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"Some Favored Nook" out now on New Focus Recordings

Nathan’s song cycle sets the writings of Emily Dickinson in the context of the world in which she lived, exploring the poet’s intense correspondence with a prominent abolitionist, tying intimate personal reflections to greater struggles for women’s rights and the liberation of enslaved people.

On Friday, September 15, 2023, composer Eric Nathan’s song cycle Some Favored Nook – capturing themes of love, war, and women’s rights through the writings of Emily Dickinson – will be released as a new album on New Focus Recordings. Composed as a dramatic song cycle for soprano, baritone and piano, Some Favored Nook delves deeply into Dickinson’s correspondence with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a passionate 19th century abolitionist and women’s rights advocate known in his day as an essayist, minister and military officer in the American Civil War. Their entwined thoughts, from the tiniest private observation to social commentary of a universal scope, form a riveting discourse, set to music by Nathan and refined by librettist Mark Campbell. Since making its live world premiere in 2019 at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Some Favored Nook has been described as “intimate and personal … people were weeping at the end” (Arts and Culture Texas) and “a work that deserves to be heard again and again” (Theater Jones).

Composed and workshopped during Nathan’s residencies at the Copland House, Yellow Barn and the American Academy in Rome, Some Favored Nook weaves together passages from Dickinson’s poetry and her exchange with Higginson, yielding a three-part song cycle broken into 15 tracks. Featured on the album are soprano Tony Arnold, baritone William Sharp, and pianist Seth Knopp, the same artists who have brought the work to life in public performances. The work’s title derives from a line by Higginson, who broods on the constraints that stifled women artists of his time, comparing their work to a plant permitted to thrive only in “some favored nook,” and not in the broader soil of a society not yet ready to appreciate it.

In his notes on the album, Nathan describes how the work was set in motion by a 2015 visit to the room where Dickinson once wrote, now part of the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts. “A week later, I began drafting the piano’s opening gestures of Some Favored Nook—luminous, fragile music written without pedal and only the sustain created from held pitches,” he recalls. “It captures what being in that intimate space meant to me.” Nathan goes on to describe how the work took shape when Campbell joined the project as librettist, “reworking the phrasing and structure of the texts I had assembled… and returned a libretto to me in three parts that told a story so masterfully that upon my first reading it I could already hear music in my mind.”

"As I worked to set [the] writings and story to music, I began to see myself as a film director as much as a composer,” Nathan writes. “I imagined my music serving like a director’s camera, helping us focus on the intricate emotions playing on a character’s face, or larger issues that only we can see, and that a character may not. … I have also kept re-meeting Some Favored Nook as a piece of music, as it has taken on a life of its own through its performers’ heartfelt interpretations and audiences’ responses.”

The composition of Some Favored Nook was supported by a Rome Prize fellowship and Visiting Artist residency at the American Academy in Rome, as well as a Copland House Residency Award. The recording was made possible, in part, by the Brown Arts Institute and Brown University.

Among its notable live performances, Some Favored Nook has been presented by the Emily Dickinson Museum; the Clark Art Institute; FirstWorks in Providence, who presented the East Coast premiere; and Yellow Barn, the Vermont-based center for musical discovery where it was workshopped and shaped into its current form. It was performed as part of Yellow Barn’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2019, and again in June 2023 as the centerpiece of a portrait concert of Nathan’s works, with Nathan in attendance as a faculty member in Yellow Barn’s Young Artists Program.

Read original press release by Katy Salomon (Primo Artists) in full on Musical America here

“The music of young American composer Eric Nathan would seem to be as diverse as it is arresting... there’s a constant vein of ingenuity and expressive depth” – San Francisco Chronicle


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