Strauss with a New RiverArts 

Soprano Allison Charney (photo courtesy of RiverArts)

Can music be translated? If it’s a song, the words can be translated from the original language. But one might think that a note is a note, and it can’t be changed without altering the composition. Well, a musical translation is exactly what the audience will experience at the world premiere of a new arrangement of Richard Strauss’s Last Four Songs at St. Barnabas Church in Ardsley on March 6.

Commissioned by RiverArts, this new piece by Paul Brantley is a completely original rendering of Strauss’s much-revered work, and yet one that remains entirely faithful to the earlier composition. 

Last Four Songs, which was first performed only after Strauss’s death, is scored for soprano voice accompanied by an orchestra of more than 100 players. However, Brantley’s translation was created for a chamber ensemble of eight players, including voice.

Doug Coe, Co-Producer of the RiverArts Chamber Music Series, prefers to refer to Brantley’s new work as a translation rather than a reduction or an adaptation: “Brantley first had to get into Strauss’s skin, and then ask himself the question: ‘If I were Strauss, and I wanted to do this piece with seven instruments, what would I do?’ So it becomes a new piece in that it is re-conceived, while at the same time the original lines and harmonies are preserved.” 

With so few musicians, the soprano becomes part of the ensemble rather than a soloist. Peter Seidenberg, Artistic Director of the RiverArts Chamber Music Series who will also be the cellist for the performance, describes the new work as being like a choral piece, in that each instrument has a distinct and nuanced role. “What’s really beautiful in Paul Brantley’s version is that each instrument becomes a solo voice, yet also retains its own color palette and prominence.”

Seidenberg is excited that this world premiere will be performed by a top-notch ensemble of players with wide experience in both the worlds of opera and chamber music. Soprano Allison Charney will not only perform, but has contributed to the project in her capacity as Director of PREformances Chamber Music Collaborative, which has partnered with RiverArts to bring the project to fruition. Seidenberg hopes that the audience will not only be enthralled and entertained, but “transformed and transported by the music to a different time and a different world.”

In keeping with RiverArts’s long-standing interest in what Coe calls “the beloved intersection of words and music,” the performance will include a reading of the texts of the four songs by renowned actor and audio narrator Edoardo Ballerini. 

The afternoon event will also include a performance of Brahms’s Clarinet Trio. “We don’t often have a clarinet in our ensembles, so we are thrilled to be able to take advantage of that,” Coe says. The clarinet trio is also a late work by a master composer, giving the audience the opportunity to hear two contrasting views of the autumn of life. 

Rounding out the program will be Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale, a three-instrument version, translated by Stravinsky himself, from his original work for seven players.

A version of this article first appeared in the March 2022 issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at​​​​

About MJ Territo

Performance: MJ Territo is the founder of the Ladies Day Jazz Ensemble, a group of women musicians dedicated to discovering and performing the compositions of classic and contemporary jazz women.  With Ladies Day and other jazz groups, she is a frequent performer in the tri-state area.  MJ’s jazz ensembles present a variety of jazz standards as well as original compositions and collaborations.  She especially enjoys finding and singing forgotten gems from the Great American Songbook and the jazz standard repertoire.  Composer/Lyricist: MJ collaborates frequently as a lyricist with jazz composers, and also writes her own songs.  Her collaboration with composer Linda Presgrave, “The Bird of Ceret (The Story)” appears in Along the Path, an album of Presgrave’s original compositions, released on January 2015 on Metropolitan Records.  MJ is a member of ASCAP. Music Education: As a music educator MJ focuses on the joy in the moment, and strives to provide an opportunity for students of all ages and abilities to find their unique voices and to make music with comfort and confidence. MJ is proud to be on the Teaching Artist Roster of ArtsWestchester, and is available for jazz residencies for students of all ages, as well as for early childhood music residencies and music workshops for early childhood educators. She is also on the Teaching Artist Roster of Lifetime Arts (, at the intersection of aging and the arts, and is available to work with older adults. In her private studio, MJ works with vocal jazz students, particularly in the areas of improvisation (scat singing), repertoire selection, and chart preparation.

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