“[Sky on Swings] was theatrically true and artistically distinguished…Beecher, especially, seemed to be operating with sure instincts…his musical invention is astonishing here”
David Patrick Stearns (Philadelphia Inquirer)
“cleverly devised…an alluring one-act opera”
Vivien Schweitzer (New York Times)
“hauntingly lovely and deeply personal”
Joshua Kosman (San Francisco Chronicle)
“[an] ingenious project”
Heidi Waleson (Wall Street Journal)
“[a] searing oratorio… a work of striking universality.”
Carl Schoonover (Host, WKCR-89.9 FM NY)
“evoking laughter at times, chilling nostalgia and a sense of timelessnes…[And Then I Remember] had a satisfying, complete and paradigm-shifting conclusion.”
Joel Luks (Houston Culture Map)
“In the string quartet, as in the oratorio, Beecher demonstrates his gift for evoking, through elegant musical understatement, the full range of complicated thoughts and feelings a human life can hold…The concert took place more than two weeks ago. I took no notes, yet its impact lingers on…I’m grateful I was able to take part. This was, truly, music on a human scale.”
Susan Scheid (Prufrock’s Dilemma)
“A searingly introspective study on immigrant children, [Sophia’s Forest] was full of vocal lines reflecting psychological depths but also electronic music effects that added greatly to the dreamlike atmosphere.”
David Patrick Stearns (Philadelphia Inquirer)
“What set Beecher’s work apart? His music, Devan said, has ‘dramatic possibility written into it. For me, I heard a storyteller in the music. His musical vocabulary had a fresh sound to it I hadn’t heard before.’ ”
Peter Dobrin (Philadelphia Inquirer) quoting Opera Philadelphia General Director David Devan
“Sky on Swings wasn’t easy. But it was theatrically true and artistically distinguished. Art on this level may be sobering, but this degree of accomplishment is never depressing…Even when it veered into the abstract, nearly everything felt honest about this story of two women in an Alzheimer’s ward, forging a relationship when there might seem that there’s nothing left to forge.
Beecher, especially, seemed to be operating with sure instincts. With an 11-piece orchestra plus electronically generated sound, he broke down the orchestra into nearly every conceivable pairing, utilizing them in ways that were anything but obvious…his musical invention is astonishing here.”
David Patrick Stearns (Philadelphia Inquirer) – September 21, 2018
The result was a triumph for everyone involved….Beecher, who was the company’s first composer-in-residence…has come up with an eloquent, intricate, edgy score that maps the decline of the characters through music, mixing dissonance and gorgeous melody, jazzy inflections and jarring Sprechstimme.
Richard Sasanow (Broadway World) – September 26, 2018
Composer Lembit Beecher and librettist Hannah Moscovitch have created a shattering musical and theatrical evocation of what it feels like to have Alzheimer’s disease. This was opera as real life: In a tour-de-force duo performance, two veteran mezzo-sopranos—Marietta Simpson as Martha, who is far gone in the disease, and Frederica von Stade as Danny, who knows what is happening to her and is in frantic denial—enacted the terror and confusion of not knowing where you are and, even worse, who you are. They were surrounded by the sounds of a murmuring ensemble of four Elders and an 11-member orchestra, led by Geoffrey McDonald, whose unsettled harmonies and repeated intervals poignantly captured the struggles of a mind trying to grasp what’s just out of reach. The 78-minute opera toggles between the distress of losing and the serenity of finding, as the two women, who meet in a care facility, help each other by sinking into a new, shared fantasy of identity.
Heidi Waleson (Wall Street Journal) – September 28, 2018
From the moment Sky on Swings begins, there’s an electric sensation of how vividly music represents the experience of Alzheimer’s. Though there are stretches of lyrical reflection, including two gorgeous scenes for von Stade and Simpson together, these mostly evoke fading memories. More often, an agitated open-endedness can be heard in this very contemporary sound world. A downward sliding motif ends many phrases, and often fragments of melody are heard in disparate instruments (piano, harp) as though wending their way through the orchestra without ever quite joining it.
