Girl in the Snow: A new CD by Rutgers-based composer Scott Ordway

Scott Ordway (Photo by Michael Altobello)

Snow triggers visions of childhood delights: sledding, snow ice cream, red cheeks, and the special muffled resonance of sounds in the snow. The memory of those delights blur as quickly as the snow melts and what we thought we would always remember becomes vague…until the next snow where our brain calls forth sensations of reminiscences rather than specific details.

Scott Ordway was struck by the descriptions of memory written in Edward Bouverie Pusey’s translation of The Confessions of Augustine of Hippo (CE 354-430), which inspired him to create his latest song cycle Girl in the Snow to be released on the ACIS label this month.

The narrator, sung by mezzo-soprano Julia Dawson and accompanied by pianist Anna Naretto, sings of “images buried so deeply in her (the narrator’s) experience that they could never be recalled”. Ordway has traced the narrator’s life in his eight original poems and created three memory plays based on Augustine’s writings. 

The songs form a rich tapestry of sound and color thanks to Ordway’s thorough knowledge of the piano. With imitative music for the swirling snows and quaking of aspens, he provides an atmospheric backdrop to the narrator’s recollections. He composes a stark accompaniment accented with staccato E-flats in the bass line for Memory Play #2, creating a pristine and ghostly chant supported by a minimal piano bass line. The simple ringing chords of The Owl, Asleep in His Tree, voiced beautifully by Anna Naretto, combine with Julia Dawson’s voice which blends seamlessly with the piano. Ordway uses the last A in the keyboard for a sober, percussive tattoo in Memory Play #3. 

Julia Dawson’s mezzo-soprano voice is hauntingly beautiful and her range of high notes is impressive as she glides to a high A-flat in The Mystery of the World. The distinctive colors and tones of her voice in the repeated low E-flats of Memory Play #2 creates a mystical feeling of monastic voices. These nuances of both voice and piano come through clearly in the recording thanks to the skills of engineer and co-producer Alexander Brusencev.  

Scott Ordway’s poetry is admirable – sometimes confusing but always thought-provoking:

Come with me!” I whispered to the trees;
“Come with me!”I whispered to the little birds…
“Come with me this time!”
I whispered to the distant waves,
Far away, where the rivers empty into the sea.
And the trees, so dark, so sharp,
They came with me.
And the little birds, singing with the breath of God,
Which is in them too,
They came with me.
But the distant waves,
So far away, where the rivers empty into the sea.
They waited for me.

(From The Cold, Clean Air and the Great Blue Sky)

Was it the intangibility of waves that kept them from coming?

Other verses are deeply moving: 

They also bring a measure of sadness, the deep and
Beautiful sorrow that binds the world together
And keeps our love from turning overwhelming.
(From The Grove of Quaking Aspens)

The music has swirled around my head like falling snow and the melodies keep popping into my mind. Ordway’s originality shines through every aspect of this music.

(Girl in the Snow. APL85820, Acis Productions LLC) Recorded August 20-24, 2019 in the Großer Saal, Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst – Frankfurt am Main, Germany.)

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