Tennessee State Museum and Nashville Opera to Present Performance of Samuel Barber/James Agee Composition, “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.”

Barber’s composition, based on Agee’s prose, to help close out Museum’s quilt exhibition on Sunday, July 7
Thursday, June 13, 2019 | 02:24pm
Claire Boling and Melissa Rose

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – June 13, 2019 – The Tennessee State Museum, in partnership with Nashville Opera, will present a
free performance for voice and piano of American composer Samuel Barber’s 1947 classic, “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” in the Grand Hall of the Museum on Sunday, July 7, 2019 at 2:00 p.m. The composition, based on Knoxville-native James Agee’s 1938 prose poem of the same name, will help mark the final day of the Museum exhibition, Between the Layers: Art and Story in Tennessee Quilts. An excerpt of Agee’s piece appears in the exhibition.

“On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there … They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near.” -- James Agee, "Knoxville: Summer of 1915"

Barber (1910-1981), when discussing his inspiration for his 1947 composition, remarked that “the summer evening (Agee) describes in his native Southern town reminded me so much of similar evenings when I was a child at home.” The work quickly became a beloved part of the soprano repertoire; its evocation of small-town America resonating with diverse performing artists. At the Museum on July 7, Barber’s piece will be performed by Soprano Claire Boling and pianist Melissa Rose. Between the Layers: Art and Story in Tennessee Quilts, selected from the Tennessee State Museum’s vast collection of quilts, closes on July 7, 2019. It highlights the artistry and diversity of the state’s quilt makers and the great variety of stories their quilts tell.

“Agee is one of Tennessee’s most significant writers,” said Ashley Howell, the Museum’s executive director. “’Knoxville: Summer of 1915” is a beautiful, lyrical piece, and one we knew would be perfect to complement the exhibition. Barber, in his own words, turns it in a “lyric rhapsody” that is sure to inspire delight for our visitors in the Grand Hall and be an apt way to close out this wonderful exhibition.”

“Through the years, quilts have a vital way for their makers to express themselves,” said John Hoomes, CEO and Artistic Director of Nashville Opera. “Quilters tell stories through fiber art, and this medium encourages us to experience those stories at a more elemental level. Vocal music, much like quilting, also brings new depth to the stories of our world. Nashville Opera is delighted to partner with the Tennessee State Museum to present Barber’s musical setting of
Agee’s seminal prose poem, and we hope that the fusion of the two art forms, music and poetry, allows visitors to find new insight into Agee’s words.”

Agee’s work, originally written in 1938, serves as the preamble to his 1957 novel, A Death in the Family. Published posthumously after his death in 1955 at age 45, the book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1958. “The Knoxville of this century's second decade is poignantly, suggestively evoked (in the novel),” writes Roberts Coles in the Tennessee Encyclopedia, “and as in Dickens's David Copperfield, family loss, in all its melancholy and perplexity, is chronicled through a child's eyes and ears, his mind and heart and soul.” Born in Knoxville in 1909, Agee is also best known for his 1940 collaboration with photographer Walker Evans about Southern tenant farmers during The Great
Depression, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

Barber's music was championed by a remarkable range of renowned artists, musicians, and conductors, according to
his bio at G. Schirmer, including Vladimir Horowitz, John Browning, Martha Graham, Arturo Toscanini, Dmitri
Mitropoulos, Jennie Tourel, and Eleanor Steber. His Antony and Cleopatra was commissioned to open the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in 1966. Barber was the recipient of numerous awards and prizes including the American Prix de Rome, two Pulitzers, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The intensely lyrical Adagio for Strings has become one of his most recognizable and beloved compositions, both in concerts and films (Platoon, The Elephant Man, El Norte, Lorenzo's Oil).

About Claire Boling

Claire Boling, Soprano, has been praised for her work as Manon (Manon), Donna Anna (Don Giovanni), Alida Slade (Roman Fever), First Lady (Die Zauberflöte) and Greta Fiorentino (Street Scene). She has also appeared as Annina (Nashville Opera, La Traviata), Mrs Hayes (Nashville Opera, Susannah) and Handmaiden (Nashville Opera, Turandot),
Tosca, Carmen, Cosi fan Tutte, A Little Night Music, Turn of the Screw, Oklahoma, and Othello and numerous other operas and musical theater performances. Claire also specializes in concert work, including solo performances in Carmina Burana, Messiah, Mozart’s Vespers, Requiem and C Minor Mass, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Vaughan-Williams’
Dona Nobis Pacem, Bach’s Magnificat and B Minor Mass, Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, Rutter’s Mass of the Children, Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate, Faure’s Requiem, Vaughan-Williams’ Serenade to Music, in addition to many other works by Allegri, Monteverdi, Handel, Britten, Strauss, Liszt, and Turina. Claire was awarded the Encouragement Award from the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and is a two-time semifinalist in the Orpheus Vocal
Competition. She performs frequently in the Nashville area with Middle Tennessee State University, Nashville Opera, First Presbyterian Church Nashville, Opera on Tap-Nashville and many other organizations. Claire graduated from the Eastman School of Music with a MM Vocal Performance and Literature and a BM Voice from the University of Tennessee- Knoxville.

About Melissa Rose

Pianist Melissa Rose has a 30-year career partnering with instrumentalists and singers in concerts throughout the
United States and abroad. As a pianist keenly interested in performing contemporary music, Melissa has participated in numerous premieres and residencies with leading American composers.  She has recorded and edited arrangements for viola/piano of the Tonadillas by Granados (ViolaSound), one of which was included in the 2017 Grammy-nominated film The Music of Strangers.  Additional recordings are on Naxos, Centaur, Blue Griffin, Delos, Good Child Music, and
Navona.  Melissa is a Senior Associate Dean and Professor of Piano at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music.

Photos of performers Claire Boling and Melissa Rose, can be found on this Dropbox Account.

About Nashville Opera

Nashville Opera, Tennessee’s largest professional opera company, creates artistic experiences that elevate our world. Among the most successful regional companies in the country, Nashville Opera has presented three different world
premiere operas since its inception in 1981. Mainstage performances are presented at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center and the Noah Liff Opera Center, playing to over 13,000 people annually. Each year, Nashville Opera’s
extensive education and outreach touring program reaches approximately 25,000 students throughout Middle Tennessee.

About Tennessee State Museum

The Tennessee State Museum, on the corner of Rosa L. Parks Blvd. and Jefferson Street at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, is home to 13,000 years of Tennessee art and history. Through six permanent exhibitions titled Natural History, First Peoples, Forging a Nation, The Civil War and Reconstruction, Change and Challenge and Tennessee Transforms, the Museum takes visitors on a journey – through artifacts, films, interactive displays, events and educational programing – from the state’s geological beginnings to the present day. Additional temporary exhibitions explore significant periods and individuals in history, along with art and cultural movements. The Museum is free and open to the public Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Thursdays from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. For more information on exhibitions and events, please visit tnmuseum.org.

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Joe Pagetta

Tennessee State Museum

Director of Communications


(615) 741-5134

Lea D. Maitlen

Nashville Opera

Manager, Marketing & PR


(615) 832-5242