Endnotes, August 2023

Special additional report by Dr. David Green of the English Music Festival and Elgar Society on this year's Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester Cathedral.

Randall Svane, Quantum Flight

Randall Svane is a distinguished American composer who writes music for many different media, including large orchestral pieces such as the one we heard at the Three Choirs Festival on Tuesday 25th July. Incidentally, he was also the composer for the musical setting of the Responses for the Wednesday afternoon Three Choirs Choral Evensong. This was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.
The orchestral work we heard that evening was named Quantum Flight and according to the composer the form of the piece is related to quantum mechanics, where the stability of an atom with revolving electrons may be disturbed such that then revolving electrons move different orbits, either releasing or absorbing energy. True to this description it was certainly an energy- intensive and electrifying opening to the concert with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) and the Gloucester Festival Director and conductor, Adrian Partington, in exceptionally good form. After the intense and electrically-charged opening, there was short period of meditation prior to the climactic conclusion. The work was slightly less than the programmed five minutes and I am sure that we would have appreciated a piece of much longer duration.


Randall Svane - Quantum Flight (UK premiere)
Holst - Ode to Death
Bax - Tintagel
Francis Pott - A Song on the End of the World

This varied and challenging programme began with the UK premiere of Quantum Flight, a short orchestral work by the American composer, Randall Svane (b 1955). I don't recall that I've previously heard any of Svane’s music but I understand that he was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and for the past thirty years he has pursed a career as a composer, organist, conductor and teacher. In his programme note the composer explained that the title of his piece derives from quantum mechanics. He went on to outline briefly the scientific background. I won't attempt to paraphrase his comments since my scientific knowledge is so limited that I'm sure I'd miss out a crucial point or two! Suffice to say that Quantum Flight is a fast, bright and brilliant piece which overflows with energy. There is a passage partway through where the pace slackens a little, allowing for more lyrical expression but even here I felt that momentum is maintained. I enjoyed this music and the incisive performance it received. It made a strong concert opener.

July 26, 2023 by John Quinn

On a visit to Florence to hear a performance of his Concerto for Strings, the United States contemporary composer, Randall Svane, became overwhelmed by the scene in the Piazza del Duomo and decided to condense his reactions and emotions into a ten-minute orchestral work, Evocation and Remembrance. An orchestral procession through the early glories of European art and civilisation, the piece opens with hushed strings playing a repeated, portentous theme (reminiscent of the delicacy and sensation of tension at the opening of Nielsen's Fifth Symphony) ~ the work broadening out into grand vistas; the composer unafraid of making a big, affirmative, almost romantic-era symphonic statement. Randall Svane is a cathedral-builder in music: this is music to believe in: this is music of belief.

Stuart Millson, Classical Music Editor, The Quarterly Review. (January, 2023)


Finally, to The Quarterly Review's latest discovery: the contemporary United States composer, Randall Svane. A CD label is yet to champion this astonishing new voice in American music, so we have to rely upon digital files and YouTube. But the music does not disappoint: an understated Violin Concerto, like a newly-unearthed score by Sibelius, dwelling and mulling over numerous meditative ideas (giving the soloist some intricate cadenza work) and breaking into a Prokofiev-like mini-march; and a seven-movement symphony (as ritualistic and full of elation as Hindemith's Nobilissima Visione, or Mathis der Maler) which brings the life of St. Francis before us in a blaze of belief.

Yet Randall Svane also writes on a more intimate scale, as can be seen in his equally heavenly Emily Dickinson setting for chamber ensemble and voices, Because I could not stop for Death; music that seems more in the sound-world of Vaughan Williams and Britten, than that of Philip Glass and John Adams. Recently premiered by the Theodor Schutz Ensemble and Quartet Berlin-Tokyo, conducted by Philipp Amelung, the piece deserves a mainstream recording.

Stuart Millson, Classical Music Editor, The Quarterly Review. (December, 2022)


Finally, in complete contrast, a discovery: the music of contemporary United States composer, Randall Svane -  his majestic American Fanfare also manages brief moments of introspection, as if we are floating above the Appalachian mountains, just pondering the grandeur of the scene. Spans of brass writing bring a Copland-like horizon into view, and at the end, with Randall Svane unleashing his full force, it as if we were leaving the orbit of the Earth altogether on a NASA mission! 

We are looking forward to hearing more from this composer, and it looks as though the Three Choirs Festival here in England have recognised his talents: a new work for orchestra, Quantum Flight, is destined to dazzle them soon, at Gloucester Cathedral.

