SOLO - Good Life (2008) Program Notes:
"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
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.
WENDY S. WALTERS' PROGRAM NOTES:
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.