Songtree features performances by prominent Oberlin alumni and the Contemporary Music Ensemble.
Literature is a frequent source of inspiration for Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, whose extended song cycle Songtree is based on poetry by William Shakespeare and Mexican author Raúl Aceves.
Zohn-Muldoon’s Songtree makes its recorded premiere this month on Oberlin Music , the official recording label of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
“Songtree is a distillation of my most meaningful compositional ideas of the past decade,” says Zohn-Muldoon. “But more significantly, this recording reunites many of my most cherished musical collaborators, dear friends whose artistry I deeply admire and for whom I have written the majority of my music for the past two decades. I owe these wonderful musicians an unmeasurable debt of musical and personal growth."
Indeed, Zohn-Muldoon’s compositional voice is shaped by a steady collaboration with the particular group of musicians for whom he writes, including soprano Tony Arnold, flutist Molly Barth, percussionists Stuart Gerber and Paul Vaillancourt, guitarist Dieter Hennings, violinist Hanna Hurwitz, pianist and composer Daniel Pesca, and conductor Timothy Weiss, among others. This artistic affinity brought many of these musicians together to cofound the Zohn Collective in 2017.
On Songtree, members and friends of that collective join forces with the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, under the direction of Weiss.
The titular song cycle explores key connections between the worlds of Shakespeare and Aceves—most notably the link between love, nostalgia, and art. The composer likens the cycle’s 14 songs to branches on a tree, which emerged organically over a period between 2012 and 2017. Each song showcases the vocal artistry of Tony Arnold, a member of the International Contemporary Ensemble and one of numerous Oberlin alumni who contributed to the recording.
Songtree is bookended by a pair of compositions—Candelabra III and Candelabra IV—that are part of a series of works conceived as memorials to members of Zohn-Muldoon’s family, Jews who fled Vienna in 1938 to a village near Guadalajara, Mexico. Candelabra IV was written for—and is performed here by—Duo Damiana, which consists of guitarist Dieter Hennings and flutist Molly Barth, an Oberlin alumna and co-founder of Eighth Blackbird.
“The opportunity for students to perform and record alongside giants in the new music world and with composers present is truly remarkable and unmatched,” says Weiss, a professor of conducting at Oberlin. “I am always amazed to witness the growth in students from successfully meeting the challenge. Having Tony Arnold, Molly Barth, Stuart Gerber, and Noah Getz back on campus is wonderful. They provide so much insight about the industry and great modeling for our students. Their artistry and their dedication is inspiring. My hope is to give voice to living composers and their work so that their music can be shared with the wider community at the highest level."
Distributed by Naxos of America, Songtree: Music of Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon is available through digital music channels worldwide.