Last week, the Los Angeles Philharmonic played Peter Lieberson’s beautiful piece, Neruda Songs, a setting of five sonnets by Pablo Neruda written in 2005 for his wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Lorraine passed away in July, 2006 from breast cancer, but in her too-short career accomplished so much and became one of the most brilliant voices we’ve ever had the chance to hear. I wrote a small piece upon her death, which summed up the loss that so many felt when she died.
I remember seeing the look on Esa-Pekka’s face just before one of our first rehearsals for John Adams’ El Nino in March, 2003. He had just had a run-through with Lorraine in his dressing room and his normally unflappable demeanor was replaced by a gushing look of amazement as he confided backstage to several players, “I’ve just had the most amazing concert in my room.”
Esa-Pekka and the orchestra premiered Neruda Songs in May, 2005 with Lorraine singing and Peter participating in an onstage conversation with EP regarding the piece and Peter’s inspiration for it. Although I didn’t play Neruda Songs that night (there is no part for my instrument in the orchestration) I was onstage to play excerpts from Stravinsky’s Agon, which Peter cited as an influence.
Peter’s father was Goddard Lieberson, the long-time president of Columbia Records who signed so many artists to that label and built it into a powerhouse of its time. During his conversation, Peter recounted that while growing up the house was always full of musical luminaries for visits and dinner. Shortly after Stravinsky had immigrated to this country, Goddard sent an invitation. He was so very concerned with the composer’s well-being in America that he gifted him that evening with a rather large book, the voluminous Tax Code of the United States. The maestro accepted the gift quite graciously as any guest would. Several weeks later when Goddard was speaking to Stravinsky on the phone, he asked him if he had enjoyed the book. Igor replied, “Yes, and I cried on every page.”