An insatiable listener, learner, and reader, Stuart Saunders Smith (b. 1948) has taken into his mind and spirit myriad styles of musical performance spanning centuries, methods of compositional practice of all sorts, and innumerable close personal relationships with artists of all disciplines. He has absorbed this vast expanse of knowledge, art, and personal experience, and rather than mimicking anything he has encountered along the way, he has manifested a truly personal, honest voice that rings true to himself and to all of his inspirations.
In four of the works presented here, specifically Thicket (2010), Family Portraits: Self (in 14 Stations) (1997), Palm Sunday (2012), and Among Us (2007), Smith calls upon the performer to provide the musical dynamics, articulations, and phrasing to the traditionally notated pitches and rhythmic structures he provides. This charge extends the performer’s contribution well into the realm of composition.
In making personal musical decisions regarding dynamics, articulations, and phrasing, given the contrapuntal density of the material Smith composed, it became important for me to remove the mental burden of choreographed performance from the process and make my choices from the listener’s perspective. This process involved the making and reviewing of a series of self-recordings that gradually led to the versions of the pieces I present here. The recurring issue in preparing these pieces was negotiating the balance between larger dramatic gestures, illuminating formal clarity in longer works, and shaping local nuance to assist the listener in aurally parsing dense passages.
—Kyle Adam Blair
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