Sheridan Seyfried

Started by Joe Barron, April 19, 2007, 01:35:27 PM

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Joe Barron

The followng is the draft of an article I wrote for publication next week in Ticket magazine. J.

By Joe Barron
Staff Writer

Andrew Porter, the former, profoundly missed music critic for "The New Yorker," once wondered in print where all the great young composers were hiding.
The best contemporary composers, he wrote, seem to wait until middle age or even later to produce the big work that establishes their reputation.
Porter found an exception to the rule in Thomas Adès, a Londoner who was born in 1971 and releasing commercial CDs in the in the mid-1990s. The Philadelphia area might have found another in Sheridan Seyfried, whose 80-minute choral work, "Voices of the Holocaust," was first performed in State College, Pa., in 2004, when the composer was 20.
"Voices" is the first piece of music ever commissioned by the State College (Pa.) Choral Society.
Seyfried, who grew up in Oreland, was studying composition at the Curtis Institute when Russell Shelley, the society's director, and Philip Klein, who sings bass in the chorus, approached him about arranging pieces from "We Are Here," a collection of songs written in the ghettoes and death camps of the Nazi Holocaust.
"It worked beautifully, and Sheridan just overwhelmed to us with what he produced," Klein said in a phone interview. "He may be very young, but he is extremely talented."
The Choral Society will present the piece May 4 at the Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square — just up the street, incidentally, from the composer's apartment in Center City.
The idea for a commission belonged to Klein. When he broached it to Shelley, he had in mind a work demonstrating the way oppressed people throughout history have used music to express their suffering and buoy their spirits.
It was too broad a topic, however, because oppression has existed everywhere and at all times. Klein and Shelley needed to narrow the focus, and the Holocaust seemed like a natural choice, both for the sheer enormity of its evil and the musical record its victims left behind.
Finding someone to produce the score presented a further challenge. By his own admission, Klein could not name a single living composer in the United States. A family friend, a Holocaust survivor, suggested he get in touch her cousin Gary Graffman, a world-class pianist and director the Curtis Institute.
Graffman arranged for Klein and Shelley to meet Seyfried, whom he considered the school's outstanding composition.
"I took one look at him, and I said, 'My God, this guy's young,'" Klein said. "Then it occurred to me that Mozart had the same problem."
Though not Jewish himself, Seyfried was inspired by the Holocaust once before, when he gave the title "Night" to a duet for violin and piano, after the memoir by Ellie Wiesel.
Chatting over coffee last month at the Flourtown Starbucks, Seyfried said the duet was for him a natural response to a tale of profound suffering. In the much the same way, the music published in "We Are Here" is a response to suffering experienced directly. 
"This is the kind of music that results from oppression," Seyfried said.
All of the melodies in "Voices of the Holocaust" come from the book, and Seyfried said he regards the piece as an arrangement even though he did not feel bound by the published harmonies, and the word "composition" looks more impressive on a resume — an important consideration for an ambitious young composer.
Klein helped him select 22 songs and order them into five large sections, giving them unity and a dramatic shape. By sheer serendipity, the last song they selected was "Never, Never Say This Is the Final Road for You." Klein did not know it, but the song has become something of an official anthem among Holocaust survivors.

"I was just overwhelmed with that song," he said. "It's a song that once you hear it, you know it's got to be something very special."
Seyfried and Shelley did not know it, either, and they were surprised when, at the premiere of "Voices," much of the audience stood for the finale.
"It was quite a moment," Shelley said in an interview.
The vocal forces called for in Seyfried's score are of Mahlerian proportions — between 100 and 180 singers, plus a children's chorus — but the instrumental accompaniment is modest. As a cost saving measure, Seyfried found himself having to balance the enormous chorus with a string quartet, flute and piano.
The combination works well, although he is open to the idea of rescoring the piece for full orchestra, he said.


Thanks, Joe, and congratulations -- this guy sounds interesting.  (Wish I could hear this, but I'll be out of town that weekend.) 

Anyway, thanks for posting it!


Joe Barron

I attended the performance of "Voices of the Holocaust" yesterday afternoon, and I must confess it left me unmoved, despite the subject matter. Sheridan did a nice, professional job setting the tunes, but the overall effect was generic and forgettable. Few moments stick in the mind. I detected little sorrow in the sorrowful lyrics, and little anger in the angry lyrics. Perhaps, being a polite, modest young man, Sheridan was overly cautious in handling the subject matter respectfully. It sounds paradoxical, but a little ego might have helped. And many of the tunes didn't lend themselves to the big- chorus treatment. After a while, they began to sound the same. The dotted rhythms started to become wearing.

The text was also a problem. Most of the songs were written in Yiddish but sung in English, and some of the translations were clumsy or corny, or both.

I wouldn't go out of my way to hear it again, but still, it was a noble effort, and this young man has a future. I'd like to hear some more of his original music. He told me he's working on a trombone concerto.

And it was a lovely day to be out — the sort of sunny, cool spring afternoon when even a filthy, crumbling city like Philadelphia can be beautiful.