Composer Spotlight: Stacy Garrop

…a flair for vivid orchestration
and a taste for grand epic…

–Albany-Times Union
The music of STACY GARROP is born from the innate ability of a storyteller. Her rich vocabulary – both direct and poignant – wonderfully stretches the arc of any narrative. Be it bold ritualism or the silent desires of the heart, Garrop’s gift lies in her care for dramatic shape.
The urgency of Garrop’s music has not gone unnoticed. This year alone, she has been chosen for the Music Alive Residency with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra, commissioned by Carnegie Hall and the Kronos String Quartet, and received a joint commission from a consortium of fifteen university wind ensembles for a new saxophone concerto. She was also awarded a Barlow Endowment Commission, the Meier Foundation Achievement Award, and won the Boston Choral Ensemble Competition and the Utah Arts Festival Chamber Music Composition Competition.
With over 30 works in our catalog, Garrop’s repertoire has found its way around the world with performances from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, Grant Park Music Festival, Albany Symphony, Aspen Contemporary Music Festival, and the “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Chamber Orchestra. She is also a Cedille Records Recording Artist, with music on nine of their records. We encourage you to peruse some of her highlighted works below, or view her full catalog here.
  • Mythology Suite (2016)
    For Wind Ensemble – 5Fl.(5th dbl. Picc.) 3Ob.(3rd dbl. E.H.) 6Cl. B.Cl. 2Bsn. Cbsn. (or Cb.Cl.)
    S.Sax. A.Sax. T.Sax. B.Sax. – 4Hn. 3Tpt. 2Tbn. B.Tbn. Euph. Tba.; Timp. 4Perc. Hp. Pno.
    Duration: 19′
    Commission: Originally commissioned by the Albany (NY) Symphony Orchestra; arrangement commissioned by the Carthage College Wind Orchestra for the 2017 Japan Tour.
    Premiere: February 16, 2017. Chicago College of the Performing Arts Wind Ensemble, Stephen Squires, conductor; Ganz Hall, Roosevelt University; Chicago, IL.
    Program Note: Mythology Suite
    The Mythology Suite consists of three movements of my Mythology Symphony, arranged for large wind ensemble.

    Movement 1: The Lovely Sirens
    The Sirens were sea nymphs, usually pictured as part woman and part bird, who lived on a secluded island surrounded by rocks. Their enchanting song was irresistible to passing sailors, who were lured to their deaths as their ships were destroyed upon the rocks. The Lovely Sirens presents three ideas: the Sirens’ beautiful song, an unfortunate group of sailors whose course takes them near the island, and the disaster that befalls the sailors. The sailors’ peril is represented by the Morse code S.O.S. signal (three dots, three dashes, and three dots—represented musically by short and long rhythms). The S.O.S. signal grows increasingly more insistent and distressed as it becomes obvious that the sailors, smitten with the voices of the Sirens, are headed for their demise.

    Movement 2: Penelope Waits
    This quiet movement represents Queen Penelope, the faithful wife of Odysseus, as she patiently waits twenty years for her husband’s return from fighting the Trojan Wars. Penelope herself is represented as an oboe. She is accompanied by a chamber orchestra (rather than the entire ensemble) as she keeps at bay the suitors who wish to marry her and inherit her riches.

    Movement 3: Pandora Undone
    This movement is, in turns, both lighthearted and serious. The music depicts a young, naïve Pandora who, while dancing around her house, spies a mysterious box. She tries to resist opening it, but her curiosity ultimately gets the best of her. When she cracks the lid open and looks inside, all evils escape into the world. Dismayed by what she has done, she looks inside the box once more. She discovers hope still in the box and releases it to temper the escaped evils and assuage mankind’s new burden.

    Mythology Symphony (2007-2013)
    For Orchestra
    3(Picc.) 3(dbl. E.H.) 3(dbl. B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) – 4 3 3(B.Tbn.) 1; Timp. 3Perc. Pno. Hp. Str.
    Duration: 43′
    Commission: The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (mvt. I), the Albany (NY) Symphony Orchestra (mvts. III & IV), and the Chicago College of Performing Arts Orchestra (mvts. II & V)
    Premiere: January 27th, 2015. Chicago College of Performing Arts Orchestra, conducted by Alondra de la Parra; Harris Theater for Music and Dance, Chicago, IL.
    Program Note: Mythology Symphony
    1. Becoming Medusa
    Most of us are familiar with the legend of Medusa in which she is a hideous Gorgon with scales for skin, snakes for hair, and a gaze that turns to stone anyone who dares to look into her eyes. When we first encounter Medusa, she is usually on a deserted island with her two sisters, and Perseus has arrived to cut off Medusa’s head. But what about Medusa’s origins? With a little research, I unearthed several accounts of her original form. Some stories portray Medusa as being born a horrific creature; other stories show that Medusa was a human whose features were hideously transformed by the goddess Athena when she seduces, or is seduced by, the god Poseidon in Athena’s temple. Most of these stories agree that Medusa was quite beautiful, and in some account, Medusa boasts that she is lovelier than Athena.

