On Feb. 7 at 8 p.m., faculty members and students of Stony Brook University’s music department and guest artists will present a concert entitled “The Music of Sheila Silver: A Celebration,” honoring the composer and Stony Brook University professor.
The selections to be featured both evenings make up a thematically diverse and stylistically rich collection of works drawn from Silver’s chamber ensemble, art song and operatic repertoire. Silver considers the works featured on the program to be some of her most important compositions.
Two instrumental works bookending the program respond to challenging, political subject matter through music Silver refers to as modern. The first, “To The Spirit Unconquered,” composed for violin, cello and piano, relates to the second, “Twilight’s Last Gleaming,” in its programmatic aspects and political ideas.
“Ideas are musical,” Silver said. “For me, I want to follow the dialogue . . . the narrative.”
“Twilight’s Last Gleaming,” along with several other works on the program, premiered at Stony Brook University, featuring pianists Gilbert Kalish and Christina Dahl. Kalish and Dahl will reprise the work, joined by percussionists Brian Smith and Lusha Anthony.
In contrast with works addressing heavier subject matters come pieces such as an aria from “The Wooden Sword,” based on a folk tale, and a sampling from Silver’s collection of song settings, entitled “Beauty Intolerable,” on the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Millay has been a great source of inspiration for Silver, inspiring a collection of songs based on Millay’s poetry.
“When I first wrote [them] I just wrote three poems, [and] they were written in honor of when [Elaine] Bonazzi retired,” Silver said. Bonazzi was on the vocal faculty at Stony Brook University until 2012.
Silver describes one piece, “Thursday,” as “a kind of jazzy tune, very sweet, very irreverent.” Silver describes Millay the same way. With its jazz-infused chords, the song, Silver indicates, marks another period of her compositional style.
As for Millay, Silver reveres her impact and boldness.
“She was brilliant and she was harsh,” Silver said. “She was modern and she was a feminist before the word ever existed.”
Featuring another setting by Millay, along with texts by Khalil Gibran and Shakespeare, soprano Dawn Upshaw and pianist Gilbert Kalish will present “On Loving,” a set of three songs written in memory of Kalish’s wife, Diane Kalish.
Joining the artists mentioned above will be Lucy Fitz Gibbon, presenting the aforementioned aria from “A Thousand Splendid Suns” with a Millay setting, and students of Stony Brook University.
Finally, “Subway Sunset,” will pair image with sound. Silver and her husband, filmmaker John Feldman, crafted the piece’s aural and visual elements collaboratively. The visual evokes images depicted in the work’s title. Silver considers it a “sweet, melodic and totally tonal piece.”
“It’s very simple,” Silver said in reference to the musical aspect of the work. “It’s another side of me.”
Though originally composed for piano with oboe or clarinet, Silver has found she enjoys the timbre of the bassoon as a new possibility for the work. Conveying the heart of the piece, Silver reveals how the simple, too, can be profound.
“Nothing that we haven’t seen,” Silver said. “But it becomes poetry.”
Silver has traveled extensively for both her studies and her works. She reveals one of the key tenets she learned in Germany as a beginning student in composition: “Sie müssen immer üben Fantasie zu haben” (she translates: “You must always practice imagination.”).
“Practice your imagination the way you practice your voice,” Silver said. “See where it takes you.”
The imaginative program will highlight Silver’s influences, her unique artistry and the important legacy she has begun at Stony Brook University and worldwide. The following evening, Feb. 8, Silver will also perform at Merkin Concert Hall in Manhattan at 7:30 p.m.