The seven volumes of George Crumb’s American Songbooks are the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer’s explorations of America’s folk song heritage that include stunning transformations of African-American spirituals, Appalachian ballads, Native American chants, New England hymns, Southern revival songs, Western cowboy tunes, and in one volume, more popular folk music by Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger.
Each volume was written for, dedicated to, premiered and recorded first by Orchestra 2001 as it emerged from Mr. Crumb’s suburban Philadelphia studio over a period of a decade. There are few examples in modern classical music in which a composer of such stature has written so much music for a specific ensemble. We believe this cycle to be one of the most unique and beautiful celebrations of America's folk heritage any artist has ever conceived.
Volume I, The River of Life (2003) – Songs of Joy, and Sorrow – A Cycle of Hymns, Spirituals and Revival Tunes for Voice, Percussion Quartet, and Amplified Piano, contains nine of Crumb’s sometimes haunting, sometimes hilarious, always magical settings of American folk songs surrounded by the myriad colors of his astonishing music.
The River of Life is scored for more than 130 different percussion instruments including bosun’s (boatswain) whistle, log drums, Appalachian musical saw, Chinese cymbals and temple gongs, Japanese temple bells and kabuki blocks, Tibetan prayer stones, Indian ankle bells, Thai wooden buffalo bells, Cambodian anklung, frog voice guïro, Moroccan bendir, Swiss almglocken (large cowbells), water-tuned crystal goblets, toy piano, and a number of instruments played underwater.
Audience members of all ages are invited on stage after the performance for an informal Percussion Petting Zoo: come see the instruments up close!