    From these stories and more, I pieced together a version of the Medusa myth which serves as the premise for my tone poem, entitled Becoming Medusa. The piece is comprised of seven sections that are played continuously, labeled in the score as follows: “Terrible Medusa: Anguished, Fierce” introduces our protagonist in her hideous format. Then the piece moves back in time to “Lovely Medusa: Sensual, Alluring” in which she is depicted as a beautiful and somewhat vain woman who boasts of her loveliness to the goddess Athena. “Medusa Seduces Poseidon in Athena’s Temple” is a lively dance in an irregular meter, during which Athena discovers the lovers. “Athena’s Wrath” and “Athena Transforms Medusa” bring the piece to its tumultuous climax. After a grand pause, “Terrible Medusa: Shocked, Devastated” presents Medusa in all her monstrosity. Medusa’s shock at her disfigurement eventually gives way to anger, and finally to a begrudging acceptance of her destiny. The piece concludes with “Resigned, Medusa Retreats into Exile.”

    Musically, Medusa is represented by a solo violin (the concertmaster). When she is lovely, she is accompanied by harp, and her music is very lyrical. But when Medusa is in her transformed state, dissonance surrounds her: strings and woodwinds represent the snakes on her head as they twist and turn around each other, while her piercing eyes are depicted as the discordant interval of a minor 2nd.

    On a final note, I wanted the title of this piece to reflect a double meaning: it needed to present Medusa as a lovely woman, as well as the fact that she goes through a transformation. The word “becoming” lends itself very well to both tasks: in addition to its usual interpretation as a process of change, it also means to have an attractive appearance. Thus, I named the piece Becoming Medusa.

    2. Penelope Waits
    This movement depicts Penelope, the faithful wife of Odysseus, as she patiently waits twenty years for her husband’s return from fighting the Trojan War.

    3. The Lovely Sirens
    The Sirens were sea nymphs, usually pictured to be part woman and part bird, who lived on a secluded island surrounded by rocks. Their enchanting song was all but irresistible to passing sailors, who were lured to their deaths as their ships were destroyed upon the rocks. The Lovely Sirens portrays three ideas: the Sirens’ beautiful song, an unfortunate group of sailors whose course takes them near the island, and the danger that befalls the sailors. This danger is represented by the Morse code S.O.S. signal (three dots, three dashes, and three dots; represented musically by short and long rhythms). The S.O.S. signal gets increasingly more insistent and distressed as it becomes obvious that the sailors are smitten with the voices of the Sirens and are headed for their demise.

    4. The Fates of Man
    The three Sisters of Fate were minor goddesses who were personifications of man’s inescapable destiny. Each Sister had a particular task: Klotho spinned the thread of life; Lakhesis measured the thread; and Atropos cut the thread. While a man’s actions affected various aspects of his life, the actual length was predetermined. The Fates of Man depicts a man who realizes he is nearing the end of his life. He appeals to the three Sisters to give him control over his own destiny, but as they have already measured and cut his thread, they deny his request. The movement ends with the man slowly dying away.

    5. Pandora Undone
    This movement depicts Pandora as she opens a box that unleashes all evils into the world.

    Terra Nostra (2014)
    An Oratorio – Sop. Mezzo-sop. Ten. Bar. Soli; SATB Choir, Children’s Choir;
    1(dbl. Piccolo) 1 1 1 – 1 1 1 0; Perc. Pno. Str.
    Duration: 75′
    Commission: Commissioned by San Francisco Choral Society and the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir.
    Premiere: November 14, 2015. San Francisco Choral Society and the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir; First Universalist Unitarian Church, San Francisco, CA.
    Program Note: Terra Nostra
    Terra Nostra focuses on the relationship between our planet and mankind, how this relationship has shifted over time, and how we can re-establish a harmonious balance. This concept is presented over the course of three parts. Part I: Creation of the World explores various creation myths from different cultures, culminating in a joyous celebration of the beauty of our planet. Part II: The Rise of Humanity examines the achievements of mankind, particularly since the dawn of our Industrial Age, and how these achievements have impacted the planet. Part III: Searching for Balance questions how we can create more awareness for our planet’s plight, re-establish a deeper connection to it, and find a balance for living within our planet’s resources.

