Riddle me this

Kairos premieres John B Hedges’ settings of Old English texts in Middletown & New Paltz this weekend

by Lynn Woods
May 05, 2011 11:54 AM | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo of Kairos by Michael Nelson
Photo of Kairos by Michael Nelson
It’s not easy singing in Old English, given the couple of extra letters and foreign-sounding vowels. If anyone can do it, it’s Kairos: a Consort of Singers, artists-in-residence at Holy Cross Monastery, located in West Park. With help from Daniel Kempton, professor of English at SUNY-New Paltz, who’s a specialist in Middle and Old English, and the monastery’s Brother Adam McCoy, who holds a PhD in Old English, the singers have mastered the enunciation of Exeter Riddles. This new choral composition by composer John B Hedges is based on five riddles from the Exeter Book, one of four manuscripts dating from the second half of the tenth century that preserve all the Old English poetry in existence. Kairos will perform the piece at Grace Episcopal Church at 58 North Street in Middletown on Saturday, May 7 at 7:30 p.m. and at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church at 163 Main Street in New Paltz on Sunday, May 8 at 7 p.m.

The riddles, which remain unsolved in the text, relate to nature, battles, an iceberg and bread dough, rich in double entendres and having unusual points of view: In the case of the martial poem, the narrator turns out be not the soldier but the shield, for example. The mood ranges from bawdy to saber-rattling to the mysteriously poetic, according to Edward Lundergan, associate professor of music at SUNY-New Paltz and director of the 16-member musical group. Hedges said that he composed the music in modern classical style, but also included spacing and gestures that refer back to an earlier time, as does the inclusion of a harp.

The piece was specially commissioned by the group for Hedges, whose music has been performed throughout North America, France and England. A faculty member at SUNY-New Paltz, he has conducted concerts at the Centre Georges Pompidou and other prestigious venues. Exeter Riddles isn’t the first of Hedges’ pieces that put words to music: He recently completed A Shipwreck Opera in One Act in collaboration with fiction writer Aimee Bender.

Hedges, who resides in Rosendale with his artist wife, Lynn Palewicz – the two met during residencies at Yaddo – will serve as the Fort Worth Symphony’s composer-in-residence for the 2011/12 season. The Symphony will perform three of his orchestral works, two of them world premieres.

Hedges, who has won numerous awards, has written a wide range of classical pieces. Recent compositions include Prayers of Rain and Wind, a composition written for contrabass soloist Joseph Conyers, which premiered at the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra in January 2008, and On the Good Foot: A Tribute to James Brown, written for the Albany Symphony’s Dogs of Desire. “It’s a portrait – a rediscovery of Brown in my own language of modern classical music,” Hedges said.

Although his father was a rock musician, the composer said that he was always drawn to classical music. “It’s a series of earned moments,” he explained. “Classical has the ability to really take you somewhere, to build a world of your own. It has a much more varied range of sound you can explore.”

At the two a cappella concerts, Kairos will also perform Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G Minor, Robert Schumann’s work for double chorus Vier doppelchorige Gesange, madrigals by Italian Renaissance composers Monteverdi and Gesualdo and Pied Beauty, a piece based on the poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins by local composer and Kairos member Peter Sipple.

Tickets are $15 general admission, $12 for seniors and $5 for students. For information visit or call (845) 256-9114.

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