Dr. Francine Trester, composer



A Walk in Her Shoes

September 7, 2021
By Geoffrey Wieting

The concluding two works, though inspired by 19th-century leaders, spoke directly to contemporary Americans confronting threats to the body politic from within and without. The BLO, Christopher Wilkins, soprano Brianna J. Robinson, and mezzo soprano Carrie Cheron gave the world premiere performance of A Walk in Her Shoes by Francine Trester (b. 1969), a Bostonian who teaches at Berklee College of Music. Each of its five sections depicts a woman or place associated with the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail, and specifically the neighborhood of Dorchester. Robinson and Cheron, who traded off narrating and singing, proved very effective at both, enunciating with sufficient clarity that we almost never needed to watch the texts. For Geraldine “Deenie” Pindell Trotter, subject of the first section, was well educated, a determined activist, wife of William Monroe Trotter, and a longtime friend of W. E. B. Du Bois, Trester evoked nobility and dedication. Lighter, more playful sounds in the following movement portrayed Anna Clapp Harris Smith, the influential founder of the Animal Rescue League of Boston. A distinctive featured quote: “When we rescue animals, we too rescue ourselves . . . Kindness uplifts the world.” The subject of the third movement, noted humanitarian Alice Stone Blackwell, daughter of the famous suffragist Lucy Stone, also an unflinching advocate for women’s suffrage. The composer skillfully depicted her determination, yet left the section’s ending unresolved: perhaps an acknowledgement that even in 2021 work remains to be done. Going back to colonial days, the fourth movement’s Ann and Betty refer to two slaves buried in Dorchester’s oldest graveyard. Trester here conveyed uncertainty and pain but also reassurance. Finishing with a lighter tone, Clapp Farm refers to “the pear in Everett Square,” possibly the popular variety of the fruit called Clapp’s Favorite developed in Dorchester in 1849 and still sold today. It is not far-fetched to posit Trester’s use of a hybrid pear as a metaphor for the power of diversity and the American melting pot. Kudos to Trester and the BLO musicians for presenting this compelling score with such thought-provoking texts.



Florence Comes Home

October 18, 2019
by Anne Davenport

At the lovely, wind-swept Dane Estate last night, Shelter Music Boston gave a concert devoted to the XXth-century composer Florence Price, who came to Boston in 1903 to study at the New England Conservatory of Music. Mentored by George Chadwick and Frederick Converse, Price graduated with honors in 1906. She went on to compose over 300 works, suffer hardships, including homelessness, only to be forgotten and buried. Much as I would like to describe Shelter Music Boston’s inspiring dedication to bring live concert music to our local shelters and sheltering environments, I will focus rather on the evening’s music because it was so exceptionally beautiful.

The first half of the concert featured a chamber opera about the accidental discovery of Price’s letters and manuscripts in an abandoned house in St Anne, Illinois. Entitled Florence Comes Home, the opera was commissioned by Shelter Music Boston from Francine Trester, who teaches composition at Berklee School of Music. Trester wrote both the score (for soprano, mezzo-soprano, baritone and string quartet) and the libretto. Responding to a question from the audience, Trester testified that “seeing Price’s own handwriting” in the archives at the Little Rock Arkansas Library, had greatly moved her.

Florence Comes Home opened hauntingly with solemn, anxious and tragic chords in the strings. The effect was to warn us right from the start that we were about to confront our whole painful, hushed, occulted American history of injustice, homelessness and terror — and we would not be able to avert our gaze or shut our ears. Observing the classical rules of unity of time and place, Trester chose “an abandoned house in St Anne, Illinois,” as the scene and the moment when the new owners discover the stash of Price’s papers as the event. We certainly needed no props to visualize the dilapidated house as Vicki (mezzo-soprano Carrie Cheron) softly sang “Hard to believe /This house was once a home” and her husband Darrell (bass-baritone RaShaun Campell) added the vivid detail “That fallen tree/ Broken in the yard” with a marvelously clear, strong yet tender voice. Subliminally, we heard him mourn the fallen tree — Price herself was the majestic fallen oak, as humbly tragic as the splintered ship mast of a collective shipwreck. Vicki and Darrell went on to sing of their hope of repairing the damaged house, fixing the sunken floors — but then, time veers magically to an eternal present tense as the ghost of Florence Price (soprano Brianna Robinson) comes to them, speaks to them, sings to them of her life and trials as a woman composer with “negro blood in her veins,” rejected, ignored, abused, made homeless, and then forgotten and buried. With stunningly liquid music in the mingled strings and voices, and a straight-forward yet intricately structured score (I kept thinking “how does Trester achieve such complex music effects while remaining modernist, clear and down-to-earth?”), the untold story of Price’s life unfolded in shifting rhythms and fitful spasms of memory. 

