...brims with canny invention
— Steven Leigh Morris on Ellen Reid's work, LA Weekly
Set in a Southern gothic landscape, WINTER'S CHILD reveals a world of rough earth, quiet prayer, and a mother's fight to change her youngest daughter's fate. This new opera, composed by Ellen Reid with text by Amanda Jane Shank, juxtaposes the worlds of the House, a quiet and folky space rigidly controlled by 'Mama,' and The Lake, a lush mystical expanse that holds 'Child's' sisters.
Esteemed conductor Julian Wachner leads an ensemble and a 9 member women's choir, their musical voices uniting to become the voice of The Lake, with whom Mother has made a Faustian deal. During each of her four pregnancies, Mama had a terrible craving for the flowers that grew by The Lake. She was allowed to take them as long as she would one day return what belonged to the water. Years passed and Mama forgot about her promise until each of her daughters were taken before their 15th birthdays—by bath, wash, and rain. On the eve of her fifteenth birthday, the last remaining daughter, Child, is visited by the ghosts of her three older sisters. Child is forced to confront her family's past, her hunger for a future, and a bargain her Mama made long before her birth. A co-presentation with Trinity Wall Street.
Music by Ellen Reid
Libretto by Amanda Jane Shank
Story by Ellen Reid, Amy Tofte, and Julianne Just
Music Direction by Julian Wachner
Featuring NOVUS NY and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street
Produced by Beth Morrison Projects
Co-presented by Trinity Wall Street
Audio preview recorded at The Industry's First Take. Christopher Rountree, Conductor; Performed by Maria Elena Altany, Peabody Southwell; Stephanie Aston, Jessica Aszodi, Ariel Downs, Leslie Ann Leytham, Jessica Mirshak, Kirsten Wiest; Nick Tipp, Audio & Recording Engineer
Show Run Time: 65 minutes
ELLEN REID (Composer) is a composer and sound artist whose work “brims with canny invention” (LA Weekly). Her work is largely collaborative and takes the form of opera, scores for film and theater, and immersive interactive media.
Reid’s score for She Gone Rogue was featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial (NYC); and her song cycle Odysseus was premiered by the LA-based wild Up Ensemble. Her opera WInter's Chili was presented at The Industry’s First Take (Hammer Museum, Los Angeles), which was hailed as “full of imagination, full of promise” by the LA Times.
Reid’s work has been heard internationally at the United Nations in Thailand for the Princess of Thailand; the Langholtskirkja Church with Graduale Nobili and wild Up (Reykjavic, Iceland); the Ruhrtrinalle (PACT Zollverein, Germany); 104 (Paris); cˇu’m„a* (Istanbul); and with Theater Mitu in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Reid recently received a young composer prize from the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste in Munich and will be one of the commissioned composers of the The Industry’s Hopscotch (directed by Yuval Sharon). She is developing new projects with Christopher Rountree and the wild Up ensemble, poet Mandy Kahn, and librettist Royce Vavrek. Reid holds a BFA from Columbia University and an MFA from California Institute of the Arts.
AMANDA JANE SHANK (Librettist) is a Los Angeles-based playwright, librettist and screenwriter. Her work is characterized by an exploration of modern femininity and an emphasis on America as a landscape of social and emotional decline. Various scripts have been developed in conjunction with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the National New Play Network, Theater Masters National MFA Playwrights Festival, the CalArts School of Theater, Circle X Theatre Company, The Blank Theater Company, The Unicorn Theatre, The Moving Art Collective, The Industry and The Hammer Museum. Amanda has worked alongside directors such as The Fountain Theatre’s Simon Levy and New Paradise Laboratories’ Whit MacLaughlin. Her work has been published in the U.S. through Samuel French (formerly Baker's Plays) and translated internationally. Recently Amanda was named as a finalist for the 2014-15 Playwrights’ Center’s Core Apprentice program. Additionally, her play The Glass Man was nominated by The Kilroy’s for the first annual addition of THE LIST, an industry survey that recognizes new plays of excellence by female-identified authors. Amanda is a graduate of California Institute of the Arts, where she received her MFA in Writing for Performance.
