“I cannot tell you how excited I am to have the opportunity to share the stage with Kenneth Frazelle this summer! We’re pouring our hearts and souls into [Appalachian Songbook].” — Jodi Burns, soprano
And so, Jodi Burns joins composer/pianist Kenneth Frazelle on August 1, as part of Music Carolina’s SummerFest 2018 at the Salem College Fine Arts Center (Winston-Salem, NC). (The program, “Appalachian Songbook,” was previously presented in July at the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum.) The concert highlights the composer’s three-decade career-exploration of the balladry, bird songs, and wildflowers of his beloved Blue Ridge Mountains, and features excerpts from the song cycles Appalachian Songbook and Songs in the Rear View Mirror, along with the solo piano works Lullabies and Birdsongs and Wildflowers.
We caught up with Frazelle for an informal chat as he was preparing for the performance.
S: How did the program “Appalachian Songbook” come about?
KF: “It’s a quick story really. Willard Watson, program director of the Blowing Rock Arts and History Museum (BRAHM), contacted his friend and colleague Nate May (an exceptionally gifted and exploratory composer himself) about musicians whose work explores Appalachian themes. Nate visited me several summers ago, and told Willard about my music. Willard then contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to do a concert at BRAHM this summer. I didn’t want to carry the weight of an entire solo piano concert, so I immediately thought of collaborating with Jodi Burns, whose voice I’ve admired for years.”
S: How did you and Jodi come up with the program?
KF: “Putting together the program has been an interesting process, with lots of twists and turns. We knew it was going to include both songs and solo piano works. So we went through all the songs I’d composed that have Appalachian-related themes. Then we tried several program orders, taking into account both the subject matter of the texts and what made sense musically…Things [eventually] fell into place when we started running the program to find out how it felt in real time.”
S: As a composer/pianist, you’ve previously performed all of these works, right? Did you approach them differently this time? Did you discover something new about them?
KF: Yes, I’ve played all of them before. Some are almost 30 years old! But, I’m finding all kinds of new things in them — most noticeably the need to slow things down to express more nuance and rhythmic detail, as well as finding deeper layers in the Appalachian folksong texts and tunes.
S: Have you worked with Jodi Burns before?
KF: No. This is the first time Jodi and I have worked together. She’s an extraordinary singer who I’ve heard many times in recital and operatic performances, and I’m thrilled to be collaborating with her!”
More Frazelle news: On August 4, horn player Maria Serkin (along with pianist Allison Gagnon) premieres Frazelle’s 10-minute work Hearken at Ball State University (Muncie, IN) as part of the International Horn Symposium’s 50th Anniversary celebration.