The score and story crested twice. First, a sort of vast clearing of hope came to pass when Ghost Florence reminisced about her childhood, her parents “painters of landscapes/ Sight and sound/ Reason to love and live.” Brianna Robinson phrased her delivery of the soaring aria perfectly into a soft but radiant hymn-like adagio, implying that Price’s religious sensitivity emerged from the lost paradise of her family’s enlightened intelligence and capacity to shield her from the surrounding darkness of Jim Crow Arkansas. Trester gave the second structural crest and effective point of musical culmination to Ghost Florence probing the very process of artistic creativity by revealing that “My broken foot/Was it autumn?…” is what gave her the respite to “pick up” her pen and write “A Symphony/ My very first/ E minor/ Number one” — a sisterly tribute across time and boundaries by Trester to her fellow composer, acknowledging the secret plight of women in quasi-mythological, quasi-Freudian terms: “Were it not/For brokenness/ I might not have begun.” This second, marvelous crest ushered in the last third of the opera, in which Vicki and Darrell resolve to salvage the scattered leaves and to help restore Price to her rightful place in history. Symbolically, what Trester’s powerful music and libretto taught us is that repairing the ruins of our American House consists, not in building new physical mansions, but in acknowledging and appeasing the injured ghosts of our past. Bravo Francine Trester! Bravo Shelter Music Boston! A deeper and more meaningful musical moment could not have brought your audience home with more radical tenderness. Chamber Opera? With pared-down means, Trester created something as wide and comprehensive as anything Puccini wrote.

So: what was Price’s music like? The second half of the concert featured Price’s String Quartet of ca. 1927 (with later revisions), Folksongs in Counterpoint, performed here with Adrian Anantawan (1st violin), Julie Leven, Founder and Artistic Director of Shelter Music Boston (2nd violin), Ashleigh Gordon (viola) and Javier Caballero (cello). They chose to start with the second folksong, “Clementine,” which they imbued with a nostalgic, bitter-sweet edge, emphasizing a deliberately “unintended” darkness scattered mysteriously in the rhythmic complexity. They subtly evoked the sorrow and pity of oblivion, treating the score as a series of probing variations that led to a critical mass of grief and covert, but fierce reproach. The second folksong, serving as an adagio movement, “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes,” evoked spiritual yearning and a vast treasure trove of inward calm and joyous trust, echoing, in reverse, Trester’s score for Ghost Florence’s happy childhood memories. The third folksong, serving now as a scherzo, was a lively, jaunty contrapuntal version of “Shortnin’ Bread.”

The Shelter Music Boston quartet beautifully brought out the distinctly exciting, urban character of Price’s score, implying that Southern nostalgia for home cookin’ and new intimations of ragtime emerged as part-and-parcel of the African-American Migration North, infused with new energy but also slammed with new obstacles. The quartet ended with a somber, elegant transformation of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” beginning with a haunting rendition of the theme in the solo cello, carefully articulated by Javier Caballero, who infused it with a lyrical open-ended uncertainty. The familiar theme then passed into the other strings, turning into a surprising autumnal serenade, highly abstracted from its root, shivering with gold, russet and dying wind-torn motifs, full of lyrical self-restraint à la late Fauré. Price’s deep personal elegance and her passion for counterpoint as a way to create a realm of beauty, enfolded upon itself, lofty but tender, and far from the madding crowd.

We learned from Trester’s opera that Price had written to Serge Koussevitsky in 1943, poignantly acknowledging that she had “two handicaps,” those of “sex and race.” She never received a reply. Is it time to repair Koussevitsky’s hasty decision? One of Price’s most memorable scores is her tone poem, Mississippi River Suite. Let us urge Andris Nelsons to consider programming it. And let us congratulate Shelter Music Boston for bringing Florence Price home.

Anne Davenport is a scholar of early modern theology and philosophy. She has published books on medieval theories of infinity and Descartes. Her most recent book is “Suspicious Moderate” on the life and works of the 17th-century English Franciscan, Francis à Sancta Clara.


