Arts and Culture | Local

Israeli soprano, Jewish composer to debut songs from Rumi poetry at festival

Hila Plitmann
Richard Danielpour

The Tucson Desert Song Festival celebrates ‘The American Voice’ in its eighth annual fest, Jan. 15-Feb. 16. This year marks the first in TDSF’s series of composer commissions. Israeli soprano Hila Plitmann will premiere “Songs of Love and Loss,” commissioned for this festival and written by American composer Richard Danielpour, on Jan. 17. “Richard is one of the greatest composers of our time, classically speaking,” Plitmann says. “He has the ability to take you for an emotional journey. The way he paints with his music and the melodic capacity that’s always flowing is so beautiful in everything he does.”

“TDSF’s 2020 roster of artists is the most stellar in our history,” says George Hanson, festival coordinator. “With American icons like Renée Fleming and Thomas Hampson and rising stars like Italian soprano Federica Lombardi, Tucson will be the cultural destination for lovers of great singing.” Andrea Crane, the festival’s treasurer, adds, “Having Richard’s composition premiere in Tucson with Hila as the featured soprano is a tremendous accomplishment for the song festival and a true gift to Tucson.” “Songs of Love and Loss” is made possible through a gift from Wesley Green of Green Valley as part of the Wesley Green Composer Project.

Danielpour, who is of Persian Jewish heritage, based his composition on texts written by the Persian poet Jalal Al-Din Rumi, from “The Rubaiyat,” he told the AJP. “My parents were born in Iran and although I was born in the U.S., Persian culture has been ever-present throughout my life. It is only relatively recently that I have begun to set text in Farsi, but I find the endeavor most rewarding and then it brings me back to my essential roots.”

Plitmann shares his love for the poet. “Rumi is so unique in that capacity to open a person’s heart and leave you to contemplate. This will be sung in Farsi … being in the original language it’s written in, the magic is fully there. The way this music is set, it is threaded and sewn into the language,” she told the AJP.

The collection of five songs are from five distinctively different poems. “The entire arc of the work is about love, loss, and the eventual sense of renewal that sometimes follows. The work was written expressly for Plitmann who has sung a great deal of my work over the last decade,” Danielpour says.

“Most pieces are written as commissions that I was later attached to,” Plitmann says. “For this one, we sat over lunch one day and talked about Rumi. Richard said, ‘Maybe I can write a song-cycle for you.’ This will go deeply into what my voice can do. We have a mystical and spiritual connection that has carried us through our journey. A lot has happened through kismet.”

Grammy award-winning vocalist and actress Plitmann is known worldwide for her musicianship, light voice, expressive quality, and the ability to perform challenging new work. She has performed with many ensembles worldwide, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, and the London Symphony Orchestra.

Serving as the festival’s artist-in-residence, award-winning composer Danielpour is among the most recorded composers of his generation. In 2016, Danielpour had seven world premieres in the United States. Most notable among them were “Percussion Concerto” with the New Jersey Symphony, his ballet “Layla and the Majnun” for the Nashville Ballet, and most recently, “Talking to Aphrodite,” written in collaboration with Erica Jong and premiered by the Sejong Soloists and Sarah Shafer at Carnegie Hall.

Among his other commissions are celebrated artists such as Yo-Yo Ma, Jessye Norman, Dawn Upshaw, Emanuel Ax, Gil Shaham, Frederica von Stade, the Guarneri and Emerson String Quartets, the New York City and Pacific Northwest
ballets, and institutions such as the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia, and Vienna Chamber orchestras.

With Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, Danielpour created his first opera, “Margaret Garner.” He has received the American Academy of Arts & Letters Charles Ives Fellowship, a Guggenheim Award, Bearns Prize from Columbia University, and fellowships and residencies from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Copland House, and the American Academies in Berlin and Rome. He is on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music and Curtis Institute.

Plitmann, who has soloed in many world premieres, is emerging as a crossover artist, with her own songs and arrangements on YouTube and in live concert. Recordings include Hans Zimmer’s Grammy-winning soundtrack for “The Da Vinci Code,” Eric Whitacre’s “Good Night Moon,” and Oscar winner John Corigliano’s song-cycle “Mr. Tambourine Man” with the Buffalo Symphony, for which she won the best female vocalist Grammy.

“Songs of Love and Loss” with Plitmann and a string septet will premiere at the University of Arizona Fred Fox School of Music, Holsclaw Hall, 1017 N. Olive Road, on Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. Although tickets are free, seat reservations are essential. For details on this and other festival events and performances, go to