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Release: June 9, 2000

Tenor Matthew Castle will present 'An Evening of American Art Songs' June 24

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- "An Evening of American Art Songs by Living Composers" will be presented by Matthew Castle, a tenor and the coach-accompanist for the University of Iowa Opera Theater, and pianist Lee Nguyen, an undergraduate student in pre-medicine and piano performance at the UI, at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 24 in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

Their performance will be free and open to the public.

Castle is a multi-talented musician, with significant accomplishments as a composer, singer, pianist and teacher. For his song program, he chose music by two composers with whom he has studied -- Stanworth Beckler at the University of the Pacific and Jan Bach at the University of Northern Illinois. He was introduced to the music of Henry Campbell, the third composer on the program, by another of his teachers.

Beckler's songs will form bookends for the program, which will open with his "Songs of Experience," on texts by William Blake, and close with "Seven Songs from E.E. Cummings." Both sets of songs were composed in 1954 and dedicated to Jon Pearce, whom Beckler describes as "a buddy in school -- a great guy and a fantastic tenor."

Between the Beckler settings, Castle and Nguyen will perform Campbell's "Grassroots Ballad" and Bach's "Three Sonnets on Woman."

Not only did Pearce inspire Beckler to write two sets of songs, he also suggested how they should be written. For the Cummings songs, "he suggested I write the vocal line first, without thought for the details of the accompaniment," Beckler said. He did most of this first stage of writing while riding the bus back and forth to work each day. Later, when he went back to fill in the piano part, Beckler found that they came to him easily, springing naturally from the mood, texture and pace of the vocal lines.

William Blake's "Songs of Experience" come from the combined volume, "Songs of Innocence and Experience," which, according to the title page, aims to "Shew the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul." Blake's poetry, which draws heavily on Christian symbolism, is noted for its portrayal of the complexity and ambiguity of human life.

Castle feels that the songs are particularly successful at evoking this ambiguity. "Beckler's musical settings capture the emotional acuity of the texts while maintaining the delicacy of the speaker's point of view -- part cold observer, part unwitting agent of the foibles and dangers of human life, part frightened participant in the evils of the world, regretful and yearning.

"Blake's old-fashioned, dense poetic language and Beckler's chromatic musical language combine to create vibrant miniatures, as complex intellectually as they are emotionally and spiritually."

Beckler selected the texts for the "Seven Songs from E.E. Cummings" from various collections of poetry published 1923-26. Castle said, "These seven songs capture the sly wit, eerie colorfulness, passionate earnestness and, most of all, the rhythmic throb of Cummings' early poetry."

Campbell, who lives in Bozeman, Mont., wrote his "Grassroots Ballad" in 1965, based on "Little Blonde Esther" by Montana poet Jason Bolles. The poem uses the points of view of various characters to tell the story of a preacher's daughter who returns home late from a social dance. Her father turns her out and she wanders through the countryside until she is rescued by a ranger. Later, the two prepare to marry, and they summon the young woman's father to perform the ceremony.

Campbell's setting of the dramatic poem uses various musical means to portray the perspectives and voices of the various characters: changes of vocal register, tempo, texture and harmony.

Jan Bach wrote the "Three Sonnets on Woman" in 1973 for the Harvey Gaul Competition, which called for a piece for tenor voice and harpsichord. Searching for poetry suitable to that combination, he chose three poems by the early 19th-century English poet John Keats.

Bach acknowledges that the sentiment of Keats' poetry makes it a "time piece, something that existed a century ago," since the woman addressed in the songs is "a very 19th-century character -- a helpless little creature." For Castle, this suggests that even though the poetry is set in a serious manner, "for modern listeners, the piece must have a tongue-in-cheek quality."

Castle is a visiting professor at the UI School of Music, serving as coach-accompanist for the UI Opera Theater. His singing roles in opera and musical comedy have included Henrik Egerman in "A Little Night Music," Nemorino in "The Elixir Of Love," Edvard Grieg in "Song Of Norway," Archibald Craven in "The Secret Garden," Marco Palmieri in "The Gondoliers" and Rooster in "Annie," as well as dozens of cabaret and dinner theater appearances.

As an accompanist, Castle has played in hundreds of recitals and theatrical productions. He also has extensive experience as a musical director, with credits in professional, university, community and school theaters. His compositions represent many genres, ranging from chamber music to musical theater and opera. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Cal., and a master's degree from Northern Illinois University.

One of the most active accompanists in the UI School of Music, Nguyen will graduate in July and will study piano accompanying on a full scholarship to the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee in the fall. A native of Charles City, he is the last of seven children to graduate from the UI. He has accompanied many student recitals at the UI, performed with the UI Symphony Band, served as rehearsal accompanist for opera and musical theater productions, and accompanied UI guest artists. He has also studied piano at the Interlochen (Mich.) Arts Academy.

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