To their credit, Beecher and Moscovitch do nothing to sugarcoat the awfulness of Alzheimer’s. But they also acknowledge, without sentimentalizing it, that our remaining time here can still be worthwhile…I admired Sky on Swings enormously, and I think it’s a monumental achievement for Opera Philadelphia.
David Fox (Parterre) – September 21, 2018
Given the brutal subject matter, the opera stays remarkably agile, avoiding sentimentality even as it embraces frank sentiment. A small chorus makes swift babble in close harmony; the lines for Danny (Ms. von Stade) begin to disintegrate as her illness progresses. There’s lyrical sweep but modernist angles from the ensemble of 11…there is quiet nobility to the duets near the melancholy end for the two leading ladies, who sing with sensitivity and grace.
Zachary Woolfe (New York Times) – September 24, 2018
“Not to be overlooked…is Sophia’s Forest…I missed it but caught up with a video that verified much of the rapturous reaction I’d heard from others. A searingly introspective study on immigrant children, the opera was full of vocal lines reflecting psychological depths but also electronic music effects that added greatly to the dreamlike atmosphere. The superb soprano Kiera Duffy was a major plus in the leading role.”
David Patrick Stearns (Philadelphia Inquirer’s Best-of-2017 List) – December 26, 2017
The rest of the fine, understated score—atmospheric and sensitively deployed in terms of pacing the sung and spoken material—emerged from elaborately worked musical sculptural “tree” units that Beecher controlled from a computer, seated with the musicians at the rear of the playing space.
David Shengold (Opera News) -December 2017
“The Conference of the Birds…left me admiring the composer’s imagination and extremely excited to hear what he gives us next…the enthusiastic ovation accorded [it] made clear that this was the work that excited the audience the most. And deservedly so: Inspired by a 12th-century Persian epic poem, it’s a powerful picaresque odyssey for 18 strings, no two of their parts alike. So it felt like a celebration of the gifts of each individual among the SPCO’s string players, as solo voices emerged from unexpected places…Whenever a spirit of conformity informs the music, some rebel spirit explodes from the flock. Its tone is sometimes agitated, other times elegiac, but always fascinating. And it contains the most creative use of sandpaper I’ve encountered in a musical work.”
Rob Hubbard (Twin Cities Pioneer Press) April 7, 2018
“In Conference of the Birds, each instrument’s contribution was distinct, but unified. The birds’ takeoff soared, the distance between the earth and sky becoming at once infinite and infinitesimal.”
Zoe Madonna (Boston Globe) – May 19, 2017
“One did not need to know the story of the Conference to admire the proliferation of swooping bird calls in the first movement: the 18 players had individual parts, making for a richness of detail that never became cacophonous. The “birds” become less numerous as the second movement moves from order to disorder and by the end of the third movement only four players remain, the other musicians having “played” sandpaper below them, creating an uncanny rustling static: it was an oddly affecting gesture of self-effacement…[The Conference of the Birds] is worthy of re-hearing, from a composer worth following.”
Brian Schutt (The Boston Musical Intelligencer) – January 16, 2017
“This ingenious project…was the most successful of Gotham’s experiments with performing operas in nontraditional spaces… …Mr. Beecher’s music for the baroque ensemble made artful use of its skills in articulation, layering pizzicatos on tremolos to create an eerie, almost mechanical sound that added to the sense of late-night unease… …the shadowy gallery, with its Virgin and Child statues and other devotional objects, turned the home front into a place where nightmares hide in corners and war is never in the past.”
Heidi Waleson (Wall Street Journal) – March 3, 2014
“..cleverly devised…an alluring one-act opera… …Mr. Beecher’s emotive score featured a period ensemble and electronics, a vivid, eerie sound world that meshed evocatively with the action taking place on the rusty-looking 40-foot-long wooden ramp. Nightmarish fragments and skittering riffs unfolded as Ms. Clayton clawed her way up the ramp and slid down… …There were moments of arresting tension in the half-hour work, whose recitatives and dramatic arc flowed succinctly.
