Jake Heggie and Kiri premiered at the Ravinia Music Festival
Posted on 15 December 2014
Athough composer Jake Heggie has focused the bulk of his creative energies on opera over the last couple of decades, between major projects he has returned again and again to his musical heart and soul – telling stories through song.
The prolific American composer – he has written more than 250 art songs to date – has done so again, creating a song cycle to poems by Emily Dickinson, expressly tailored to the voice and artistry of Kiri Te Kanawa, a close friend and colleague since his college years.
The beloved soprano will present the world premiere of Heggie's "Newer Every Day," composed in honor of Te Kanawa's 70th birthday, as part of her recital of songs and arias Tuesday in Ravinia's Martin Theatre. Heggie himself will accompany her at the piano.
For Heggie, Dickinson's evocative poetry and Te Kanawa's luminous voice are a match both natural and inevitable.
Some of the first texts he ever put to music were by Dickinson, and his first encounter with the New Zealand-born diva was in the early 1980s when he turned pages for her accompanist at a recital she gave at UCLA, where he was studying piano and composition.
Te Kanawa represented his first exposure to art songs sung by a classically trained classical performers. So deep was the impression her recital made on him that it hastened the emergence of Heggie as a composer of exquisite lyric miniatures and, eventually, operas.
"Not only was the voice so beautiful, large and plush, here was this radiant, gorgeous woman who, when you chatted with her backstage, was jovial and fun," he recalls of that concert in Los Angeles. "I got to know her as a vocal superstar who also was a real human being. And I became a diehard Te Kanawa fan!" Heggie keeps in a special box the dried petals of the roses presented to Te Kanawa after that recital, and which she then gave him.
He turned pages at a few more of the singer's recitals before their careers took divergent directions.