Blog

July 2020

Tracey Wimperly wrote a great feature on me on her own blog "Call Me Curious." You can read it here.


June 2020

Remembering Marga Richter (1926-2020)

 Marga Richter in Long Island, 2013
(she hated this photo I took, but I think it captures her spirit and joy of life)

On the evening of June 25, Marga Richter passed away peacefully in her home. Marga was a world-class composer who had much success, especially early in her career, but who was never celebrated like some of her contemporaries. I was lucky enough to call her a friend, colleague and mentor. 

I won't go into her biography here. For that you can check her website  There is also a wonderful biography of her by Sharon Mirchandani. I can't think of another friend of mine who has had a book written about them!

I first met Marga in New York about 2003. A friend of mine was singing in a new opera Marga had composed. I had just co-founded New Music New York and we were working on putting together our first program, Songs of New York, which would feature works by contemporary New York composers. After the opera I introduced myself to Marga and asked if she had any art songs that I might look at. She invited me to her home in Long Island and we read through several songs. I chose one for the concert, but over the years I would sing many of her works, and she even wrote a few especially for me. The song I chose was "Sarah, do not mourn me dead." The text was a letter by Sullivan Ballou, a civil war soldier, written to his wife and child back home. He was killed in battle before the letter could be sent. Her setting captures the homesickness, love and loss found in the letter beautifully. Marga attended the performance and wrote me the loveliest note afterward, writing  “Upon reflection, I find that it was the only perfect performance of any of my pieces that I ever heard! And I mean perfect in every way.” As an artist, that is the absolute highest praise I could ever hope to receive. I performed that song several times since that first performance, and later recorded it commercially. That recording can be found on my Recordings page, but I wanted to share that first live performance, which will always have a special place in my heart (and Marga's).  

Sarah, do not mourn me dead (live performance with pianist Mitchell Cirker, 2003)

After I moved to Vancouver in 2005, Marga and I kept in close touch. I performed many more of her works, with both NMNY and Erato Ensemble. I premiered her epic song-cycle 'dew-drops on a lotus leaf' for tenor/counter-tenor and string quartet. When Marga brought me back to New York to record a CD of her songs, (with pianist Andrea Lodge) we recorded a version of that cycle with piano accompaniment. I also recorded her "Sieben Lieder" on a subsequent visit (with pianist Corey Hamm.) Marga was meticulous; she heard something very specific in her head and wanted her music performed exactly as she imagined it. Unfortunately, she was also hard of hearing so she couldn't always tell how it actually sounded. But that didn't stop her from trying to get the perfect performance!

I have many wonderful memories of Marga. Playing rummy at her kitchen table while drinking Guinness. Discussing her secret boyfriend and their clandestine trysts. Playing through her music and listening to live performances she had on tape. Celebrating the Supreme Court passing marriage equality over breakfast. Complaining about the stupidity of Donald Trump. Taking walks around your Long Island neighbourhood. She was also a huge supporter of my music, and there is no doubt her music influenced mine. She often said we had a mutual admiration fan club. 

I'd like to share one special memory I have of her. I was staying with her during a recording session, and she wanted to go to Best Buy and get some high quality speakers. We went into the speaker showroom to listen. I had some of her music on my iPhone, so I put on her Triple Concerto. We started with the cheaper speakers and she didn't like them at all - she couldn't hear all the instruments clearly. The salesman, a young guy who was very polite, suggested we listen to the best speakers in the store. She sat on the seat in the middle of the room. As soon as she heard her music coming out of those speakers she closed her eyes and started conducting. She was lost in her own world. She kept asking me to skip to different sections of the piece. She would hush us and tell us to listen. She had so much joy on her face. She said she heard things she hadn't heard before. And the salesman was extremely impressed when he found out she wrote the music! Needless to say, she purchased the speakers, and a new tuner as well. I will never forget the look of joy and pride on her face as she listened to her music. 

Marga, I will miss you so much. You would laugh at the ridiculous piece I'm writing to a stupid Trump speech. I had hoped to ask you for one more song. But most of all I will miss just enjoying your company and hearing you talk about your writing, upcoming performances, and your frustrations and joys. You were a wonderful composer and an even better person. Rest in peace. And write some beautiful music for the angels as only you can do. 

Below are some youtube links if you'd like to explore some of Marga's music.

Here is a discussion of her life and work by Sharon Mirchandani (surprisingly to me, it includes  some musical samples sung by me!)

Out of Shadows and Solitude - Seattle Symphony Orchestra

Concerto for Piano and Violas, Cellos and Basses (from an early MGM recording) - William Masselos and the MGM Orchestra

Reverie - Andrea Lodge, piano

Clarinet Sonata (first movement) - Jessica Lindsey, clarinet · Christian Bohnenstengel, piano

Piano Sonata (first movement) - Richard Zimdars, piano

Divers (Diverse) Divertimento (a sample of Marga's lighter side) - performed by Erato Ensemble

Darkening of the Light - Karen Bentley Pollick, viola

Unfortunately, the two pieces she would consider her masterpieces, are not available online at them moment (something I hope to remedy soon). Qhanri, for cello and piano, and Variations and Interludes on Themes from Monteverdi and Bach (Triple Concerto) are absolutely stunning in different ways. Qhanri is spare and contemplative where the Variations are breathtakingly beautiful, dramatic, flashy and masterful. Her orchestration technique is severely underrated. Both these works are virtuosic and well worth searching out. There are a lot more videos on YouTube, and of course my own performances on CD. 

If you've made it this far, thank you so much for reading.  I hope this has allowed you to glimpse just a bit of Marga's magic. 


October 2019 - Evolution of a Song

In the late 90's I was working with a lyricist named Doug Sparks in the Los Angeles area. It was the first time I'd tried to write songs for other artists to sing. We didn't have any specific singer we were thinking of. We were just trying to write some songs and get them to a publisher who would shop them to artists. We never sealed a deal with a publisher, but we got a couple of them recorded through our own connections.

One of the songs we created was "She's Not for Me." Doug wrote the lyrics, then I set them to music. I first created a piano demo, with me singing and playing at the same time. 


We then took my piano demo to a professional demo artist named Sunny Hilden who created a much better-quality recording. She changed the lyric to "He's Not For Me," and added instruments, harmonies, etc. This was the recording we would then use for marketing the song.

 

Through a personal connection, we were able to get the song to singer/songwriter/producer Andrew Gold (he was producing one of our songs for another artist). He recorded it, changing the song to his own style. It was unfortunately never released, but I love what he did with the song.

 

© Copyright William George - Singer/Songwriter/Composer/Voice Instructor/Graphic Designer