Notorious RBG in Song
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''Musical highlights include the fabulous 6th song, with its extended piano postlude, and the hilarious 7th song about RBG's prankster brother's escapades in third grade. As she honors the arc of her mother-in-law's life, Michaels excels in the humorous songs.''...''The other musical contributions to Notorious RBG in Song are unqualified successes. Laitman's lovely 'Wider than the Sky' which was performed at RBG's 80th birthday celebration, sets a marvelous poem by Emily Dickinson. Both song and poem are gifts to savor for the long haul. Fung's 'Pot Roast a la RBG' is simply fabulous, and also sets Michaels cooking higher into her range.'' --Jason Victor Serinus - Stereophile.com
I can t remember the last time I was this excited for a CD to come in the mail. From the moment I opened the bubble mailer, it was obvious that Notorious RBG in Song (Cedille Records) was a celebration on all fronts. The art and the photos included with the CD are the most wonderful attendants to the music and liner notes. The design is excellent I don t often get to say that, as one CD case is much like another done mostly in paper and cardboard instead of plastic. It has two separate books of materials: one with the liner notes and composer/performer information, and one with the original texts: a mix of private correspondences, personal anecdotes, and public records. The photo opposite the text of Prologue: Foresight of Sandra Day O Connor, Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan is my favorite. It captures the spirit of the album in an image. Patrice Michaels is both the vocalist on Notorious RBG in Song and the composer of the featured work, The Long View: A Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Nine Songs. She currently serves as the Director of Vocal Studies at the University of Chicago. Her vocal work includes both symphonic and opera performances, as well as critically acclaimed recitals and recordings. As a composer, she favors works with words, and freely combines techniques from classical, jazz, and spoken word traditions. The Long View is very much about the texts she has chosen, and the piano functions as little more than an ornament to the singer (though a very supportive one). The theme of her work is the most important one of the album: RBG the woman is so much more complex and layered than the public figure that most of us see. The Long View really is a long view. There are moments in this cycle from her law school days, her early working life, and up to her 2014 dissents from the Supreme Court bench. The chosen text for Lori Laitman s Wider Than the Sky is the only text not drawn from RBG s personal work and correspondence. It is a poem by Emily Dickinson, written in the 1860s, and was set by the composer as half of a two-part Dickinson song cycle for her mother-in-law s seventy-fifth birthday. It fits both with Ginsburg s description of thriving in the study of law as an ideal trait for a Justice of the Supreme Court and with her lifelong theme of intellectual and legal curiosity. Vivian Fung s Pot Roast á la RBG has the most humor of all the included pieces. I m not sure how many recipes have been converted into art song, but I hope this isn t the last one. This and The Elevator Thief from The Long View give us a private glimpse of RBG as a parent, as well as someone with a private life. The asides about activities in daily life and the familial inside jokes create some important relief between the heady Dickinson poem that precedes and the grave text by Martin Ginsburg that follows it. Stacy Garrop s setting of Martin Ginsburg s letter dated June 7, 2010, My Dearest Ruth, may be both the simplest and best piece on the album. The text comes from the draft of a letter that Martin was writing during the end of his life. The music is truly in the background here an evocative set for a kind of quiet that is not yet resignation (Martin would die of his illness later that same year). The final work, Aria and Variations: You Are Searching in Vain for a Bright-Line Solution, is excerpted from Derrick Wang s opera Scalia/Ginsburg: A (Gentle) Parody of Operatic Proportions (2015). It s a wonderful smorgasbord of whimsical, Pirates of Penzance musical styles and recitative paired with a serious, declarative text. In other hands, this text could be menacing, but Wang has chosen instead to take a lighter approach. While My Dearest Ruth may be the most emotive piece included, Bright-Line Solution is the one I think I will listen to the most. The opt --ICareifyouListen.com - Kathleen McGowan
''Having been the subject of a book, an opera by Derrick Wang, and a film, the life of U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is now treated in a song recital on the Chicago label Cedille. The project is not quite as unexpected as it might appear; Ginsburg has contributed to Cedille projects in the past, and this project appears to be the brainchild of her daughter-in-law, soprano Patrice Michaels, making the release into something between a family album and a Festklang, one might say. Michaels is not only the singer but the composer of the main work on the album, 'The Long View: A Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Nine Songs'. Michaels sets letters real and imagined, as well as other Ginsburg family documents, concluding with a montage of Ginsburg opinions on the Supreme Court and the speech that gives the album its title. This last, pitched at a more expressive level, is quite inspiring. The appeal of the rest of the songs depends instead on the unexpected effect of hearing prosaic texts set to song. A few songs by other composers are included and draw on this same effect; choice among them, and perhaps the highlight of whole project, is Vivian Fung's 'Pot Roast à la RBG', which is exactly what it sounds like: a recipe. The finale is an excerpt from Wang's opera Scalia/Ginsburg. Sure to delight RBG fans, this is, in its way, a remarkable tribute to a great American.'' --James Manheim / AllMusic
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Ginsburg’s son James is the founder of this wonderful Chicago based recording label and clearly shares in the admiration of this physically diminutive intellectual powerhouse of a justice. The surprise for this writer is to hear the compositional skills of the wonderful soloist Patrice Michaels (also James Ginsburg’s wife) who has long been a welcome musical performer in Chicago. She composed The Long View (2017) for this album and the liner notes list even more compositional accomplishments. The remaining four songs are by Lori Laitman, Vivian Fung, Stacy Garrop, and Derrick Wang. Wang, the only male composer in this group (a symbolically satisfying fact) also happens to be the composer of an opera “Scalia/Ginsburg” (2012-15) which actually premiered in Washington D. C. The other man in this recording is the fine accompanist Kuang-Hao Huang.
We learn from the extensive liner notes that this CD is a labor of love involving many people from various orbits around this important American Justice. The liner notes recount many admiring perspectives on this public figure who so improbably has risen to being a major cultural icon in part by her incisively written dissenting opinions. She has touched many lives and has thus far lived an amazing life herself.
The lyrics which are tastefully produced in a separate booklet come from a variety of very personal sources all carefully recounted here. And “personal” is exactly what this album is about. This is not about politics, it’s about family. There are quite a few lovely photographs included and the cover art by Tom Bachtell with graphic design by Studio Rubric bring this intimate tribute together most successfully. This will be a collector’s item some day.
Ultimately this is a recital disc featuring one of the finest sopranos working today featuring her as a composer as well. It is also an unusually beautiful tribute to a truly great American and, evidenced by the love and admiration here, to a truly beautiful circle of family and friends. Listen to the music, read the words, and feel the love. This is a classic.