Portrait of Aaron Jay Kernis

Ensemble 20/21 | March 25, 2023 8:00 p.m.

Acclaimed by The New York Times for his “fearless originality [and] powerful voice,” the work of Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy Award-winning composer Aaron Jay Kernis is eclectic in its scope and influences, drawing on a wide spectrum of inspirational sources, from cantorial music to jazz, salsa, hip-hop, and disco. His recent 2022 opus, Earth, was praised by Classical Voice North America as “a rich work whose urgency must be heard,” and Curtis is pleased to present the East Coast premiere as part of the final Ensemble 20/21 concert of the season. 

Created in collaboration with poet and agricultural researcher Kai Hoffman-Krull, with additional words by William Wadsworth, this lush, melancholic piece was written in response to the global environmental crisis. Through vignettes, Earth follows the life of a farmer as it explores how those who depend upon the land must adapt to the rapidly shifting threats of climate change. Opening with the line, “Why are seasons no longer the seasons of before?” Kernis’s work grapples with one of the most polarizing issues of our time. It draws the audience in, inviting listeners to contemplate a controversial, civilization-threatening topic, and reflect upon their daily actions, motivating positive and impactful environmental behavior. 

Christina Rossetti’s 1862 poem Goblin Market has long been analyzed, dissected, and discussed by literary and social critics alike. Contemporaries of the Victoria-era writer might have regarded her audacious poem as a simple fairy tale or moral fable. However, this inventive story about two sisters, Laurie and Lizzie, who find themselves propositioned by goblins and tempted with luscious, forbidden” fruit, continues to spark debate. As a composer, Kernis joins the throngs of interpreters across the ages with an inspired setting of the poem for narrator and chamber orchestra.

Join Ensemble 20/21, as they bring to life Kernis’s intoxicating score, one that captures the frightening bustle of the fruit seller’s market, the menacing, grotesque goblins, and the plight of the two sisters. Is this an allegory of protofeminism, an allusion to Genesis and the Garden of Eden, a critique of advertising in pre-capitalist England, a discussion about the psychology of the divided self, or a commentary on feminine sexuality in the nineteenth century? While the inspiration for Rossetti’s poem might remain somewhat of a mystery, its themes of desire and repression continue to resonate in the twenty-first century. 

Goblin Market
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  • Pulitzer Prize and Grammy-Award winning composer Aaron Jay Kernis draws inspiration from a vast palette of sources. He has been praised for his “fearless originality [and] powerful voice” (The New York Times).

    Among the most esteemed musical figures of his generation, Kernis is dedicated to “creating music which can be meaningful to other people’s lives, and extend communication among us to make an emotional connection with listeners – while frequently challenging audiences and performers alike.” (https://aaronjaykernis.com/)

  • Ensemble 20/21’s repertoire features works from the 20th and 21st centuries. With bold collaborations and striking productions, Ensemble 20/21 embraces the cutting edge of contemporary classical music through the highest level of artistry.

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