Naxos Releases its First Recording Devoted Entirely to the Works of Composer Paul Fetler

Recording features Fetler’s Three Poems by Walt Whitman, Capriccio, and Violin Concerto No. 2
performed by the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, led by Arie Lipsky

On December 15, Naxos continues its American Classics series with a collection of Paul Fetler’s symphonic music, the first to be completely devoted to his work. Performed by the Ann Arbor Symphony under the direction of Arie Lipsky, the recording is a comprehensive survey of Fetler’s canon, from his lyrical second violin concerto to his musical dramatization of Three Poems by Walt Whitman.

Paul Fetler is adept at conjuring myriad moods in his composition, making it a perfect match for the writing of Whitman. The literary icon was a lover of music, commenting that “But for opera, I could never have written Leaves of Grass.” This staple of American poetry, in turn, provides the material for the first and third movements of Fetler’s work, which was created in commemoration of the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial. Plaintive woodwinds and ethereal bells provide a moody setting for “I am he that walks with the tender and growing night,” while string and brass chorales lend a warmth to “Ah, from a little child.” The second movement is derived from Drum Taps, an expression of Whitman’s first-hand experience with the Civil War. Fetler vividly depicts the writer’s horror with relentless, thundering percussion in “Beat! Beat! Drums!” Ann Arbor poet and attorney Thomas H. Blaske lends his voice as narrator to complete this significant work.

Describing the process behind his one-movement Capriccio, Fetler envisioned “a composition which could be light-hearted, buoyant and playful… something with the flair of Rossini to divert the listener from the ‘daily burdens of life.’” Highlighting Penelope Fischer (flute) and Scott Graddy (piccolo), the piece fulfills this goal, from the initial fluttering flute solo to its whirlwind, tongue-in-cheek finale. Fetler returns to a more serious mode in his Violin Concerto No. 2, which features Aaron Berofsky as the soloist. This work was a labor of love for the composer, written without the restrictions of a commission. From the ethereal strings sound of the first movement to the intense drive of the last, the work embodies Fetler’s characteristic style of “progressive lyricism.”
Paul Fetler was born in the United States and spent his youth in Eastern Europe, particularly in Latvia, where the influences of Russian culture made a great impression upon him. At the age of six he experimented at the piano with sound combinations which he found expressive, in one case particularly descriptive of a painting of a queen’s lavish coronation. Fetler credits his mother with making sure that his musical training was uninterrupted, despite the family’s frequent changes of residence, including a couple of years in both Sweden and Switzerland.
Fetler studied at Northwestern University where he received his Bachelor of Music degree under David Van Vactor. His Master’s degree was at Yale, where he studied with Quincy Porter and Paul Hindemith. He took advanced compositional studies with Boris Blacher at the Berlin Academy of Music. He accepted a post at the University of Minnesota, where he later completed his doctorate and where he taught composition and also composed for many years. His compositions include over 150 works in diverse genres. Many of these have been performed by leading orchestras, soloists, choral ensembles and chamber groups across the United States and Europe. He has been the recipient of important awards from the Society for the Publication of American Music, the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He is currently Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota.
Aaron Berofsky is professor of violin at the University of Michigan and guest professor at the Detmold Hochschule für Musik. He has won international critical acclaim as both a soloist and a chamber musician, having performed throughout North America, Europe, Central America, and the Middle East. As a soloist he has appeared with orchestras in the United States, Germany, Italy, Spain and Canada, and recent performances have included a cycle of Mozart violin sonatas at the International Festival Deia in Spain, recorded for the Blue Griffin label. Aaron Berofsky has been the first violinist of the Chester String Quartet since 1992. Tours have taken them throughout the Americas and Europe and projects over the years have included complete cycles of the quartets by Beethoven and Dvořák, and numerous recordings of works by such composers as Mozart, Haydn, Barber, Porter, Piston, Kernis and Tenenbom. Aaron Berofsky has also performed with the acclaimed chamber orchestra Tafelmusik on period instruments, and has recorded with them for the Sony label. He has also worked extensively with many leading composers, including John Cage, William Bolcom, Zhou Long, Michael Daugherty, Aaron Jay Jay Kernis, Susan Botti and Bright Sheng. His acclaimed recordings can be found on the Sony, New Albion, ECM, Audio Ideas, Blue Griffin and Chesky labels. He is concertmaster of the Ann Arbor Symphony.

3 Comments

  • Basil Malinky says:

    I am experiencing your American Classics CD with gratitude. In my ideal silence and solitude, I feel your music deeply, see myself in your opening meditation, “I am he that walks,” expose my nerves to your electrifying drums, bugles, elemental dread and terror; and open my heart to tenderness, “Ah, from a little child.” After this, what’s better than the flute-and-piccolo play, telling me to pay attention to the looming Violin Concerto. The haunting horn. You express your understanding in your biographical note, with words for Italian marble to preside over Music Conservatories: “What was once modern is modern no more. All the issues vanish, only expression remains.”

    With admiration, B.M.

  • gregoryp says:

    Paul Fetler's new American Classics CD is truly just that…an American Classic. His compositions are both luminous and dark, accessible yet deep, and somehow classical, romantic, AND modern. I saw a review of his Violin Concerto No. 2 from the music critic of the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, Mark Angelo, appearing shortly after the first performance of the piece, and I think this reviewer put his finger on it: “We regard composers highly not because their music was a plaything, but for heightening and deepening our awareness of wider worlds, of greater sensitivities…Paul fetler has created a musical world which speaks not only to emotion but also to imagination, a rare combination even among historically famous composers….Even the inexperienced listener will find in his music, in the violin concerto, something like a paradise bird of shimmering colors, flying over the edge of dark canyons and towering mountains….How does he do it? It is a kind of progressive melodic developmental, which keeps ever changing, presenting ever new facets to the listener…this music has the qualities of the mysterious and elemental, beyond anything I have heard in other composers, specially modern ones. But there is more. There is atmosphere…power and passion,,,and “soul”…the music becomes a vehicle which is in this world, but which we had not seen before, and thus the music becomes more than listening, it becomes an experience.” This reviewer hit it exactly,; we are listening to a new American Masterpiece. Bravo to Naxos, and many thanks. Gregory P.

  • Mary says:

    It continues to be exciting to hear these three pieces. Hearing the “Three Poems” is riveting — you can HEAR and FEEL the terror of war; practically watch the corn grow; feel the presence of what peace can come through the innocence of a little child. I love hearing Aaron's spinning, silvery, beautiful playing in the violin concerto — makes the lyricism of Paul's music come alive. And there is joy in the Capriccio. Wonderful!