JULIAN WACHNER (Conductor) is a Grammy-nominated conductor and one of North America’s most exciting and versatile musicians, sought after as conductor, composer, and keyboard artist. Recent and upcoming engagements include those with the Lincoln Center Festival (The Blind), BAM Next Wave Festival (Liederabend 2013), Juilliard Opera Theatre (2013 Mainstage), The Rolling Stones (50th anniversary tour), New York City Opera (VOX), Hong Kong Philharmonic, TENET (TENEbrae), Portland Baroque (Messiah), and with Carnegie Hall (Arvo Pärt Passio).
As Director of Music and the Arts at New York’s historic Trinity Wall Street, Wachner oversees an annual season of over 900 events, including Trinity’s numerous and varied concert offerings, series and festivals, museum expositions, dance and theatre performances, poetry and literary readings, and educational/outreach initiatives in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn in partnership with New York City’s public school system.
At Trinity Wall Street, Wachner serves as the Principal Conductor of NOVUS NY (Trinity’s resident contemporary music orchestra), and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra & Choir of Trinity Wall Street, recently nominated for a 2012 GRAMMY award for its recording of Handel’s complete Israel in Egypt. He also is the director of Bach at One, Trinity’s weekly performances of the Cantatas of J. S. Bach. Performances this season with TWS include Bach’s Matthew Passion, Christmas Oratorio, B-minor Mass, the complete late works of Igor Stravinsky (April 2013), and the complete non-operatic works of Benjamin Britten (Fall 2013). To open the 2012-13 Season, Wachner conceived of and directed Trinity’s Twelve in 12 Festival celebrating the Pulitzer Prize in music. Of this festival, Steve Smith noted in Time Out that “some ideas seem so utterly obvious and right at a glance that you wonder why it took someone so long to hatch them. ‘Twelve in 12’ is that kind of notion…Mark your calendars, and give thanks."
Wachner is also Music Director of the Grammy Award-winning Washington Chorus, with whom he won ASCAP’s Alice Parker award for adventurous programming in 2011. Wachner has also made memorable guest appearances with such major organizations as the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Montreal and Pittsburgh Symphonies, Spoleto Festival USA, the Handel and Haydn Society, Glimmerglass Opera, Hawaii Opera Theater, New York City Opera and the Boston Pops. A Baroque specialist, he was the founding Music Director of the Boston Bach Ensemble and the Bach Académie de Montréal, besides serving as Artistic Director of International Bach Festivals in Boston and Montreal. In 2011 he founded New York City’s newest music festival, The Twelfth Night Festival of Early Music, most recently presented in collaboration with Gotham Early Music Society (GEMS) and featuring many of New York’s leading baroque and renaissance ensembles.
In 2010, Wachner made New York City Opera history when he was selected as both conductor and composer at the company’s annual VOX festival of contemporary opera leading to the invitation to be the sole conductor of this Festival in 2012. His original music has been variously described as “jazzy, energetic, and ingenious” (Boston Globe), having “splendor, dignity, outstanding tone combinations, sophisticated chromatic exploration…a rich backdrop, wavering between a glimmer and a tingle...” (La Scena Musicale), being “a compendium of surprises” (Washington Post), and as “bold and atmospheric”, having “an imaginative flair for allusive text setting” and noted for “the silken complexities of his harmonies” (New York Times). The American Record Guide noted that “Wachner is both an unapologetic modernist and an open-minded eclectic – his music has something to say.” E. C. Schirmer publishes his complete catalogue, comprising over 80 titles.
Wachner’s performances inspire uncommon praise. The New York Times pronounced his Trinity Wall Street debut “superbly performed” and, this season, noted that the ensemble’s annual Lincoln Center presentation of Handel’s Messiah was “led with both fearsome energy and delicate grace…a model of what is musically and emotionally possible with this venerable score.” Of his interpretation of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, according to the Boston Globe, “there was genius here and no mistaking it.” Anne Midgette, of The Washington Post, declared recent Wagner and Verdi performances “exhilarating,” commenting: “Julian Wachner knows how to draw maximum drama from a score,” and noted that he was “emphatic and theatrical and so at home in opera that he could bring out the requisite sense of drama.” Following his account of the Messiah at the Philadelphia Orchestra, The Inquirer David Patrick Stearns observed: “Few conductors have drawn such focused, committed, and meticulous music-making as Julian Wachner. … [He] built the music, line by line, as an architectural edifice, serving both the music’s emotional and more purely aesthetic elements.” As a result, Stearns “couldn’t help fantasize that [Wachner] might do an annual Philadelphia Orchestra festival of Bach and Handel."