Shelter Music Boston premieres mini-opera about Florence Price
September 17, 2019
By Aaron Keebaugh

“Florence Comes Home,” an opera about composer Florence Price, was premiered by Shelter Music Boston Monday night at Pine Street Women’s Inn.
In December 2009, Julie Leven read in the New York Times about violinist Kelly Hall-Tomkins, who was giving concerts in Manhattan homeless shelters.

A professional violinist herself who performs with the Boston Pops and Handel and Haydn Society, Leven immediately had the idea for a similar program in Boston. In 2010, she developed Shelter Music Boston, a wide-reaching organization that presents more than 80 professional-caliber classical concerts in homeless shelters around the region.

Shelter Music Boston’s performances proved a revelation for Leven as listeners in the shelters seemed to respond with a heightened enthusiasm she had not encountered.

The experience was particularly moving Monday night at South Boston’s Pine Street Women’s Inn, where Shelter Music Boston offered the world premiere of Francine Trester’s chamber opera, Florence Comes Home. Though lasting just twenty minutes, the work touched on themes that are all too familiar for many of Shelter Music’s audience members.

Heard in a concert version, Florence Comes Home tells the story of Florence Price, an African-American composer who is currently being rediscovered through new performances and recordings.

Price (1887-1953) composed music in a wide variety of genres, including two string quartets, two violin concertos, and four symphonies, in addition to songs. She is remembered primarily as the first African-American women to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra (Frederick Stock led the premiere of her Symphony No. 1 in E minor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in June 1933).

Yet her struggles as an African-American woman and single mother who battled poverty, racism, and even homelessness while managing to live an artistic life are the focus of Trester’s conception.

Cast in a single act, Florence Comes Home is an uplifting and warm-hearted introduction to Price’s life and career. The libretto, written by Trester herself, is based on the actual discovery of documents related to Price’s work by Darrell and Vicki Gatwood in an abandoned house in St. Anne, Illinois, the couple was renovating in 2009.

While renovating the run-down abode, Darrell and Vicki discover manuscripts, letters, and other documents stuffed beneath the floorboards. They learn that the house once belonged to Price, and they become interested in all facets of her life. As they uncover the details about her training at the New England Conservatory—where she was listed as Mexican to avoid the era’s racial prejudice—and her escape from the threat of lynching in Little Rock, Arkansas, Price’s ghost appears to supply the emotional context for her successes and failures. In the end, all hope that Price’s music, as an artifact of a difficult but creative life, will be heard widely.

Trester sets Price’s story through tender and lyrical music. But there are a few surprises in the score. Long lines played by a string quartet occasionally splinter into dissonances. Price’s own lines are also cast in an almost bluesy style, likely an ode to the composer’s unique musical voice. And when the ghost of Price tells of her parents, Trester’s rich harmonies express poignant nostalgia.

The singers of Shelter Music Boston performed their respective parts with assurance and sensitivity.

As Price, soprano Brianna J. Robinson captured the composer’s heartbreaking backstory with the warmth of a lieder singer. Vicki, portrayed by mezzo-soprano Carrie Cheron, was inquisitive and thoughtful in her search for Price’s past. Cheron’s gleaming lines complemented RaShaun Campbell’s rich baritone, which was well suited to the avuncular Darrell.

The string quartet, comprised of violinists Adrian Anantawan and Julie Leven, violist Ashleigh Gordon, and cellist Javier Caballero, supported the singers with grace and zest in this short but affecting love letter to Price’s memory.

They brought similar interpretive depth to Price’s own Four Folksongs in Counterpoint for string quartet, which filled out the rest of the hour-long program.

In this charming work, Price treats familiar folk tunes in a variety of styles and harmonic twists. “Clementine” unfolds through sudden key changes. “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” takes on the richness of a Dvořák Largo. “Shortnin’ Bread” courses like a fiddler’s reel, and the somber lines of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” grow in intensity before releasing the tension in a firm, Beethovenian coda.

Through it all, the Shelter Music Quartet played with vitality while taking care to highlight each lyrical moment. Anantawan and Leven traded honeyed melodies in “Drink to Me Only,” and Caballero’s silvery cello melody at the opening of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” offered brief yet lasting solace.

The program runs through September 20 at various homeless shelters in Boston. Shelter Music Boston will offer a public performance of the program 6:30 p.m. October 17 at the Dane Estate at Pine Manor College. sheltermusicboston.org


At the rebuilding Nahant Music Festival, a new North Shore opera honors lost heroes
June 7, 2019
by Zoë Madonna

Like many operas, Francine Trester’s new North Shore-set “Keepers of the Light” does not have a happy ending.

