Symphony Plays Prof’s Work in World Premiere

The Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra

Associate Professor of Music David Sanford is on leave this year, but he’s been busy. Proof of his creative productivity—the world premiere of Thy Book of Toil—will be the centerpiece of a February 21 concert by the Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra, directed by Tian Ng. The performance starts at 8 pm in Abbey Chapel.

Sanford composed Thy Book of Toil during a fellowship year at the Radcliffe Institute, and describes it as “an outsider's projection/reflection of college wonder/angst/existential hum/nostalgia/hyperactivity.” The title comes from a line in the song and film The Long Day Closes.

The 40-piece Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra will also perform works reflecting some of Sanford’s major musical influences. Sanford describes his compositions as “third-stream music”—a mix of modern classical and jazz. Among his influences are Gustav Mahler and jazz great Charles Mingus, both of whom “composed large-scale works that addressed the communal—even the global—in great detail and with high drama,” he says. “I'm also drawn to the introspection and conflict in their works.” 

These composers will be represented in the program by Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) and Mingus’s Half-Mast Inhibition. A Folk Symphony by the “father of Nigerian art music” Fela Sowande rounds out the concert.

Each piece has a story behind it, says Ng. The soloist in the Mahler piece, bass-baritone Dashon Burton, just won a Grammy. (His group, Roomful of Teeth, won in the “best chamber music/small ensemble performance” category.) Sowande’s symphony, written to celebrate Nigerian independence in 1960, will make its American debut. The Mingus piece, too, is rarely heard and will be presented in its current form for the first time at this concert.

Sanford is scheduled to speak briefly about the genesis of his new piece before it is performed.