    Listen to Audio Samples
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    Thunderwalker (1999)
    For Orchestra – 2(Picc.) 2 2 2 – 2 1 2(B.Tbn.) 0; Timp. 2Perc. Pno. Str.
    Duration: 12′ 30″
    Premiere: May 3rd, 2000. Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Orchestra Hall, Chicago.
    Program Note: Thunderwalker
    Thunderwalker is built on two overlapping edifices. The first encompasses the form of each movement: the first movement is a fugue, the second is a ground bass (passacaglia), and the third is a scherzo-trio. The second abstract structure is derived from what the title suggested to me. I see a thunderwalker as a huge god-like figure who lives in the sky and whose footsteps fall loudly among the clouds. If I were a member of a pre-modern earth society and wanted to get the god-like figure’s attention, I would go through a ritual cleansing ceremony (movement 1), then invoke him over and over again (movement 2) until I had summoned him (movement 3).

    These two structures complement each other: a fugue is a ritual of sorts (it follows a set of procedures, much like what one might do in a cleansing ceremony). Passacaglias, by their very nature, repeat themselves endlessly (like one lost in chanting invocations). This particular passacaglia is interrupted after each repetitive cycle by chaotic, grumbling noises (as if the god is awakening in the skies). The character of a scherzo-trio can range from light and quick to sinister of macabre (I imagine if a god were summoned down to earth, he would appear good to some, sinister to others, and he would move swiftly along the earth?s surface).

    The entire work was spun from the opening fugue motive. the first movement focuses on developing the fugue materials, particularly a minor 3rd – tritone interval pattern. The second movement takes a nine-note pitch pattern that was introduced in the first movement (the pattern consists of a repeating interval pattern of a minor 2nd, followed by a minor 2nd, then by a Major 2nd) and turns it into a nine-chord pattern (each statement of this pattern equals one complete cycle of the passacaglia). Finally, the third movement mutates the nine-note pitch pattern into an eight-note pitch pattern consisting of alternating minor 2nds and Major 2nds, which is known as an octatonic scale.


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  • For Wind Quintet And Double Bass
    Program Note: Bohemian Café
    When James Ginsburg, president of Cedille Records, asked me for a piece in celebration of the label’s 25th anniversary, he suggested an intriguing instrumentation: a woodwind quintet with the addition of a double bass. Jim has been in Prague multiple times over the years, where street musicians (or “buskers”) are plentiful around the city. I personally have never been there, so I went online to see if there was footage of Prague’s buskers. I discovered a wealth of videos featuring musicians of all types – one-man bands, blues and jazz groups, classically trained string players, bagpipers, folk singers, Dixie bands, and even a very talented water goblet performer. As it turns out, Prague has a long and very rich culture of busking. I can see why Jim is enthralled with Prague!

    In my piece, I employ the musicians in various groupings to portray different styles of music. I named the piece Bohemian Café, for when I hear it, I picture myself sitting at an outdoor café in a plaza in Prague, drinking coffee, watching street musicians set up around the plaza, and listening to assorted strands of music wafting through the air.


    For Saxophone Quartet
    Program Note: Flight of Icarus
    One of the first pieces I ever composed was a short saxophone quartet named Soaring Eagle. I was eighteen and played the alto saxophone in high school, so it was quite natural to write a piece that my marching band classmates could play. While that early work has long been forgotten, I have always remembered feeling exhilarated at hearing those four saxophones dipping and weaving around each other as they played the piece’s main theme. When the Capitol Quartet commissioned me for a new work, I decided to revisit the topic of soaring, to see if I could capture the essence of exhilaration once again. Additionally, I recently wrote a choir piece on the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar. One of the poems, Not They Who Soar, came to mind as I began this piece; the haunting theme of that setting serves as the basis for the musical material.

