Screen Shot 2019-04-10 at 11.55.08 PM.png

Jeff quartets

A memorial to our co-founder, Jeff Quartets is a concert-length set of fifteen new works for four voices, presented as a journey over an evening. Unlike many of the works we sing, with divisi ranging from 8 to 24 voices, the quartets are for 4 parts only; a simple tribute to a musical form Jeff loved. 


Learn more about each Jeff Quartet

make peace - David Lang
Sumptuous Planet - David Shapiro
Dear World - Lansing D. McLoskey
Empire of Crystal - Benjamin C.S. Boyle
The Beautiful Land of Nod - Robert Convery
Gentle Soul, Find Peace - Lewis Spratlan
Yes, I Am Your Angel - Gabriel Jackson
What It Might Say - Ted Hearne

You Are Most Welcome - Kile Smith
First Pink - Paul Fowler
Ahania Weeping - Louis Andriessen
For Orpheus - William Brooks
A Jeff Quartet for 4 Voices - Bo Holten
Thousand Waves - Santa Ratniece
Translation - Ēriks Ešenvalds

We discovered Lansing's music in 2008 and immediately reached out to program something in June 2009 for the second Month of Moderns. That something was Burning Chariots, a work in 12 languages, with a line from Jeremiah that really resonated: "Do no violence to the foreigner, the fatherless, nor the widow; neither shed innocent blood..." Soon after, we asked Lansing to write a new work for The Levine Project (2010). What we received was really compelling and thoughtful: The Memory of Rain, with a part for Crossing organist Scott Dettra. It includes this wonderful Levine invention, referring to the indifference of clouds, that we all still love today: "They should be beaten every morning / They should be boiled and bitten like spoons."

Shortly after The Memory of Rain, I set out to make a commission for a choir I was conducting in Cincinnati, determined to have a piece on words of Wole Soyinka - a work that looked at zealotry and how we treat each other. Lansing wrote that 10-minute work in 2011 and it immediately felt to me like the beginning of a big work - a very big work. It eventually became, with the longtime curation of The Crossing, the 70-minute oratorio Zealot Canticles that won the 2019 Grammy for Best Choral Performance. Full of strong poetry, prose, and excerpts of Soyinka's speeches, the final movement observes, "What is on fire today is not only within the mind, but the very nation space in which we all draw breath."

This leads us to Lansing's Jeff Quartet, with yet another memorable literary phrase: "There is a forest which isn't a forest/ just a collection of trees/They call them 'The Trees of the Lonely.'" Right in the middle of our now 10-year friendship with Lansing, we lost Jeff. Zealot Canticles was still an idea. It's interesting to think of what Jeff knew when he left us - the plans we had that landed as expected, those that developed in ways we couldn't have guessed, and those that happened because he left us, like Jeff Quartets.

Dear World - Lansing McLoskey

First Pink - Paul Fowler

 Our connection to Paul Fowler goes back to his work "Breath", a virtuosic setting of a Philip Levine poem that was written for The Levine Project in 2010 and featured on our first 'solo' CD, "It is Time".  It demonstrates an acute ear for the sound of The Crossing, still new in those early days. "Breath" inspired a long and ongoing relationship that includes two works for women's choir on our 2011 CD "I want to live", this Jeff Quartet, and a reprise of "Breath" for our 10th Anniversary Season.  

Paul's is a richly varied musical language; the Colorado landscape of his home and his keen interest in Buddhism inform his works and the philosophy behind them.  Serenity balances with desire. Technique weaves together fragile threads.  The moment is everything.  Thus, his Jeff Quartet, "First Pink", begins and returns to the three little words that draw us into the world of this memorial:  "in the loss." 

Ted Hearne was coming into focus at The Crossing in 2012 when we presented his work in a pre-election concert; the success of "Privilege" inspired us to commission a major work addressing political topics dear to Jeff’s heart and intellect.  The result, "Sound from the Bench", was premiered at The Month of Moderns 2014. Since then we've gotten a lot of mileage out of it -- we recorded it in August 2016 and that CD was released in March 2017, and we toured it to the Philly Fringe Festival, the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston, and National Sawdust in Brooklyn. 

When the idea of Jeff Quartets came to us, we were in the middle of preparing for "Sound from the Bench". It was a really painful time for The Crossing family.  Ted's response? To set a text about how an infant processes 'finding' and 'losing' its mother.  Grappling with loss.  Rejoicing in union.  Surviving.  Exactly where we were.  