The one-act chamber opera, which will receive its world premiere at the final concert of the 2019 Nahant Music Festival, adapts the true story of the Can Do, a pilot boat out of Gloucester that rushed into action to aid a Coast Guard boat in distress during the brutal Blizzard of 1978. Its five-man crew perished in the storm; ironically, the Coast Guard vessel made it to safety with no losses.

(Click here for full article)


Mirror Visions Ensemble mines a rich vein of “beastly” rarities
Mar 13, 2018
by Eric C. Simpson

The Monday night presentation of the Mirror Visions Ensemble at the Sheen Center downtown was a gift…

“Newer Beasts” was made up entirely of Mirror Visions commissions…Three premieres by Francine Trester proved more haunting, especially the last, “Wolf Head (Elegy for Echo),” showing imaginative musical writing and a keening melody laden with emotion.


Paeans and Pains To Fauna and Felons
March 13, 2018
by Harry Rolnick

Other premieres were a trio of excerpts from Francine Trester’s An Oman Odyssey (inspired by the pictures of Sheridan Oman). Ms. Trester’s music was sung and composed with a luscious and emotional sense–but it was her poetry which totally enthralled me.

Yes, the “Ringtail Cat” was like an ironic paean to Eliot’s feline Prufrock until the jolting finish when its “sharp claws” make certain you “won’t forget. Remember what I’m not.”. “American Kestrel” cusps on the savagery “primed and ready/Quick to the kill/Silent and steady/Shadow/So still

The third dealing with a coyote in sad search of a mate over the barren plains is so plaintive, such a sign of our un-conserved times. I don’t want to bring myself in, but from my own research on the Borneo orangutan, this lone creature is dying out in a similar way. Not by poachers, but by cutting the forests in the Sabah wilderness, so they can never find a mate.

Her sensitivity, her feelings for a 2018 Bestiary were remarkable.


Music and Birding
June 5, 2017
by Susan Miron
“Audubon’s Birds,” commissioned by Wilkinson, uses texts in its seven songs taken verbatim from the journals of John James Audubon’s journals…The composers were Kathy Wonson Eddy, Francine Trester, Eric Sawyer, Lewis Spratlan, Frank Pesci, Allen Torres Castillo, and Yi Yiing Chen. Wilkinson was in beautiful voice, and [Sheila] Kibbe, [piano]... was a perfect avian partner…I certainly hope Wilkinson and Kibbe have more chances to perform this enchanting work.
“Nahant Calling” featured 12 poems and music by Francine Trester, who also wrote music for “Blackburnian Warbler” in “Audubon’s Birds.”...Each poem-song gave the vocal apprentices (Jenna Rae Lorusso, Alexandra Whitfield, Samantha Stiner, Rachel Abrams, Sam Strickland, Brian Sussman, Ari Nieh, and Brandon Mecklenburg) [an opportunity] to show off their voices and acting. The three instrumentalists—pianist Timothy Steele, oboist Peggy Pearson, and harpist Martha Moor—had interesting, well-written parts…harpists are grateful for being remembered and composed for, and Trester knew how to write colorfully for this instrument. I enjoyed all of the performances, including the last song which featured all the apprentices as well as Donald Wilkinson, “Legend of Swallows Cave.” Each of the three instruments got a solo turn with a singer and the number of singers varied in each song, which was a good idea. … I enjoyed the songs… loved the evocative poems. What a charming introduction to this “island, this reach of no man’s land…. Only one of four Massachusetts towns To touch Only one Other Town” (from “Solitude” for oboe and Samantha Stiner).
Thanks to Music Director Don Wilkinson, I will be returning to the shores of Nahant each June to check out this festival and its dedicated (and lucky) students. It’s a lovely way to start the Summer Music Season. Bravi all.


Landmarks Orchestra enlists 'Pavarotti of whales'
July 17, 2015
By Jeremy Eichler

All alfresco concerts engage with nature in one way or another. Wednesday’s performance by the Boston Landmarks Orchestra went one step further, choosing nature as its theme under the title “Rhapsody in Green.”

...The night also had going for it [conductor Christopher] Wilkins’s own deft programming hand, which should not be taken for granted. Often big civic-minded concert series set themselves a low bar for artistic creativity, implicitly justifying an overreliance on warhorses in the name of reaching the greatest numbers through music that is already familiar to them.


