World Premiere of “Songs of Correspondence: for mezzo-soprano and string quartet; from the letters of Willa Cather”

Join us for the world premiere of “Songs of Correspondence: for mezzo-soprano and string quartet; from the letters of Willa Cather” (Photo courtesy of Craig Chandler)
Join us for the world premiere of “Songs of Correspondence: for mezzo-soprano and string quartet; from the letters of Willa Cather” (Photo courtesy of Craig Chandler)

Join us for this very special celebration in concert showcasing the world premiere of a new composition of eleven songs based on the letters of Willa Cather. The Omni Quartet and American mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby perform the song cycle composed by Richard Stout on April 23, from 3-5 p.m., at the Ethel S. Abbott Auditorium, Sheldon Museum of Art. The concert is free and open to the public.

Stout, a faculty member at Baldwin Wallace University and trombonist with The Cleveland Orchestra, has been commissioned by the Cather Archive of the University Libraries and the Cather Project in the UNL English Department in celebration of the completion of the digital humanities project The Complete Letters of Willa Cather.

Stout was looking for inspiration to compose for voice and string quartet and found it sitting on his bookshelf in the form of the book “Selected Letters of Willa Cather,” co-edited by Stout’s mother Janis P. Stout and Andrew Jewell, chair, Digital Strategies, and co-director of the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities.

“I initially was drawn to several letters and thought, ‘Oh, my gosh! They sort of sing off the page,” explained Stout.

Stout then contacted Jewell for permission to use the letters for his composition and found himself being commissioned for the Nebraska celebration instead.

“The Complete Letters of Willa Cather is a resource built, in part, to generate other works. We knew it would influence scholarly creations, but never dared dream that Cather’s letters would inspire a musical composition like Stout’s,” said Jewell, “We are thrilled to support this distinctive piece of art. Willa Cather loved music and knew it well, and ‘Songs of Correspondence’ is a fitting tribute to her. I can’t wait to hear it performed at the premiere.”

“Songs of Correspondence: for mezzo-soprano and string quartet; from the letters of Willa Cather,” is a song cycle of eleven songs. Each song is named after the recipient of the letters and may contain passages from several letters. The songs cover a wide range of Cather’s life, acquaintances, and life experiences.

“Letters to Zoё Akins, and Mariel Gere, a childhood friend, and, of course, Roscoe Cather, her brother, are represented in the cycle,” Stout said, “The final song is her brother Roscoe.”

It took Stout a year to compose all the songs and finish the project. He got feedback from Jewell, his mother, and the performers. The challenge of putting her letters to music appealed to him, but Stout didn’t feel it was an opportunity to try new techniques in music, rather he wanted something that rang simple and true especially to Cather’s style.

“I hope people come away really surprised and delighted by how music and text can naturally fit together, and I hope that the music will sound like something Cather would really have heard herself,” said Stout.

About the Concert
The first hour of the concert features the Omni Quartet playing two pieces of work composed by Clint Needham and Caroline Shaw. The second hour of the concert will be the world premiere of “Songs of Correspondence,” the song cycle of eleven songs based on Cather’s letters with American mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby joining the Omni Quartet.

Richard Stout
Richard Stout received his musical training at Rice University and The Curtis Institute of Music. Self-taught as a composer, his music combines traditional forms and idioms with sounds and techniques from current everyday American life. Drawing on his experience in repertoire as a performer, Stout frequently writes music with a strong narrative sense and appropriates styles from Baroque to Pop in his musical storytelling. As a trombonist, Richard has performed in concert halls around the world as a member of The Cleveland Orchestra and is an active chamber player as a founding member of Factory Seconds Brass Trio. Mr. Stout is a faculty member at Baldwin Wallace University and resides in Moreland Hills, Ohio with his wife, pianist Christina Dahl.

Omni Quartet
The Omni Quartet, comprised of Amy Lee and Alicia Koelz, violins, Joanna Zakany, viola, and Tanya Woolfrey, cello, are all members of The Cleveland Orchestra. Formed in 2009, they have toured the world's greatest venues as members of the orchestra, including Carnegie Hall, the Edinburgh Festival, Vienna's Musikverein, The Kennedy Center, and the Salzburg Festival. This versatile group plays concerts regularly in the greater Cleveland area, as well as branching off to do innovative concerts in alternative venues, from playing at Cleveland's Happy Dog to playing in the Hall of Mirrors at the Primate's Palace for the Ambassador of Bratislava.

Nancy Maultsby
Nancy Maultsby is in demand by opera companies and orchestras throughout the world. Her unique vocal timbre and insightful musicianship allow her to pursue a repertoire extending from the operas of Monteverdi and Handel to recent works by John Adams. She regularly performs the major heroines of nineteenth-century French, Italian, and German opera and the great symphonic masterpieces.