Jocelyn Hagen & Timothy C. Takach
by James Reel
“Every time we think about what this project might lead to,” he says, “we get giddy and excited.”
By “we” he’s including his wife, fellow composer Jocelyn Hagen. And the project is their new joint engagement as True Concord’s composers in residence.
Both Minnesota-based composers are familiar to True Concord’s audience. Just last September and October, True Concord performed Takach’s 65-minute Helios, with elaborate video projections designed by Deborah Johnson. In November 2019 the ensemble gave the Arizona premiere of Hagen’s The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, which also involved video projections. And this January sees the belated premiere of Hagen’s “multimedia symphony” for choirs, soprano solo, chamber orchestra and illuminated portraits, Here I Am. (The work was commissioned by True Concord immediately upon the local success of The Notebooks, but the pandemic delayed its scheduled premieres in 2020 and 2021.)
Co-Composers-in-Residence: Jocelyn Hagen & Timothy C. Takach
HELIOS, September 30-October 2
World Premiere of HERE I AM, January 27-29
“Eric Holtan and True Concord have often been such strong supporters of new music and commissions and second performances that it makes perfect sense they would develop a residency like this,” says Takach. “The artists are ready to dive right into new music, and their audience is right there with them. In fact, the support is coming from the board and the conductor and the artists and the audience all at the same time.”
The joint residency, initially contracted for two years, will include performances of the couple’s music, consultations on other works, help adjudicating True Concord’s annual Stephen Paulus Emerging Composers Competition, and community engagement. Some of this will probably involve them giving workshops as their two-person “a cappella band,” Nation.
“Residencies are great for us,” says Hagen, “because it gives us a longer time to try new things with the ensemble and be more closely involved with the musicians.”
Adds Takach, “It’s also a neat chance for us to connect on a longer timeline with an audience. Instead of the audience getting just one shot at connecting with a composer, we can develop a relationship that lasts a few years. And it gives us time to figure out True Concord from the inside out and give them things we think will be fantastic.”
Engaging two resident composers at the same time is unusual under any circumstances, and until recently Hagen and Takach might have resisted taking on this job together.
Hagen & Takach performing as Nation at the opening of the Here I Am Art Exhibit at Hotel Congress
“Years ago, we didn’t even tell people who knew us as composers that we were married,” says Hagen. “We totally separated our careers from each other. And then in the past six years or so we just decided to not keep it a secret anymore. Now we even write music together.”
Collaborative composition, a tricky prospect both technically and interpersonally, is possible for these two because of their mutual clear-eyed enthusiasm for each other’s results.
“We both have a really deep respect for each other’s work,” says Takach, “both an appreciative respect and a constructive respect; we can weigh in on each other’s work. We also have a good understanding of personal and creative space for each other; we know when the other person needs some time to let an idea steep, and then move forward.”
“But we do each have our own artistic voice and sounds,” Hagen says. “A few years ago we collaborated on a multimovement work called This Is How You Love. Most of the movements we wrote together, but I wrote one by myself and he wrote one by himself, and I can hear the difference between our styles. There are certain cadences that sound very Tim to me, and the way he sets texts is very different from mine.”
Says Takach, “We’ve figured out our artistic voices, and there are certain things that overlap, but the content of what we’re creating is unique to each of us. I feel very spiritual, and one thing I love is texts that allow us to look inward and find out who we are as human beings and how we can care for the world. The flipside of that is there are texts I want to set just for entertainment value. My interest in science fiction and horror genres leads me to just have fun with putting some things on stage.”
Hagen says, “I tend to be very drawn to women’s stories, and powerful women, and poetry that has a feminine spirit but a very strong, empowering spirit.” Takach may have facilitated that interest many years ago; one of the first Christmas presents he gave her was a collection of women’s poems from antiquity to today. And Hagen’s interests have rubbed off on her husband; you may remember that the Jupiter movement of Helios sets a text written not from the Roman god’s point of view, but from that of his wronged wife.
“Charles Anthony Silvestri, the librettist, had the idea to write it as a rage aria from Juno’s perspective,” Takach recalls. “The first draft had her backing away at the end and saying, ‘That’s just the way things are.’ But I put on my Joceyln bracelet and told him that this needs to be more fierce in the end.”
Any competent performance should gratify a composer, but Takach and Hagen are especially pleased by their interactions so far with Eric Holtan and True Concord.
“It’s fun to listen to the group over the course of rehearsals during the week, and fun to see how fast they learn and how fast they inhabit the music in their bodies,” says Takach. “They get it fast.”