    Flight of Icarus is based on the Greek legend of Daedalus, an architect and engineer, and his son Icarus. On the island of Crete, Daedalus had built a maze for King Minos. Minos imprisoned a Minotaur (a half-bull, half-human creature) within the maze and annually sacrificed fourteen Athenians to the creature. Being an Athenian himself, Daedalus was upset with this arrangement and helped another king to successfully navigate the maze and kill the Minotaur. Minos sent his army after Daedalus in retaliation, but Daedalus was prepared. He and his son Icarus affixed wings crafted of wax and feathers to their backs and took to the sky. Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too low, so the waters would not weigh down the feathers, nor too high for the sun to melt the wax. Icarus, however, was so elated with the thrill of flying that he drew too close to the sun. The wax melted, and Icarus fell to his watery demise.

    Flight of Icarus consists of two movements. Icarus Ascending follows Icarus’ flight toward the sun and subsequent fall; Daedalus Mourns depicts a father’s grief for his lost son.


    Frammenti (2010)
    For Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Contrabass
    Program Note: Frammenti
    Frammenti (Italian for “fragments”) is a set of five miniatures in which each movement is based on one or more musical fragments. In Primo, the woodwinds repeatedly call the rest of the ensemble to join them in their musical celebration. Secondo starts with the entire ensemble playing the same note; the ensemble makes short work of stretching and expanding the note into the extreme high and low registers. Terzo offers a brief repose from the frenetic activity of the previous movements with a slow, haunting melody. In Quarto, the entire ensemble unleashes a maelstrom of fury; they traverse a variety of musical fragments as they storm their way through the movement. The piece concludes with Quinto, in which the ensemble decisively draws the piece to a hushed finale.

    Frammenti was commissioned by the Rembrandt Chamber Players, the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival, Peggy Person, Richard Nunemaker, Robert Spring, and Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society of Wisconsin, Inc., Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes, Artistic Directors.


    Helios (2011)
    For Brass Quintet
    Program Note: Helios
    In Greek mythology, Helios was the god of the sun. His head wreathed in light, he daily drove a chariot drawn by four horses (in some tales, the horses are winged; in others, they are made of fire) across the sky. At the end of each day’s journey, he slept in a golden boat that carried him on the Okeanos River (a fresh water stream that encircled the flat earth) back to his rising place. The cyclic journey of Helios is depicted in this short work for brass quintet. The first half is fast-paced and very energetic, while the second half is slow and serene, representing day and night.


    “Demons and Angels”
    Program Note: String Quartet No. 2
    Disguised demons, forgiving angels, tortured human souls. String Quartet No.2: Demons and Angels tells the story of a man who thought his actions were guided by the forces of good, only to discover that he has lost his mind and wreaked havoc on earth. The first two movements explore the man’s personality: I. Demonic Spirits addresses what he has become, while II. Song of the Angels remembers the goodness in him before he became transformed. III. Inner Demons depicts the man as he loses his mind. The piece concludes with IV. Broken Spirit, as the man faces a life in prison, in which his fleeting thoughts alternate between chaos and the hope of finding redemption by the grace of an angel. This piece was commissioned by Peter Austin and Music in the Loft.


    Program Note: String Quartet No. 4
    Stacy Garrop’s String Quartet No. 4: Illuminations was inspired by five illuminated pages from a medieval Book referred to as “The Hours of Catherine of Cleves.” Books of Hours, the most prolific book of the late Middle Ages, are prayer books for lay people that enable a person to participate privately in the daily round of prayers and devotions that were originally recited only by monks and priests. The main text of a Book of Hours contains a cycle of daily devotions consisting of psalms, lessons from scriptures, hymns, collects and other prayers. Because Books of Hours did not have page numbers or indexes, the illuminations (or illustrations) enabled the owner to quickly find the text needed for reciting the prayers. The quality and number of illuminations, often using silver and gold, depended upon the patron’s ability to pay.

    Catherine (1417-1476), duchess of Guelders and countess of Zutphen, commissioned her Book of Hours and received it around 1442. Today her Book of Hours is considered to be the masterpiece of the finest (although anonymous) Dutch illuminator of the late Middle Ages. “The Hours of Catherine of Cleves” is one of the finest in the collection of Books of Hours in the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City.

    In trying to craft the experience of reading Cleves’ Book of Hours, the composer approached the work similarly to Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. As in Mussorgsky’s work, the audience follows the reader as he or she opens the Book of Hours, studies and reflects upon five illuminations, and then closes the book at the end of prayer.

