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Gulf Coast Symphony - Whitman's America (World Premiere)

  • Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall 13350 FSW Pkwy Fort Myers, FL, 33919 United States (map)

World premiere of Whitman's America (formerly titled Walt's America) for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra, featuring the Gulf Coast SymphonyFort Meyers Symphonic Mastersingers and conducted by Andrew M. Kurtz, Music Director. This work is commissioned by the Gulf Coast Symphony.

Program Note

I have always been very fond of Walt Whitman and his poetry, not only for the inherent beauty and sense of optimism he illustrates in many of his works, but also for his intimacy, directness, colorful descriptions, and the way in which he sings the praises of nature and our role in it as individuals.

Whitman’s America is a setting of six poems from Whitman’s final version of Leaves of Grass, often called the Death Bed Edition, since he compiled this version the year he died. My work is constructed in an arch form as a sort of quasi-fantasia. I view each connected movement or section as a scene or vision, perhaps from an imagined Whitman as he lay on his deathbed. My goal was to capture and highlight a variety of themes that permeate Whitman’s poems, and in particular, themes that have to do with his love of America and the American people.

The work begins with Gliding O’er all, a poem in which Whitman portrays a positive attitude toward death; he is prepared for it and ready to embrace it. He presents a tone of acceptance through the irony of singing of many deaths, for the positive act of singing, in the way he imagines, does not typically correlate with death. Next is I Dream’d in a Dream, sung by a solo baritone, a poem that describes a utopic vision of peace and harmony. Following that is I Hear America Singing, about American pride and having pride in one’s work. Next is America, describing the destiny of America as a nation, his love of the masses, his devotion to Democracy and America fulfilling the spiritual needs of its people. Second to last is A Prairie Sunset, sung by a solo soprano, a poem that captures the beauty of the American prairie, an aspect of the American landscape that Whitman was very passionate about. Finally, I end with After the Dazzle of Day, a beautiful poem describing the starry night sky, an evening filled with music and his own internal symphony during the silence that follows.

Whitman’s America was commissioned by the Gulf Coast Symphony (Fort Myers, FL) as part of their 2020 Commissioning Project, Andrew M. Kurtz, Music Director and Conductor.