definitely agreed!
January 15, 2019