An award-winning organist and improvisateur, Wachner’s solo recital at the Spoleto Festival USA featured an improvised finale that inspired one reviewer to conclude: “This stupefying wizardry was the hit of the recital, and it had to be heard to be believed” (Post and Courier, South Carolina). As a concert pianist, in his recent Kennedy Center Rachmaninoff performance, the Washington Post noted “Wachner dazzled with some bravura keyboard work, both in the rhapsodic accompaniments to the songs and…in the highly virtuosic transcription of the Dances."
Wachner’s recordings are with the Chandos, Naxos, Atma Classique, Arsis, Dorian, Musica Omnia, and Titanic labels.
TRINITY WALL STREET is an Episcopal Parish that has been a part of New York City since 1697. Located in the heart of Manhattan’s financial district, Trinity has created a dynamic home for great music. Serving as director of Trinity’s Music and the Arts Program—as well as principal conductor of the Grammy-nominated Choir of Trinity Wall Street, period-instrument Trinity Baroque Orchestra and contemporary-music ensemble-in-residence NOVUS NY—Julian Wachner also oversees all liturgical, professional, and community Music and Arts programming at Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Chapel. The music at Trinity ranges from large-scale oratorios to chamber music, from intimate a cappella singing to jazz improvisation. All concerts at Trinity Wall Street are professionally filmed and webcast live at trinitywallstreet.org.
NOVUS NY is Trinity Wall Street’s ensemble for the music of our time. Hailed by The New York Times as a “poised, youthful orchestra,” NOVUS NY was established by composer-conductor Julian Wachner in 2011 coinciding with his in- augural season as Trinity’s Director of Music and the Arts. The ensemble has recorded for the Avie label, and has been an integral aspect of some of the most important musical activities at Trinity, including last year’s Twelve in ’12 series and the ongoing Celebrate Britten Festival. Most of these performances are available for on-demand view- ing at trinitywallstreet.org.
CHOIR OF TRINITY WALL STREET, nominated for a Grammy, is the premier vocal ensemble at Trinity Wall Street. Under the direction of Julian Wachner, the Choir leads the liturgical music at Trinity Church during Sunday services, performs in concerts throughout the year, and has made world-class recordings for Naxos and Musica Omnia. It is both a beloved church choir, singing favorite Anglican hymns and historic sacred music, and one of New York City’s most acclaimed professional vocal ensembles. The choir is increasingly in demand around the world and this season sees the ensemble performing at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, BAM, Paris’ Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, and London’s Barbican Hall. All concerts at Trinity Wall Street are professionally filmed and webcast live at trinitywallstreet.org.
I am deeply compelled by visceral experiences where sound and story collide. In these experiences, sound becomes an emotive vehicle that conveys what cannot be said. As an artist, I am drawn to extreme and varied forms of musical expression. In the framework of an opera’snarrative, incredibly diverse soundscapes can support each other and be fully heard. The text of Winter's Child serves a platform for a female hero’s journey that doesn’t involve seduction or surrender. Winter's Child both vigorously explores the sonicboundaries of opera while maintaining a thematic core that honors the power of family, the fear of death, and the human experience of losing someone you love.
My family has deep southern roots. In the past, it wouldn’t be strange to believe strongly in ghosts, curses and Jesus. My desire to investigate this worldview, explore relevant rifts between nature and fundamental religion and to express the terror of becoming an unbeliever among believers, led to the creation of Winter's Child.
Language is a transcendent thing. It binds us to one another and enables us to communicate our desires to the world. But even words are finite. There is a limit to their power.
It is this duality of language that has long fascinated me. It’s why I write scripts—to explore both the power and limitations of communication. What are we capable of saying to one another and what are the things that reach beyond the scope of words? How is our human experience both enabled and restricted by language?
The world of Winter's Child is one of mud and spirit and mist. Its heroine, Child, is plagued with a profound and unquenchable connection to the natural world, and yet she is unable to communicate the depth of her sorrow and desire. Words alone fail her. It is only through music that Child is able to reveal herself.
In this way, Winter's Child is a world that demands the epic, metaphoric intensity of opera. Its characters cannot be confined to speech, they must wail and bellow and howl. Their love cannot be spoken and sometimes not even sung. Their world exists on the furthest precipice of the human form. It is their souls that are begging for expression.
Amanda Jane Shank