Meet Neo-Romanticist Ricky Ian Gordon

Few composers today are more in the Romantic tradition than Ricky Ian Gordon, familiar to MasterVoices audiences from our New York premieres of his operas Grapes of Wrath (2010), 27 (2016), and a suite from Only Heaven (2003).

The New York Times described Gordon’s music as being “infused with a bursting effervescence that blithely blurs the lines between art song and the high-end Broadway music of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.” So it was a natural fit to work with this modern day Schubert on our program of Romantics. Lucky for us, he can tell us in person about his inspiration and his process! We caught up with him to ask a few questions.

What is “Life is Love”?

It’s a song cycle, based on the poetry of Langston Hughes, with 8 songs written for various vocal and instrumental combinations – from piano, cello, and horns to quartets, solos, and chorus. While I’ve worked with some of these poems before, Life is Love features all new arrangements, which is pretty exciting. I’m especially thrilled to be reunited with Nicole Cabell, with whom I recorded an entire album of Hughes poems! (Silver Rain, 2012).

Why Langston Hughes?

I love his work. He writes in a profound and economical way, and he has an honest and lived-in philosophy that goes straight to the heart. Plus there’s music in them already because he was a great lover of music. I love that he took his little phonograph (just invented!) all over the country recording blues, jazz, Negro spirituals. Actually I first fell in love with his poetry while looking for something for Harolyn Blackwell, in 1993 – one of my first commissions! That became Genius Child.

Why choral music?

Because I love it! I think anyone who loves harmony has to love writing choral music. A chorus has the force and power of an orchestra – an orchestra of voices. While I didn’t come from a choral tradition in childhood or church, I must say I love the sense of community that it creates.

What is one thing you want our audiences to know about this piece?

Honestly? That it is a celebration of my love for Ted Sperling as friend, colleague, and collaborator. I am so grateful for his unwavering support of my creativity, and my music. That’s why I dedicated the new piece to him, commissioned by MasterVoices. It’s called God.

Are you worried the title will go to his head?

Just kidding, we didn’t ask that question!