Amplification

Amplification

By Susan Blackwell Ramsey

There’s no need to be sentimental. Call the heart a lamp burning whale oil or kerosene, clean, bright enough for needlework or reading. Not feeble, not dim, but certainly domestic. Outside, the night bulges with danger, both the prowling, predatory, coming-to- get-you type and the rooted, the lurking, the submerged, to rip the delicate bellies of boats. And the heart, we’ve said, is a lamp. Then certain people, particular jigs of the pulse, some speeds of breathing, create around the heart a Fresnel lens, a system of prisms and mirrors twelve feet high, which reflects, refracts and magnifies that lamp as it floats frictionless on quicksilver, turning, dervish repeating a circuit of joy. Its light now visible twelve miles out to sea.

From composer Griffin Candey:

Amplification takes its name (and concept) from a poem by Michigan composer, Susan Blackwell Ramsey. At the center of the poem stands a metaphor for love as relating to the inner-workings of a lighthouse, specifically by use of Fresnel lenses, which take a small light (usually a candle or a lantern) and reflects it many times over until it becomes the beacon that lights the way for ships. Ramsey describes love in this way – that it takes a small, everyday thing and amplifies it into something that’s “visible twelves miles out to sea.”

Writing for unaccompanied voice — let alone multiple unaccompanied voices — presents certain challenges in conveying forward movement, tempo, location, interrelation. Rather than attempt to force larger textures on these individual instruments, it occurred to me that I should instead lean in the other direction, to give the vocalists quite a bit of leeway in interpretation, tempo, push-and-pull. Most often, letting performers inhabit the work and make it their own is the quickest way to make a piece take on a life that one could not have otherwise conceived – and that’s exactly what has happened with this piece.


Griffin Candey (b. 1988) is an American opera composer dutifully committed to creating vocal and theatrical works that, by approaching forward-thinking subject matter, aim to both expand and preserve those genres.

At the core of Candey’s vocal music is a level of practical vocal finesse that vocalists and interpreters praise for its “prosody that showcases both the words and the singers,” its “intuitive rhythm,” and its “lyricism and emotional depth.”

Candey’s latest opera, Sweets by Kate – described as “hilarious and moving,” “a piece with charming and elaborate complexity,” and “a meaningful and beautiful work of art” – was recently chosen for the 2017 line-up of Fort Worth Opera’s Frontiers Festival. The comic chamber work was commissioned and premiered by the Midwest Institute of Opera (July 2015,) with subsequent productions at Marble City Opera of Knoxville, TN (May 2016) and at OperaRox Productions (July 2017.) 2017 and 2018 will also see the premieres of a broad range of vocal works – chamber song cycles for the Seen / Heard Trio, for Brooke Larimer and the BEO String Quartet, for Hillary LaBonte and the Mid-American Center for Contemporary Music, for San Francisco’s Ann Moss, as well as chamber operas for both Marble City Opera and for Cleveland Opera Theater (in conjunction with Baldwin-Wallace College.)

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