Wilkins, refreshingly, doesn’t seem to buy that calculus and declines to condescend to his audience. Wednesday’s program opened with the premiere of an attractive newly commissioned setting of “At the River” by Berklee professor Francine Trester — elegantly sung by soprano Jayne West — and also included the New England premiere of “River’s Rush,” a stormy and capacious work by composer Kevin Puts, written for the St. Louis Symphony in 2004.


The inclusion of those two scores alone would have been enough to make this distinctive as a free nature-themed summer concert, but Wilkins had another spot-on rarity up his sleeve: “And God Created Great Whales” by the prolific Somerville-born composer Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000).



Stormy weather no problem for Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s sea-tossed opener

July 16, 2015 at 12:54 pm

By Aaron Keebaugh


To open their summer season Christopher Wilkins and the Boston Landmarks Orchestra performed a wide-ranging program of works that churned with the sounds of the river and sea. The threat of rain and lighting moved Wednesday night’s concert from its scheduled location, the DCR Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade, indoors to Emmanuel Church. But the change didn’t affect the enjoyment or the results as the orchestra played with commitment and precision.


Founded in 2001, the Boston Landmarks Orchestra comprises professional musicians dedicated to bringing classical music to wide audiences free of charge. It’s probably the best bargain in town because the playing is exceptional. The orchestra is strong, clear, and clean in all sections, yet the musicians are also capable of blending for a warm enveloping sound.


...Wednesday’s program also included two new works: Francine Trester’s At the River, heard in its premiere, and the first New England performance of Kevin Puts’ River’s Rush.


Trester’s intelligent style involves the layering of short motives to create a silky sonic fabric. At the River takes as its source the lyrical hymn tune of the same name by Robert Lowry. It’s a tune well known among Landmark Orchestra audiences, as the hymn is the ensemble’s anthem, and the orchestra commissions a new setting for each summer’s opening concert.


Trester’s version is a gorgeous reimagining of the original tune, which never appears in full, though brief utterances of the theme crop up as a leitmotiv the introduction and vocal solo. The latter was handled with charm by soprano Jayne West, whose delicate voice made much of Trester’s wide melodic contours. Wilkins and the orchestra gave the work stellar advocacy through a tender reading.





Festive Nahant Delivers

June 13, 2015

By Susan Miron


The second season of Nahant Music Festival closed Friday night with a world premiere opera, Sleeping Beauty by Francine Trester. 


Founded by its Artistic Director, Nahant bass-baritone (and birder) Donald Wilkinson, this seems to be a uniquely enjoyable (and educational) experience for the eight lucky singers who gets housed in Nahant for the 12 days of the festival. The Festival aims to provide young classical music professionals with opportunities for artistic development and public performance of high-quality music, through master classes and concerts. In addition, there is the extra bonus for those living in Nahant to hear great concerts. 

Three previous concerts featured Soloists of the Boston Camerata and The Vocal Apprentices performing Carmina Burana (13th century), under Anne Azéma. Then, on the 6th of June, Donald Wilkinson and Emily Jaworski, mezzo-soprano, with Timothy Steele, pianist, performed Classic American Songs. The 7th of June was a Bach Cantata Concert, with The Apprentices and Members of Emmanuel Music Orchestra, and finally, last night’s opera for which the Vocal Apprentices had gotten the music many months before.


Master classes were given by distinguished colleagues of Wilkinson—Jayne West, Ryan Turner, David Ripley, and Sharon Daniels. Wilkinson and his classy (mostly Emmanuel Music) friends, including tenor Frank Kelley, who was the stage director of the opera, unquestionably lent this festival serious prestige.


Wilkinson had recently sung a two-person opera, 334 Bunnies, by Francine Trester and liked it so much he asked her to write an opera for The Apprentices. In her brief pre-concert lecture, Trester, a composition teacher at Berklee School of Music, explained how she added a few twists to the original fairy tale...The “orchestra” consisted of Francine Trester, violin, the excellent Timothy Steele, piano and rehearsal accompanist, and Megan Jacoby, who played flute almost continuously, and always tastefully.


...Libretti (also by the composer) were handed out (everything was in English)...The three acts (no intermission) lasted about 90 minutes, and were decorated minimally, but effectively. It begins with a narrator (tenor Kilian Mooney) who begins with those immortal words, Once upon a time…. He sits in pajamas and a bathrobe on the stage’s edge, but the beautiful quality of his voice is such that he turns out to be, although the least heard, one of the real high points of the opera. Trester has devised her own libretto, and it works well with her music. All of the singers were good, and their acting was effective as well...The music is lovely ...and it is a charming story. [Sleeping Beauty] would work wonderfully as a family event in the many country playhouses I’ve frequented. It’s charming and lasts just long enough. The music is very pleasant and effective. 


