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Philomel program notes

Singers are a unique category of musician, for they are required to imbibe and completely embody the music they perform.  As the first female lead to premiere my first opera The Maiden Tower, Jennifer Zetlan holds a very special place in my composer heart.  Since that first encounter, Jen has come to know my vocal repertoire, so when she asked for a song cycle, I could not imagine a more perfect muse.

A terrific performance of Argento’s Chekov-inspired Water-Bird Talk inspired me towards a self-contained dramatic work more theatrical than the typical song cycle.  After much thought, and a suggestion from Jen about combining both vocalise and words, I realized that Philomel (from Ovid's Metamorphoses) would best showcase the sweetness and dramatic flexibility of Jen, total performer.
My first exposure to the gruesome tale was as a freshman in music history where Babbitt’s electronic masterpiece Philomel was required listening.  A few years and a few operas later, I found myself drawn to the story, eager to delve into the fascinating task of dramatizing the extraction of the tongue as well as her wondrous transformation into a nightingale.
Though Prof. Babbitt served as gateway- and what a dazzling marriage of content and form to depict this story of transfiguration with electronics- my point of departure is theatrical: meant for a live performer.  This monodrama explores the stylistic textual and dramatic expanse between art song and opera.  
My main influences are e. e. cummings, Georges Aperghis, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, and Benjamin Britten.

JUSTINE F. CHEN

COMPOSER AND VIOLINIST

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