Ballads of the Borderland


Every family has a story to tell. These stories are given depth and meaning across generations as families migrate: leaving behind one's ancestral home and assimilating into new environs. The South Texas region is a land of borders, crossroads, the convergence of great cultures. In this exciting new work, Ballads of the Borderland, I tell some of these great stories and myths of memory, movement, and assimilation across the border region. I collaborated with the award winning SOLI Ensemble, the Children's Chorus of San Antonio, and the San Antonio Chamber Choir in the form of a secular cantata. Powerful texts come from poets and personal accounts of residents from the region. The work premiered in San Antonio on February 27, 2017.  

The second half of the program was dedicated in full to Ballads of the Borderland, a chamber cantata commemorating San Antonio by award-winning composer and UTSA faculty member, Ethan Wickman. Composed in three sections- “Ballads of the Earth,” Ballads of Light,” and “Ballads of the Air”- the piece interwove stories of human pathos and Texan landscapes by San Antonio poets John Phillip Santos and Carmen Tafolla, among others. Joseph Causby conducted the Children’s Chorus of San Antonio, Chamber Choir, SOLI, and mezzo-soprano soloist Tynan Davis in this world premiere.

SOLI opened up “Ballads of the Earth” sounding big as a Brahma bull, energetic and bright with perpetual pulse. When the choir began to sing, I chanced a glance at Wickman sitting across from me in the audience and saw him rapt with attention, mouthing along with the singers and nodding his head to the landing of strong beats. Tynan Davis then drew me in as she stood and sang “People of the Earth” with operatic projection and vibrato, followed by SOLI and choir in “Peregrinos.” Part one ended with empty sounding chords ringing mysteriously through the room. “Ballads of Light” commenced with a twenty-first-century scherzo that reminded me of classic cocktails reinvented with modern techniques and ingredients. The instrumentalists rose to the occasion and performed with a grit unknown to Haydn and Mozart. “Ballads of the Air,” beginning with an interlude more atmospheric than tonal in its rhythmic interplay, led into “Elegy,” featuring Ms. Davis. At first, “Elegy” felt like vertigo with its quick shifts of tonal center, but it soon transformed into a grief stricken, full-ensemble wave of sound that drastically dropped in volume to the pure tone of Children’s Chorus. The effect was like a question so good that to answer it would defeat the purpose. “Something about the Clouds” and “Twilight Echoes” were beautiful in their inlaid chromaticism, paving the way for “A Legend,” a finale as serious as the business end of a .45. Loud, full, completely enveloping, the climax it came to was worthy of an all caps WOW.
— Jessica Goldbaum, Texas Public Radio