Stuart Millson, Classical Music Editor of The Quarterly Review (U.K.) 


Preces, Responses, and the Lord's Prayer, by Randall Svane, SATB a cappella (Encore Publications). Composed in memory of John Scott, the words come from The Book of Common Prayer. The writing is original and wonderful, and his setting of the Lord's Prayer is especially welcome - a little motet that stands nicely by itself with a triumphant conclusion.

Philip Brunelle
The American Organist

Randall Svane's setting, (May the Angels Lead You), is in two parts (S/A in unison plus T/B in unison) until the last five bars. Svane is particularly sensitive to the detail of the text, such as the shaping of the word 'holy' and the organ chord with a trill within it for the fluttering of the 'host of angels'. It is also personal, reserving its highest melodic note for the 'you' of 'and lead you into the holy city'. The final four-part 'may you have eternal rest' is profoundly moving. The music is metrically fluid and the voices seem to float above the organ part.

The Royal School of Church Music (RSCM)

Schola Cantorum on Hudson is a bright spot in the generally meager landscape of classical offerings in the Jersey City-Hoboken area. The small choir, founded by director Deborah Simpkin King a decade ago, has an energy and level of technical preparation that only a few such nonprofessional groups in the state have. King must also have a good appetite for a challenge, because the preparation of the premiere performances of Montclair composer Randall Svane’s Mass were likely intense and fraught with difficulty.

Saturday, the group, in conjunction with Lauda! Chamber Singers from South Jersey, gave the second performance of this beautifully sculpted, eight-part setting of the traditional ordinary of the Latin Mass at St. Matthew Trinity Lutheran Church in Hoboken. The singing was clear and self-assured, the direction by King consistent and exact, and the result a riveting reading of this gorgeous, eight-part a cappella score that uses Gregorian chant as a jumping-off point for lush, closely clustered vocal parts and pungent rhythms.

Svane’s score excellently probes the most expressive use of each voice type, and expands on the extreme legato nature of traditional chant by adding biting, irregular rhythms and close, dissonant harmonies. The words are familiar, but the expression greatly expanded, though Svane retains certain traditional practices, like setting the Benedictus for solo quartet. Best of all, this is a concept and structure that does not fizzle out or lose its focus partway through. The work, though conceived first as a solo Kyrie movement, then gradually expanded to a full mass, has an integrity and thoroughness of development that marks the work of a mature and knowledgeable composer. One hopes these concerts of Svane’s Mass help to get the work further performances; it deserves more exposure.

Willa Conrad, Chief Music Critic,
The Newark Star-Ledger


"At Merkin Hall (13 October) the Borromeo Quartet gave the premiere of Randall Svane's Quartet No. 2. The jagged and vigorous material of that movement led to a slow one where the cello was the only un-muted voice. The mood was a curious mixture of Messiaen and Turina's La oracion del torero! A short Presto with pizzicato effects led to a slow finale that contained a fugal episode but was tinged throughout with the profound sadness of Shostakovich and the Richard Strauss of Metamorphosen. Svane knows how to entice the ear and to sustain interest, yet I sensed that there was more to the work than was heard."

Dennis Rooney
The Strad

"One could only marvel at Randall Svane's six-year-old At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners. While its instrumentation is avowedly borrowed from Britten's masterpiece Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings, the work stands upon but does not imitate the earlier piece. It is a setting of four of John Donne's Holy Sonnets already so strong in their structure and imagery that matching their intensity in music is both a challenge and an act of supreme self-confidence. Mr. Svane relies on long arching lines resting on luminous string writing. Whereas Britten's work even today seems to be about hornist Dennis Brain and tenor Peter Pears, Svane's is not about the soloists as individuals but rather Donne's poetry. At the text "And death shall be no more," the final verse of the third sonnet, Svane's work achieves an apotheosis of surpassing beauty in which the conductor Yehuda Gilad led the strings into an ethereal realm with a ritardando of perfect proportion. No matter that there was one more sonnet to be performed, that exquisite moment proved to be the fulcrum of the work, one of the few times that the climax of a large work is its quietest moment rather than its loudest."

