Ah, the holiday season. A time for nostalgia, music, sending cards, decorating homes with lights, and - above all - enjoying special holiday foods! Favorite recipes and treats have the power to transport us in time to our childhoods, or make us feel suddenly closer to family, friends, and loved ones we may not otherwise get to see. Just a few nights ago, my mother and I were surprised to discover we were simultaneously making my great-grandmother’s Dutch Sinterklaas cookie recipe while halfway across the country from one another! Whether it’s grandma’s babke, an uncle’s spiced cider, or your cousin’s famous cheesy bread, everyone has one or two special dishes that signal holiday cheer.
So, without further ado, let Fourth Coast Ensemble offer you a new recipe to add to your tradition this year: “Tuna Supreme!”
Performed by the quartet and pianist Kuang-Hao Huang in the spring of 2019, composer Richard Pearson Thomas’ humorous Fish ‘n Chicks song cycle culminates in this zany finale. As text, Thomas sets a real recipe taken out of “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, 1950.” After a dramatic piano glissando, the close vocal harmonies mimic a Hollywood trio from that era, proclaiming excitedly: “TUNA SUPREME. A treat from the deep. A perfectly grand dish for women’s luncheons!” Yes, we have officially landed in 1950.
The music then flies off into the joyous “Fast swing tempo” of the recipe itself: a casserole with very specific ingredients, some of which may seem rather odd to our 21st Century gastronomic sensibilities. But the enthusiasm is infectious: from the walking bass line in the piano, to the rhythmic tenor and bass spoken section (you’ll know it when you hear it!) under a semi-improvisatory soprano vocalism, to huge crescendos and vocal glissandos, it’s a cooking experiment in Technicolor! And then, just when you think it’s over, Thomas reels you back in for one last dive through the animals celebrated earlier in the cycle, bringing it all to a true Hollywood finish.
What a treat!
This beloved 20th century art song floats in on a cloud of nostalgia. The narrator recalls a single moment – most of us have experienced at least one – where time stood still and everything was right in the world.
Robert Hillyer's poem awakens the senses as he recalls the sights, sounds and scents of being in love while living abroad at age twenty. The memory becomes more intoxicating with each new detail: It was a summer morning. Perfect greenery hung overhead. The sidewalks smelled of fresh rain as they were being washed down.
American composer Ned Rorem spent a formative decade of his own life living in France from 1949-1958. He brings the poem to life with a lilting melody and gently rocking gestures in the piano. Perhaps there is a single twinge of longing for the pleasures of youth as the narrator looks back on that distant moment; but then again, there is pleasure in keeping the memory alive across the years, too.
As you listen to this song, perhaps you will take a moment to resurface your own memories of youth, travel, and love.
Please enjoy this performance, featuring myself with pianist Mark Bilyeu, live in concert on February 2, 2017 at the State Street Gallery in Chicago.
Hello, and welcome to the blog! We are Fourth Coast Ensemble, Chicago's classical vocal quartet. Join a different member of our ensemble each week for insights into our favorite art songs, links to archival and new recordings, and reflections on why we value and continue to come back to this musical medium. We proudly present, your weekly #artsongfix!