Vivien Schweitzer (The New York Times) – February 27, 2014
“I Have No Stories to Tell You was an inspired choice—a modern take on war—and a compelling counterpoint for the Monterverdi… …Beecher’s opera tells of a woman returning from war with PTSD and her inability to communicate with her husband. The unwinding of her backstory is devastating… …the score…was filled with edgy moments…”
Richard Sasanow (Broadway World Review) – February 28, 2014
“…a richly written onion-like series of layers… …I Have No Stories To Tell You proved to be a harrowing account of insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder. Musically, the work uses hypnotic, repetitive figures, slithering strings, harpsichord and theorbo to underpin its traumatic libretto.”
Paul Pelkonen, (Superconductor) – March, 2014
“One of Beecher’s great gifts is his mastery of understatement, evinced here, among other things, in moments of unaccompanied chorus and the oboe’s winding line to achieve exactly the effect the narrative required and no more. Matched by Hannah Moscovitch’s libretto, Beecher’s music limned the rising tension between Sorrel and Daniel with a sure hand. It’s rare for a libretto and music to work this well together to infuse the dailiness of ordinary language with such power. In a production that was elegantly spare, this excellent ensemble of musicians and singers made palpable the half-submerged, indeterminate landscape of human hearts and minds.”
Susan Scheid (Prufrock’s Dilemma) – March 5, 2014
“I’m eager to hear more operas from Mr. Beecher”
James Jorden (New York Observer) – March 7, 2014
“…hauntingly lyrical, with its imaginative and well-crafted blending of harmonically complex sounds. The more jocular “Nobody Dies Anymore” has an infectious Ravel-like colorful anarchy to it.”
Jim Lowe (Barre/Montpelier Times Argus) – June 1, 2014
“Perhaps the most auspicious sign in an event like this is when the evening’s greatest rewards come in the commissioned world premieres… …At the center of the first half was “These Memories May Be True,” Lembit Beecher’s winsome and imaginative four-movement tribute to his Estonian grandmother and the stories she told him of the old country.
The writing is sparse but evocative, and Beecher twists a half-digested memory of folk material into something deeply personal. Out of the haze of memory in the first two movements emerges a rhythmic dance whose energy befits the title (“Estonian Grandmother Superhero”), only to give way to a hauntingly lovely finale full of swooping string harmonics and fluttery whispers.”
Joshua Kosman (San Francisco Chronicle) – December 9, 2012
“In the string quartet, as in the oratorio, Beecher demonstrates his gift for evoking, through elegant musical understatement, the full range of complicated thoughts and feelings a human life can hold…
…The first movement incorporates an Estonian song Beecher obtained from an old field recording. The melody bends and spirals as the movement progresses. The second movement limns in music “The Legend of the Last Ship (and other collective memories).” Musical conversation among members of the quartet hesitates and resumes, the swapping of tales commingled with unease about what has been and what’s to come.
The music strides into the third movement, indomitable, yet an undercurrent of tenderness breaks through. The last movement is based on a 19th century Estonian folk song, Meil aiaäärne tänavas (Our Childhood Village Lane). Beecher quotes the song in decaying fragments, enticing us to the threshold of nostalgic longing. Plucked strings disturb our reverie, and the song dies away…
…The concert took place more than two weeks ago. I took no notes, yet its impact lingers on. The concert’s emotional truth, like that for the “last ship” tales, doesn’t depend on factual detail, but rather resides in the community of music created among the composers, performers, and listeners who were there. I’m grateful I was able to take part. This was, truly, music on a human scale.”
Susan Scheid (Prufrock’s Dilemma) – October 29, 2014
“Mercado-Wright gave an intriguing performance of two of Lembit Beecher’s “Three Immigrant Songs.” He is a young composer who focuses on vocal writing and dramatic works for groups such as Cantori New York, Gotham Chamber Opera and Opera Philadelphia to name a few. These songs were marvelous, especially in Mercado-Wright’s able hands, making the audience wanting to hear more by the composer.”
Gregory Sullivan Isaacs (Theater Jones) – January 17, 2015
“Lembit Beecher’s searing oratorio…employs microscopic historical narratives, the minutiae of human relations, and the cultural contingencies that shape them, to achieve a work of striking universality.”
