Starling (2011)

“Starling” was written in 2011 for soprano Lucy McVeigh and cellist David Russell. The piece is inspired by Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” and in particular the poem that protagonist Humbert Humbert writes in a insane asylum after his beloved manages to escape: “Wanted, wanted: Dolores Haze.”

The poem, layered with allusion, quotations, and metaphor, contains a haunting quote from Jonathan Sterne’s “A Sentimental Journey”—“I cannot get out, said the starling.” A bird, imprisoned in a cage, is noticed by a sympathetic passerby who tries to set it free, only to find the cage impossible to open.

In response to this chilling image, I begin with the fragments and quotations of others to create a layered sound poem of memory, imprisonment, and eventual transcendence. Cycles of chaconne-like chord progressions draw musical images of spirals and circles, indexing entrapment but also searching for liberty within strict harmonic confines, and eventually finding freedom in the resonance of a singular pitch.

Many thanks to Lucy McVeigh, David Russell, and Adam Weiner for the use of his pre-recorded voice.

PERFORMANCE HISTORY
April 28, 2011: Wellesley College Ruhlman Conference, Lucy McVeigh, soprano, David Russell, cello, Jenny O. Johnson, electronics
May 5, 2011: Wellesley College Chamber Music Society, Lucy McVeigh, soprano, David Russell, cello, Jenny O. Johnson, electronics
May 8, 2011: Wellesley College Recital Series: Lucy McVeigh, soprano, David Russell, cello, Jenny O. Johnson, electronics
February 16, 2012: AVANT MEDIA FESTIVAL, P. Lucy McVeigh, soprano; Mariel Roberts, cello; Jenny O. Johnson, electronics. The Wild Project, NYC.