The Paper Lined Shack
Arts at the Armory, Somerville
June 18, 2022 7:00
Tereza Stanislav, violin
Rafael Rishik, violin
Robert Brophy, viola
Michael Nicolas, cello*
*Michael Nicolas is performing in place of Andrew Shulman
Things Unseen (1998)
for String Quartet
The Paper Lined Shack (2019)*
for Soprano & String Quartet
text from the memoir of
Della Holsinger (1881-1977)
compiled and edited by Joan Beal
I. Carefree Girl
II. The Red Chair
III. The Paper Lined Shack
IV. Our Garden
V. My Heart
Things Unseen was composed originally for the Ying String Quartet, whose personnel at the time was that of four siblings. I’ve always loved the way in which a string quartet can afford, (musically speaking), the most intimate yet complex of sonic conversations.
Each of the four movements unfold as balancing acts of controlled dialog and chaos. Ideas are introduced by one player, developed, morphed, and passed around the room, as in the best of dinner party conversations – perhaps a group of siblings.
Ghosts, Angels, Spirits, and Gnomes suggest the otherwordly. My perspective is hardly liturgical – rather more playful and everyday. I’ve always felt one’s experience of a transcendent “other” usually coming from the simplest, yet most beautiful of moments. Such revelations are also most enjoyable when we are surprised by them, they sneak up on us and delight us.
The Paper Lined Shack
About twenty years ago, my wife Joan and I were unpacking boxes in our new home in southern California. We stumbled across a written diary of my great grandmother Della and we were both struck by her writing. I knew well the outline of her story from my grandfather Harold (her son) — primarily that she was widowed suddenly at a young age with six children. Della persevered, and managed to raise her family on a ten-acre farm out west in Idaho, where she had recently moved with her young husband Franklin.
My mother Rosemary had given us Della’s collection of pages, composed for her children near the end of her life. There was a compelling vision of strength, love, humor, and humility in her story which I had long wanted to set, or do something with; but soon enough other deadlines, life, and raising our own family intervened and I forgot about them.
In receiving this commission for Leonard Slatkin in honor of his 50 years with the St. Louis Symphony, I decided on a narrative song cycle for soprano Hilá Plitmann (a soloist with whom he has collaborated frequently, and I also admire greatly). In the midst of my search for a strong female-driven text for Hilá, I recalled Della’s writings. Rereading these pages some twenty years later, I noticed even more nuance and meaning in her words. Della seemed as compelling and relevant as some of the more contemporary subjects I was exploring, and of course personal. I’m very grateful to Joan Beal for spending the time to help select these lines from her memoir into this libretto.
– Jeff Beal
*The Paper Lined Shack is presented tonight in a world premiere chamber arrangement created for Hilá Pitmann and the New Hollywood String quartet by the composer.
About Jeff Beal
Jeff Beal is an American composer with a genre-defying musical fluidity. His work has been nominated for nineteen, and won five Primetime Emmy awards for scores for House of Cards (Netflix), Rome (HBO), Carnivale (HBO) Nightmares and Dreamscapes (TNT), Monk (USA) and Oliver Stone’s The Putin Interviews (Showtime). Film scores include the documentaries The Biggest Little Farm and Blackfish, and dramas Pollock (dir. Ed Harris) and Shock and Awe (dir. Rob Reiner).
Beal composes, orchestrates, conducts, mixes and often performs on his own scores – no other artist’s brush strokes touch his canvas. An accomplished and recorded jazz musician, Beal uses his improvisational skills to read the emotional tone of a scene. “This process allows me to envision a world where anything can happen,” says Beal. Jeff has begun conducting his own music in recent years leading National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in the premiere of House of Cards in Concert, a live to picture event, with further performances in Miami, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Jerusalem. He recorded his score for the documentary Boston with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall and led the Boston Pops in a live to picture premiere. In March of 2019 he led the Qatar National Symphony in the world premiere of his work The Radiant Pearl, commissioned for the opening of the Qatar Museums in Doha.
Recent premieres include a Flute Concerto for solist Sharon Bezaly and the Minnesota Orchestra, The Paper Lined Shack, commissioned by the St. Louis Symphony in honor of Leonard Slatkin’s 50 years with the organization, and the first two installments of his German Expressionist Silent Film Trilogy: F.W. Muranu’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans commissioned by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligary commissioned by the Bundesjazzorchestra. Upcoming premieres include a co-commission from the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Eastman School of Music celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Kodak Hall, and a recording release of The Paper Lined Shack.
Born in 1963 and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Beal was influenced by his grandmother who worked as a pianist and accompanist for silent movies. An avid jazz fan, she gave him Miles Davis’/Gil Evans’ Sketches of Spain album when he was beginning his trumpet studies. In addition to studying both classical and jazz trumpet, Jeff was a self-taught pianist and spent countless hours in the library learning music theory and composition on his own. Encouraged by conductor Kent Nagano, Jeff composed a trumpet concerto at age17, which he performed with the Oakland Youth Symphony, as well as a number of large ensemble jazz charts that are still in publication today.
It would be across the country at the Eastman School of Music that Jeff would discover both his musical voice, as a student of Christopher Rouse and Rayburn Wright, and the love of his life, soprano Joan Sapiro Beal, who frequently performs his music. In 2015, the couple donated funds for the creation of The Beal Institute for Film Music and Contemporary Media at Eastman. The Beals have also donated to fund the collaborative Music and Medicine initiative at the University of Rochester, having experienced the impact of music on health in their own lives.