    Below is a brief description of the five illuminations represented in the quartet:

    Plate 1 – Catherine of Cleves Prays to the Virgin and Child
    The first illumination in Catherine’s book shows her kneeling before the Virgin and Child praying, “O, Mother of God, have mercy on me.” The setting may be the castle chapel in Cleves and the statue at the top center of the panel may be of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of the Cleves castle. Musical angels are on the battlements and coats of arms of Catherine’s ancestors surround the illumination. The composer based this movement on the Gregorian Chant “Ave Maria.”

    Plate 3 – Singing Angels
    Three angels start to sing the hymn “Te Deum Laudamus” (although this hymn is not utilized in the quartet). The beginning words are on the banderol, “We praise thee, O God.” It is thought that this illumination refers to the preceding one, now missing, of the Annunciation to St. Anne (Mother to be of the Virgin Mary). The large open pea pods of the boarder are symbols of fertility. For this plate, the composer envisioned a harmonious chorus of angels and achieved this sound using high string harmonics.

    Plate 24 – Christ Carrying the Cross
    This illumination shows Christ carrying the cross with Simon of Cyrene, St. John and the Virgin Mary behind him. Hanging from Christ’s waist are two blocks of wood with nails that torture his ankles and feet. St. Veronica appears on the left side margin. The music for this plate invokes the sound of Christ’s feet as he slowly walks to his final destination.

    Plate 99 – Mouth of Hell
    This illumination of Hell begins the Office of the Dead. One prayed often for protection from and to prepare for death, which could be sudden and unexpected due in part to the plague and new strains of influenza. This frightening entrance to hell has one mouth with talons and pointed teeth leading to a second fiery mouth with creatures boiling souls in the depths of hell. Around the picture, souls are being tormented while at the top a third mouth of fire is heating caldrons into which souls are cast. At the bottom is a green creature spewing out scrolls with the names of the seven deadly sins. The music captures both the ghoulish glee of the demons as they carry out their tortures, as well as the wailing souls of the unfortunate inmates of hell.

    Plate 35 – Trinity Enthroned
    The Trinity, similar in posture and dress, sit on a throne with the Father on the left, the Son in the middle and the Holy Ghost on the right. The banderoles address death and salvation. The text on this page begins with the plea, “Oh, God, come to my assistance.” In the middle of the text a prayer begins, ”Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.” The nine different colored angels around the throne are thought to represent different orders of celestial beings. The composer sought to represent the majesty and benevolence of the Trinity, represented by a string of three-note chords (one note for each member of the Trinity).

    String Quartet No. 4: Illuminations was commissioned by Nicholas Yasillo in honor of his wife, Susan, who has a passion for learning about Books of Hours.

    –Notes by Susan Yasillo and Stacy Garrop

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  • For Alto Saxophone and Piano
    Program Note: Fragmented Spirit
    i feel
    small bits
    scattered over cement
    glittering specks, dark lines
    i don?t know
    to reassemble myself

    i sound
    open my jaw
    I gurgle, cough, gasp
    a silent, violent scream
    my throat cannot
    its primary function

    a spirit in pieces
    you see it
    strewn everywhere as if on parade
    you have power
    you can stomp on it
    smash it or you can collect the bits
    and teach my hands
    to reshape my tattered spirit
    into vibrance.


    Tantrum (2000)
    For Alto Saxophone and Piano
    Program Note: Tantrum
    Tantrum, for alto saxophone and piano, has the formal structure of a traditional sonata, but its connection with the historical form stops there. The first movement obsesses continuously on a four note figure (introduced immediately following an extended slow introduction). Lost, the second movement, actually began as a piece for voice and piano; it subsequently lost its text, and the saxophone sings forlornly in its place. The third movement takes a quirky bit of music and modulates it up an interval of a perfect fourth every chance it gets. This high energy piece presents a playful challenge for both the saxophonist and pianist.


    Torque (2006)
    For Viola and Piano
    Program Note: Torque
    Torque was commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for violist Viacheslav Dinerchtein. This tour de force for viola and piano consists of two movements that are complete opposites of each other. The first movement, entitled Momentum, starts with the viola and piano aggressively sharing a single note. Things start swirling out of control: the music gains greater and greater tension as the musicians turn and twist their way into ever smaller spirals, right on up to the end of the movement. The second movement, Stasis, offers a peaceful, angelic repose as it gently unwinds the pressure that has been built up by the two instrumentalists.


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    Musical Mythology

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