Queen Eleanor (Samantha Dearborn) was quite endearing and often sang beautifully. Lawson Daves (King Florestan) and Fausto Miro (Calabutte, a wizard-servant of the kingdom), and Grace Allendorf (Lilac Fairy) portrayed their characters well. A standout was Kylee Slee as a wicked fairy with attitude and a big voice, and as Princess Aurora, Eileen Huang, who did vocal justice as the sleepy star of the show with a fine sense of humor and style. Finally, a truly dashing Prince Désiré was played and sung to the hilt by Ethan Sagin, who pepped up the proceedings (as well as the somnolent Aurora) in a major way. Bravi to all!




Eclectic Composers and Friends
February 28, 2015
By Liane Curtis
…Finally came something you would expect to hear only if you relied on “the infinite improbability drive” from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Yes, the most improbable thing was an arrangement of Richard Strauss’s 1895 tone poem, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, arranged for quintet by one Franz Hassenorhl. Well, taking a piece originally written for an excessively huge orchestra and arranging it for quintet results in a version in which everyone gets a workout. Francine Trester was amazing on the violin, as well as agilely leading the ensemble—her part was full of exhausting tremolos, glissandi that traversed the entire fingerboard, and a whole range of gymnastics. The famous horn part with its dramatic jeering ascents followed by huge downward leaps (as if off of tall buildings?) was navigated with real panache by Michael Weinstein. The clarinet (Peter Cokkinias) and bassoon (Dominick Ferrara) had their share of cascades and outbursts, and the double bass, Michael Hartt, not only supplied supportive underpinning but also a battery of percussive sounds. It was certainly different and revelatory to hear it in this distillation and the musicians and audiences had a lot of fun. Poor Till is hanged, of course, but he also gets the last laugh.

Liane Curtis (Ph.D., Musicology) is President of Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy and The Rebecca Clarke Society, Inc.  Her website is here.


Two local works of art deal with Marathon bombings
February 13, 2014
By Taryn Plumb, Globe Correspondent

The contralto took a deep breath, began to sing — and then her voice cracked.
Her eyes welled as she read the lyrics on her music score.

“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth Anker said, shaking her head during a rehearsal in a Watertown attic. “I’d better cry now.”
The piece that compelled the Jamaica Plain singer to tears, written by Newton composer Francine Trester and titled “Rescue,” refers to a quote by Fred Rogers that reassures that, whenever something scary happens, look for the helpers, who will always be there.

As the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings draws closer, locals are confronting the tumble of emotions provoked by the shocking attack last year that resulted in three deaths, hundreds of injuries, and immobilization of the city and its suburbs.Two projects have set those varying dimensions of feeling to music, lyrics, and prose: Trester’s six-song piece, “A View from Heartbreak Hill,” and the 40-minute play “The Psalms Project: Mile 25.8,” written by Lexington Christian Academy theater director Christopher Greco. Both of the complex and emotional projects will be performed for the public in several events leading up to the April 21 Marathon.

[Trester's] songs, which are somber, sprightly, questioning, and hopeful, “represent the arc of what I experienced,” said the composer, who is a professor at Berklee College of Music. “I had so many emotions in the aftermath.”
Written for a trio of viola, piano, and contralto, the aptly titled piece takes its name from the half-mile ascent in Newton between the 20- and 21-mile markers, where many runners report fatigue.

The cycle starts out with “Speechless,” based on the Department of Homeland Security’s “If you see something, say something” campaign.

Clustered around a Steinway grand in pianist Lois Shapiro’s Watertown attic on a recent afternoon, Anker, Shapiro, and violist Scott Woolweaver worked their way through the stark and sobering song. (Violist Melissa Howe of Lexington and pianist John McDonald of Medford will serve as substitutes at some performances.)

Woolweaver’s bow bobbed lightly over his instrument, plucking out low tones; both complementing and intentionally clashing with Shapiro’s high, staccato notes.

“Say something, anything,” Anker sang. “Well – what is there to say?”

After this line, the final piano note faded in the still, quiet studio.

“Tough stuff,” Woolweaver said finally.

