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First Listen: New Tagore Setting By Latvia's Eriks Esenvalds Honors Iowa's Aimee Beckmann-Collier

For her farewell concert, Drake University choral director Aimee Beckmann-Collier commissioned five new works - and we've got a first listen to one of them. It's a setting of a Rabindranath Tagore poem by the renowned Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds.

Beckmann-Collier led choral programs for 30 years at Drake, where she is a Distinguished Professor of Conducting. When planning the May 5 farewell event, her first thought was that learning new pieces would be a "growth experience" for students. She turned to composers who had built connections with the choir, including Esenvalds, who had worked memorably with it during a tour of the Baltics.

Beckmann-Collier says that Esenvalds “considers himself a musical storyteller and is attracted to texts that allow him to do so." Indeed, Esenvalds says he chose this piece's text, "I Traveled The Old Road" by Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, because it "tells a story very clearly." The story has a meaning, summarized by Esenvalds as, "Listening to nature, to life, to silence is like a key for opening the doors. Very good doors!"

Credit Public Domain
Rabindranath Tagore with another Nobel laureate, Albert Einstein, in 1930.

The poem begins with a routine day and ends in wonder. Esenvalds conveys the progression by unfolding the text through a series of voices. In this performance, they are Halle Fish, soprano, Mollie Lawler, mezzo-soprano, Trevor Ross, tenor, and Seth Tack, baritone. Esenvalds adds to the sense of mystery by including a gentle clarinet part, played poetically by Drake professor Clarence Padilla.

In a program note, the Latvian composer expressed admiration for Beckmann-Collier "and her lifelong experience in the universe of music." He praised "her profound knowledge in teaching and her care and love for her students, our next colleagues."

He also thanked her for "giving me complete freedom in composing the new song for her singers. Freedom gives wider wings for a composer to fly in higher orbits of imagination and creativity. And Aimee knows this!"

IPR is grateful to Esenvalds, his publishers Musica Baltica and Edition Peters Group, and to Professor Beckmann-Collier and Drake's choirs for allowing us to publish this mp3 of her recording. The poem by Tagore is in the public domain; it was first published in 1918 in his collection "Lover's Gift And Crossing."

Barney Sherman is a Senior Music Producer and Classical Music Host