Paul Somers
Classical New Jersey

"The Concerto for Strings, a recent work by Randall Svane, an American in his late 40s,
reveals a lyrical talent and a flair for the unexpected. The adventures of the galumphing figure of the third movement were a special delight"

Joanne Sheehy Hoover
Albuquerque Journal

"The evening began with a pleasant surprise for this reviewer even before the first notes were sounded. Rarely does a critic find his words extensively quoted in program notes. such was, however, the case with the slow and reflective middle movement from Svane's moving Concerto for Strings, reviewed by this critic for Out and About in its 1993 premiere by conductor Yehuda Gilad and the orchestra. Happily, the words written then apply with equal force upon second hearing. Svane's personal style and sense for formal construction came through clearly without limiting the powerful dramatic flow of melody and harmony. His intense lyricism and passionate sensitivity to line and harmonic color contributed were well felt and conveyed by conductor and musicians. In the shadows of Sept. 11, the music did attain even greater poignancy. As Maestro Gilad pointed out when explaining his choice of the piece, there was a great deal of direct meaning attached to it. The work had been premiered by the orchestra. More significantly, Svane is a living American composer and a vital part of New Jersey's creative musical community."

Robert W. Butts
Out and About

"For the centerpiece, the orchestra gave the first Cincinnati performance of At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners for tenor and horn by New Jersey composer Randall Svane, 40. It is a haunting setting of the Holy Sonnets of English poet John Donne (1572-1631), styled after Benjamin Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings. The work was reminiscent of Britten ­ including its high tenor line ­ but it also echoed practices of recent decades, such as close harmonies and pulsating rhythms. With tenor Mark Bleeke and hornist Duane Dugger as soloists, the collaboration was a seamless blend of music and poetry. The desolate orchestral background beautifully evoked Donne's somber words. The orchestra never overwhelmed the soloists, even when the timpani added a note of drama. The result was radiant."

Janelle Gelfand
Cincinnati Enquirer

"The "voices" on Saturday night came in Randall Svane's "Songs of Innocence," a choral setting of William Blake's verse originally written for the Newark Boys Chorus, for which Svane was music director. Hearing the female voices of the Montclair Kimberley Girls Chorale and the Pingry School Women's Glee Club on Saturday, though, brought an added touch of innocence to the piece. A choral director himself, Svane's sense of the young voice was palpable at every turn. He apparently follows the cardinal rule of children's literature in creating work that remains simple without being simple-minded. His choral lines always maintained a fine balance with the orchestra, and the music was eminently singable and filled with surprising twists of harmony and intriguing overlapping lines without seeming too sophisticated."

Ken Smith
The Newark Star Ledger

"The Colonial Symphony is and has been a laboratory for New Jersey composers. Dedicated, through the considerable energy of its music director, Yehuda Gilad, to performing music of our time as well as a more standard repertoire, the orchestra again served as a Petri dish for new music on Saturday evening, this time for a familiar scientist, Montclair's Randall Svane. The work was not new or in premiere. Svane's "At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners," a setting for tenor, French horn and string orchestra of four metaphysical texts by English poet John Donne, was written in 1993. Among other previous performances, Gilad presented it last winter on a new 20th century music series he directs in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The same soloists, tenor Mark Bleeke and French horn player David Jolley, were present Saturday, and their familiarity with the work was much of the reason for a solid, if not altogether transcendent performance. Svane has set the poems, dealing with imagery of angels blowing the final trumpet call, death, the soul's deliverance, and a final submission to God, with a great deal of sensitivity to the drama of the text. He has a real ear for the crispy consonants that make English both difficult to set, but delicious to hear when set well. The tenor's part moves in long, cantilevered lines that lean, like the walls of a pyramid, against the horn's occasional pressing comments. There's a sense of majesty and momentousness in the construction. In the angularity of vocal line and the fussy, coloristic orchestration (besides strings, a timpani provides textual emphasis), Svane seems to have been looking toward he spiky melodies and pungent instrumental tastes of Benjamin Britten. But the works' most endearing trait is its simplicity and focus; the texts may be thickly layered with meaning, but the music moves swiftly and succinctly, and the combination of voice and horn is marvelously exploited to the idiosyncratic beauty of both."

Willa J. Conrad
The Newark Star Ledger

"The other premiere (local, if not world) of the evening was Randall Svane's At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners, a superb setting of four Holy Sonnets by John Donne (1573-1631). Svane, present to receive well-deserved kudos, sets the English language with impeccable sensitivity ­ a singer's dream. The work is a duet for tenor and French horn, with the tenor as the Poet and the horn as the presence of Death. The possibility of hearing Svane's recently completed opera, The Scarlet Letter, intrigues."

Joseph Portal
The New Mexican