Meanwhile, “Lockdown” the next song in the cycle, illustrates just that; Trester describes how her neighbor’s fat striped cat was able to explore the outside world while all the humans were trapped indoors during the manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

“It was unsettling, unnatural, and unreal,” she recalled.

“Transit” portrays Trester’s first commute to work after the bombings, when things were supposed to be getting back to normal, a feeling shattered when the driver announced that Copley Station was closed down until further notice; “Still” describes a beautiful spring day at the park, but with flags notably remaining at half-mast; and “Out” expresses anger and outrage at the death of a child.

Responding to a tweet attributed to suspect Tsarnaev, “A decade in America already, I want out,” Trester wrote, “Martin Richards, at 8 years old, spent less than a decade in America, on this earth, denied the choice of ‘out’ or ‘in,’ a luxury deciding if life is worth the living.”

“The sonorities are so beautiful, expressive, and rich,” said Shapiro, seated at her piano, also describing the songs as “prosaic and poetic.

“It’s nice to have a piece that takes us all beyond, but not denying the reality of what happened. It’s a blend of complicated stuff, yet there’s a beacon that stands out in each piece.”

“A View from Heartbreak Hill” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 20 at Berklee College of Music; 2 p.m. on March 2 at the Newton Free Library; and at 6 p.m. on April 10 at Harvard University.



CLARINET and SAXOPHONE – the Magazine of Great Britains’s Clarinet and Saxophone Society

(A review of the Scottish Clarinet Quartet premiere at the July 2013 ClarinetFest in Assisi, Italy)

October 2013

By Nicholas Cox, Principal Clarinet with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

Many Miles Away, five quotations from Sir Water Scott by the composer Francine Trester (a commission from the Scottish Clarinet Quartet) proved the real find in this enterprising young group's programme. Here the composer found five different sound worlds from different combinations of bass clarinets and B flats which reflected Scott's poetic images of Scotland leading the listener from the 'Prologue' (on the shore of a dark Scottish loch) to melting 'Frozen' statues of snow to another 'Nocturne' to 'Enigma'-tic Cats stealthy feline frolics and no flying fur, to a paean to Edinburgh's steep slopes 'piled deep and massy' – a rousing hymn to 'Mine Own Romantic Town'. In this well prepared and well crafted work full of character and poetry, the Scottish Clarinet Quartet brilliantly brought to life each movement in texture and detail.





Indie Classical


A review of Berklee Composers (Larry Bell, Andrew List,  Margaret Mcallister and Francine Trester) with the Zodiac Trio at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival


Venue Number 60. Canongate Kirk, Canongate, Royal Mile, EH8 8BN. 19 August 19:30


By Larry Bartleet


For the next piece, Francine Trester’s Five Summer Haiku, Krylovskiy became a performance poet of sorts, introducing each themed movement with its appropriate haiku, while Sally Day took his place in the trio. This engagement with the music’s inspiration avoided being smug through its earnestness - it was effective rather than affected, buoyant rather than aloof. ‘Clouds’ was a nebulous, rolling affair, with pianist Riko Higuma colouring the phrases subtly, while ‘Twilight’ had Mollard using the body of her violin as percussion, emulating the noise of a stone being kicked down a street. Touches like this, which explored the potential of instruments and playing styles, made the programme stand out among the many other classical Fringe performances this year.


The composers and arrangers of all of the pieces seemed to have some connection to the trio, making the music both recent and personal, whilst allowing the audience to share in its full meaning: a luxury not many classical audiences receive.


The applause greeting the group of twelve musicians and composers was the lengthiest I have yet experienced at the Fringe…It was such a privilege to experience this quality of playing.



Volume 38 Number 2

(Review of Trester’s Six Portraits for Clarinet Choir)

March 2011

By Margaret Thornhill


Dr. Francine Trester is a Yale-trained associate professor of composition at the Berklee School of Music. Her outstanding 15-minute work, Six Portraits for Clarinet Choir, was written for her colleague Peter Cokkinias’s clarinet choir at Berklee in 2009 and deserves to be widely known and performed. Trester is a master of how to score for clarinets; the writing is completely idiomatic and refreshing to play. The musical language of the six movements is lyrical, filled with beautiful counterpoint…sweet but sophisticated tonal harmonies that sound great for clarinets…would add warmth and charm to any program. A hands-down winner for full clarinet choir…melodic interest in all parts… this is also music that audiences will love to hear.





