October 16 2009
Angela Brown, soprano
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Leonard Slatkin, conductor
from The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou
(Random House)Composer Note:A Woman’s Life
was composed in the summer of 2007 for Angela Brown. It was Angela who premiered the role of 'Cilla' in my opera Margaret Garner
in 2005, and while I was consistently impressed by her artistry and power onstage (she sang the role in Philadelphia and Cincinnati), I was especially taken with her graciousness and deep compassion for all of her colleagues. And so when she brought up the idea of my writing a cycle expressly for her I became instantly interested in finding the right combination of forces needed to bring such a thing into being.
When I asked Angela in 2006 if she had a preference of a poet who would provide texts for the cycle, she unhesitatingly mentioned Maya Angelou. At that time she didn't know that Dr. Angelou had been my friend and collaborator (in 1998 with a work entitled Portraits
) and that I had also wanted to create a new piece with her.
I went to see Maya Angelou at her New York townhouse with my wife Kathleen in early July 2006 I wanted to see if she would write texts that would show the trajectory of a woman’s life, from childhood to old age. When I asked her about this she informed me that she already had it and that she would read them to us.
And so without hesitation, holding our hands at her dining room table, she read beautifully and yet calmly from her collected poems eight poems which made a perfect cycle fulfilling my intention. It was honestly one of the greatest performances I have witnessed in my life and it was all I needed, along with seven of the eight poems she read, to write this cycle of songs.
I. Little Girl Speakings
II. Life Doesn't Frighten Me
III. They Went Home
IV. Come and Be My Baby
V. Let's Majeste
VI. My Life Has Turned to Blue
VII. Many and More