Writing Plath Songs was the wildest ride of my composing life thus far. After waiting many months, going through the “proper channels” to get permission to set the texts, in desperation I reached out directly to Plath’s daughter, Frieda Hughes. I had a reply immediately, and was off and running — except I was departing for a 3-week tour European tour with the LA Phil in a few days, and when I returned would have less than two months to write the piece. (And I’m a slow composer!)
The lack of sleep gave me new wrinkles on my forehead, but it was nonetheless an ecstatic process to engage deeply and viscerally with Plath’s uniquely powerful texts. There were many moments of elation, as the intensity of Plath’s vision seemed to be contagious, and I’d step outside for a break, and notice the light on the leaves of plants as if I had never seen light or leaf ever before.
The project was germinated in June 2012 at an intensive seminar with Steven Stucky, who helped me — perhaps disproportionately, with guru-like power — in such a simple, encouraging phrase: “you have good ideas, just go write.” I wrote Poppies in October, my first piece to an octatonic scale, the odd facets of which seemed to fit Plath perfectly. The inspiration of Plath, the new “terrain” of octatonic scales, and the knowledge that the LA Master Chorale “can do anything” resulted in a work with a huge sound palette and range. Nothing half-way with Plath.