By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
American composer Peter Lieberson, whose 2005 work Neruda Songs was one of the finest pieces
of the last 20 years, died on Saturday at age 64 from complications from
lymphoma. Neruda Songs –with texts
from five poems by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda — was written for the composer’s
wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. She sang the premiere with the Los Angeles
Philharmonic, under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen, in May 2005 at Walt Disney
Concert Hall. She followed that up with performances with the Boston Symphony
in the spring of 2006, just months before died on July 3 of that year (at about
the same time that Peter Lieberson was diagnosed with cancer).
When the L.A. Phil played Neruda Songs again last year with Gustavo Dudamel conducting and
Kelley O’Connor as the mezzo-soprano soloist, I wrote: “Peter Lieberson wrote
the five love poems by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda specifically for his wife. It
shows a lot of chutzpah for mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor to sing them now, but
she did so with ravishing beauty and pathos, catching the flavor of each poem
exquisitely. Her rendition of the final poem, “My love, if I die and you don’t
— ” brought tears to more than a few people (including, I suspect, to the
composer who was in the audience and came onstage for a well-deserved ovation).
“One of the things that makes Neruda Songs, special,” I added, “is that Lieberson
interspersed lush, romantic orchestral moments with delicate, softer sections
(the latter mostly when O’Connor sang). Dudamel managed the balances expertly,
caressing the long lines with ardor, and the orchestra played elegantly
throughout. It was, in a word, stunning.
Zachary Woolfe’s obituary in the New York Times is HERE.
Alex Ross has a touching remembrance on his Blog, The Rest is Noise, HERE.
(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.