What It Might Say - Ted Hearne

The Beautiful Land of Nod -
Robert Convery

From Donald:  Bob Convery and I have been friends since our days in Spoleto, Italy in the late 80s.  I will always remember the amazing conversation we had upstairs in Spoleto's Teatro Nuovo discussing a commission that was supposed to be the third poem of Hart Crane's Voyages. Sitting at the little, ancient table he used for librarian work at the Spoleto Festival, Bob confessed he'd fallen in love with Crane's entire six-poem cycle and he shyly asked if perhaps it would be OK to set the whole thing...  He wrote an extraordinary 1/2 hour work celebrates its 23rd birthday this June with a recording and performance in The Month of Moderns. 
Jeff sang in Spoleto with both The Westminster Choir and The Crossing and he was in the world premiere of Bob’s Christmas Daybreak with The Bridge Ensemble in Philadelphia in 1997. That beautiful work became the title track of The Crossing’s Christmas CD in 2013 – a recording that was in memory Jeff's friend Ann Stookey.  We couldn't imagine then that we'd be asking Bob to write a work in memory of Jeff, and, while we'd rather have Jeff and not these memorial pieces, we're certainly fortunate to have this intimate, bittersweet gift from Bob as a part of Jeff Quartets.

Ēriks Ešenvalds has been a longtime friend of The Crossing, beginning in 2010 with the US premiere of "Sun Dogs". Since that time, his music has seeped into the core essence of The Crossing, with "Stars", "The Legend of the Walled-in Woman", "Northern Lights", "O salutaris", and the U.S. premiere of "Long Road". We're also grateful to Ēriks for introducing us to fellow Latvian composer Santa Ratniece.

Jeff was instrumental in bringing Ēriks here to play piano in the world premiere of his "Seneca’s Zodiac", written for our Seneca Sounds project in The Month of Moderns Festival 2011. When Jeff passed, Ēriks' message of condolence was among our first received.

The text for Ēriks’ Quartet is by Oregon poet Laureate Paulann Petersen; it focuses on the moon, noticing that it seems to be waiting for us to describe it in art – like a poem, waiting to be found. In Peterson's words and Ēriks' music we are reminded of the ephemerality of our lives set against the quiet eternity of the universe.

Amusingly, Eriks didn't write a quartet! He wrote a solo quartet above a five-voice choir, the members of which play tuned water glasses! So, it takes at least nine voices to pull off his 'quartet.' But, we're grateful for all the voices, because there is a lot of thought and a lot of love in this work – and a lot of ear toward The Crossing in its composition.

Translation - Ēriks Ešenvalds

A Jeff Quartet for 4 Voices - Bo Holten

Back in 2008, when preparing our first Month of Moderns, we decided to try a "season-featured composer" as a kind of experiment. Donald had discovered Bo's work through his residency at the BBC Singers and felt it a composing voice curiously absent from the scene in the U.S. We presented four of his works and he came to visit us that summer--our first visiting artist from Europe!--to hear his marvelous 24-voice motet "In nomine" and the kooky, virtuosic "Rain and Rush and Rosebush".

Among the most endearing aspects of Bo Holten's successful Jeff Quartet (beloved by both audience and singers alike), is its manner of delivery. In a time when we receive all our new works typeset in Finale or similar software, Bo wrote his Quartet by hand and then sent us photos of it laid out on his dining room table! The red-striped table cloth screams Scandinavia. Take a look by clicking here.

Aptly titled, a JEFF QUARTET is a bittersweet madrigal that, for us, captures a very personal history, yet, with its roots melding Lutheran Chorales and Elizabethan counterpoint, is a universal outpouring of joy and sorrow.

David Shapiro has been a kind of resident composer for The Crossing all along His It is Time is the title track of our first CD in 2010, for which he also composed The Years from You to Me (on a Celan translation by his wife Ulrike). David composed Et incarnatus est for Christmas 2007 and his A Century of Aprils was featured in our Month of Moderns 2015.  That work was written for The Bridge Ensemble in 1997; so, that's twenty years of collaborations that also includes a huge orchestra/chorus work, On the meeting of Garcia Lorca and Hart Crane, written for the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia in 2001.  

David knew Jeff well and knew that he was a great fan of Richard Dawkins and his progressive mixture of science, wonder, spirituality, and atheism.  For his Jeff Quartet, David set a classic quote of the famed evolutionary biologist in a brief work that moves effortlessly from mystery to exuberance to wonder.  

Sumptuous Planet - David Shapiro

Yes, I Am Your Angel - Gabriel Jackson

At first it may seem an odd choice for a memorial piece - a poem from a Latvian poet that answers a poem by Beat poet Alan Ginsberg, which itself addresses Walt Whitman and Garcia Lorca.  But the poem is immensely literary, like Jeff, and, Ieva Lešinska's translation brilliantly captures poet Kārlis Vērdinš reverence of those artists who came before him.  In fact, the supermarket boy immortalized by Ginberg in his famed poem "A Supermarket in California," in his observations of the commercialized world in which he lives, ramps up Ginsberg's dismay to a cultured - and at times comic - cynicism.  Jeff would have approved and related.

Of course, Gabriel Jackson's unique compositional voice tightens the screws on this already taut and compact poem, and the result is a work that is clearly written for our singers - full of joy and pain, hope and pessimism.