SOLO - THE Good Life (2008) Program Note

"The Good Life" is an oratorio for two solo voices, SATB choir, and orchestra in eight movements, to be performed without pause. The premiere performance takes place at Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh, on October 17 and 19, 2008, featuring Maestro Leonard Slatkin conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Mendelssohn Choir, soloists soprano Hila Plitmann and baritone Kevin Deas. Based on a libretto by Wendy S. Walters, the work depicts various stages in the evolution of an American industrial city. The presence of both choir and soloists emphasizes the duality of individuals and the community, striving to be heard as they confront and respond to the changing environment they inhabit.

In the opening 'Welcome' fanfare, the choir frames the narrative, inviting the audience into the story. The second movement, 'Green' introduced by an English horn solo  anticipates both the optimism and anxiety of discovering an unknown land. The community expresses a desire to lay down roots and create a hometown, and the pace quickens.
As the city is built, the rhythm becomes steadier and percussive work sounds emanate from the orchestra. The spurt of growing activity culminates in the fourth movement, 'The Good Life', in which "progress"  the potential of all this growth  is attained, even surpassed. The city chugs along incessantly, reaching a climactic frenzy as the choir exuberantly celebrates 'bigger, faster, louder&burning up the hours.'

In the aftermath of this explosive burst of energy comes a series of more somber reflections: In 'Smoky Town,' the choir bears witness to a city that has degenerated as a result of the land's exploitation; the townspeople lament the lack of community ('Used to Be'), and two citizens yearn for a nostalgic past in 'Grey and Brown'. Out of these meditations a question emerges: 'What will fill the space between us?' The ghostly entreaty resonates, echoing rhetorically throughout the chorus. Contained within the question are the seeds of a solution; remnants the city's past are unearthed, and the townspeople reach back to the green roots of their history. They move forward, seeking to imagine  and create  a brighter future.

The Good Life was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Mendelssohn Choir, through a grant from the Heinz Foundation. Special thanks to Betsy Burleigh, Jerry Blackstone, Todd Vunderink, Maestro Slatkin, and the wonderful staff at the Pittsburgh Symphony.


In this piece, the phrase "the Good Life" represents that perfect balance between hard work and generous reward for it. It was what immigrants and free people aspired to create in towns smelted out of industry during the late 19th century. But by the middle of the 20th century the decline of manufacturing in many cities was a sea change that affected the individuals and families within the community on a deeply personal level. This work represents the collective and individual voices of such a community in its efforts to decipher how the evolution and devolution of their city feels.

Even during the bleakest moments of this story, the voice of the community evidences optimism. This is because the desire to live the good life is unwavering. And while most working people know the "good life" is often fleeting, temporary or sometimes even completely illusive, it is still an ideal everyone yearns for.

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