National Philharmonic at Strathmore to Premiere “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

The National Philharmonic at Strathmore today announced its new 2019-20 season. On April 18, 2020, conductor Piotr Gajewski will lead the National Philharmonic in the world premiere of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Henry Dehlinger's sweeping rhapsody adapted from the poem by T.S. Eliot and composed especially for the beautiful lyric voice of soprano Danielle Talamantes.

It is part of a concert program called “Music+Prose,” which will explore the connection between music and the written word. Also on the program are Samuel Barber’s Overture to the School for Scandal, Alistair Coleman’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, and Michael Daugherty’s Tales of Hemingway, featuring cellist Zuill Bailey.

Prufrock embodies a 21st century musical language that makes use of eclecticism while suggesting the familiar symphonic American vernacular of 20th century composers like Howard Hanson, Roy Harris and Samuel Barber. The text, first published in 1915, was an entirely new kind of poetry that thrust Eliot onto the modernist stage. To underscore the tension in Eliot’s verse, the composer uses a hybrid voice that synthesizes classical and vernacular styles. Each theme and leitmotif use the melodic and rhythmic contours of Eliot’s stream of consciousness narrative to dictate mood and melodic character. Notable among them is the “Prufrock motif” that heralds the poem’s famous opening line, "Let us go then, you and I." These rich musical fragments are then woven into a meaningful—and dramatic—aural experience.

Extended techniques and semi-aleatoric passages, especially under the expert baton of Maestro Gajewski, help amplify the emotional content. As Prufrock muses upon "the mermaids singing, each to each," for example, Henry combines artificial harmonic glissandi in the cello part—which produces the sound of a flock of seagulls—with an ocean drum, played ad lib, and tubular bells. Woodwinds, harp, and strings support the ensemble. The result is a remarkable simulation of the sounds of the seashore: ocean waves swell and crash to the cawing of seagulls as the mournful toll of a bell buoy heralds the open sea and Prufrock concludes, "I do not think that they will sing to me."

The ending is calibrated to Talamantes’ vocal genius. Brass, percussion, and celesta enter, intensifying the rich orchestral palette. The high note is sustained over seven measures of a dance-like scherzo in 7/8 meter as singer and orchestra build to a magnificent forte fortissimo climax. With the vocal line soaring above the din, the Prufrock motif returns to mark the closing line, "Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”