Carl Schoonover (host at WKCR-89.9 FM) – January 23, 2012
“The work juxtaposed voice recordings of Beecher’s grandmother with live music, evoking laughter at times, chilling nostalgia and a sense of timelessness… Left with repeating phrases still ringing in my thoughts — “All the dreams were broken,” “Maybe there is no tomorrow,” “Why did it happen this way” and “This has been a journey” — …[And Then I Remember] had a satisfying, complete and paradigm-shifting conclusion.”
Joel Luks (CultureMap Houston) – March 13, 2011
The pièce de résistance turned out…to be Beecher’s ode to his Estonian grandmother Taimi Lepasaar, And Then I Remember… …The dramatic oratorio, as its called in the program, is a propulsive, lyrical journey of remembrance by Beecher’s grandmother who lived in Tartu, a village in Estonia on the eve of WW II… …It’s this old lady’s poetic way of speaking and Beecher’s sympathetic musical seating that carries the work so steadily. Ants is played by the double bass, rich and warm…
…The days of our lives go quickly by, quotes the Kalevipoeg, at full speed the hours pass, mortals find no lasting homeland, wayfarers no peaceful hillock in this earthly life. All the artists involved in the haunting And Then I Remember deserve to be remembered, too.
DL Groover (Dance Source Houston) – March 18, 2011
“At times dramatic, powerful and lyrical, this remarkable tale of survival and rebirth invokes the universal values that bring us together as human beings regardless of age, ethnicity or socio-economic background.”
Nicole Paiement (Conductor) – November 10, 2013
“Bravo! Very touching and warm, with nice musical surprises throughout…[And Then I Remember] had a refreshing directness and lack of fear of emotion.”
William Bolcom (Composer) – April 7, 2010
“Lembit Beecher’s 2009 “Stories from my Grandmother”… feature[s] jagged rhythms and instrumental flights of sound that emerged from a background of precisely controlled chaos”
Phyllis Rosenblum (Santa Cruz Sentinel) – February 9, 2012
“dark, poignant and beautiful”
Doug McNair (Chamber Music Today) – March 28, 2012
“a bristling tapestry…one of the night’s most interesting contributions”
Bruce Hodges (Seen and Heard International) – November 5, 2013
New Music Box profiles Lembit:
Opera Philadelphia’s new festival format and its inaugural O17 Festival, featuring I Have No Stories To Tell You, is previewed in the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Post, News Works, Opera News, Broadway World and Phindie (October 20, 1015)
I Have No Stories To Tell You featured in Matthew Sigman’s article for American Theater Magazine, “Adventures in Indie Music Land” (July 2014)
Open rehearsal review/preview article in the Times Argus for Scrag Mountain Music’s premiere of Looking at Spring: Meditations on Aging (June 1, 2014)
Amy Lilly describes the collaborative genesis of Looking at Spring: Meditations on Aging in Seven Days (April 2, 2014)
David Patrick Stearns writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer about Opera Philadelphia’s Double Exposure, featuring scenes by Lembit and Missy Mazzoli (March 28, 2014)
Michael Cooper previews I Have No Stories To Tell You in the New York Times (February 25, 2014)
George Grella previews I Have No Stories To Tell You in an article about Gotham Chamber Opera in the New York Classical Review (February 24, 2014)
Gotham Chamber Opera interviews Lembit about I Have No Stories To Tell You (February 4, 2014)
The Sound of Opera Today: Lembit interviewed along with Missy Mazzoli and Ana Sokolovic by Marty Moss-Coane on WHYY’s RadioTimes.
Heidi Waleson previews I Have No Stories To Tell You in a Classical Voice North America article about the Met Museum’s ambitious series of site-specific concerts (September 18, 2013)
International Composer interviews Lembit Beecher, focusing on Music for Bayside and the Quintet of the America’s Memory Project. (Summer 2013)
The Prufrock’s Dilemma blog profiles Lembit (October 22, 2012)
Anne Midgette introduces Lembit’s Piano Trio in a Washington Post blog post. (April 5, 2012)
Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Peter Dobrin announces Lembit Beecher as Opera Philadelphia’s first composer in residence. (September 13, 2011)