(Review of New Lullaby CD)

Jan/Feb 2011

By Jeremy Marchant


At the relatively boisterous end of the spectrum [is] Francine Trester’s My Darling’s Slumber, which has a strong climax…





(Review of New Lullaby CD)

Fall 2010

Upon Listening

By Sherry Kloss  


Similarly, the introduction of Francine Trester’s “My Darling’s Slumber” expands into a Beatlesque melody, develops with a bluesy line, and leads into interesting harmonies and phrasings…





(Review of New Lullaby CD)

Jan/Feb 2011

By Barnaby Rayfield


This is not some, godawful, Classics-for-Baby CD, but 13 composers’ attempts at the lullaby form, not just in its healing wish to send someone to sleep, but also in its other, more folktale guise of the unsettling nighttime world.





(Review of New Lullaby CD)

February 2011


“Ideal late-night listening – recommended.” Steve Marsh





(Review of New Lullaby CD)

Sept/Oct 2010

By Jason Serinus


Happy or sad, placid or perilous, I find them universally engrossing. And thanks to Larget-Caplan’s discernment and sensitive playing, even the most provocative is pretty much lovable. Move over, Daisy Mae. There’s room on the couch for two.






(Review of Facets 3: New American Music for Trumpet)

December 24, 2009 

By Michael Cameron


We don’t hear the trumpet featured in chamber music nearly as much as in other settings, but here John Holt makes a strong case for its viability in intimate music-making. The opening work for string quartet and solo trumpet by James Wintle neatly skirts the balance issues that could easily arise from the instrumentation. The composer employs a language that is atonal for the most part, but uses texture, dynamics, and skillful melodic manipulation to give shape to each of the four movements. The title Distant Voices refers to quotations from The Beatles in the second movement, although they are subtly employed as vague reminiscences rather than literal, complete statements. Holt’s sound is warm, clear, and very accurate in pitch and articulation. He plays expressively, if cautiously so, and his string colleagues match him with burnished tone and impressive accuracy.


Perambulations, by Barbara Harbach, is composed in a markedly different style from the disc opener, with a clearly tonal idiom marked by an abundance of ostinatos and repetitive figures that give a subtle nod to minimalism. Emily!, Harbach’s other work, is composed in a similar vein, with little chromatic coloring and boasting a distinctly American flavor. Mezzo-soprano Sofia Grech gets to the core of the Emily Dickinson texts with rich tonal shadings and a deep feeling for the poetic essence.


There is also a decidedly American flavor in Francine Trester’s Four Thoreau Songs, but the tonality wanders more freely than in the previous work, with chromaticism adding touches of ambiguity. Holt’s mellow flugelhorn lends an appropriate air of melancholy and nostalgia to this lovely work. Trester’s Sonata is composed in a similar vein, and is particularly adept at capturing the lyrical potential of the trumpet. The middle movement includes a few romantic surges that are especially attractive. Here and in other works on the disc, pianist Natalia Sukhina provides strong, capable support.


Joseph Klein’s work for solo trumpet, Die Königskünderin, stands out from the rest of the program with a more advanced treatment of pitch and color and a markedly disjunct melodic profile. Holt meets the considerable challenges of this absorbing work with complete fluency and persuasive expressivity. Ulysses Kay’s Tromba, like most of the music on the disc, doesn’t attempt to break new ground, but succeeds admirably as an idiomatic character piece and for both piano and trumpet. There are fanfare motifs, cadenza-like statements, lyrical musings, and march segments, all assembled with clarity of purpose and technical skill.


Before this disc, I was unaware both of the playing of Holt and the music of four of the five American composers, Ulysses Kay being the one exception. It is a fine recording indeed, presenting a cross section of deserving lesser-known composers with clear and lucid recorded sound.




ART LEONARD - Independent Music Critic, NY

(Review of Facets 3: New American Music for Trumpet)

December 8, 2009


"...There is plenty of music for trumpet and piano here: a sonata by Francine Trester, a suite "Tromba" by Ulysses Kay, and Barbara Harbach's "Perambulations."  James Wintle contributes a multi-movement work for trumpet and string quartet, and both Harbach and Trester have contributed song cycles for soprano with trumpet and piano.  Finally, Joseph Klein's "Die Kongskunderin" is for unaccompanied trumpet.  This is canny programming, since the sound of trumpet and piano for over an hour could strike the listener as rather unvaried in style and texture, but the various ensembles provide plenty of variety to entice the ear... 


Anybody who enjoys contemporary American music of the tonal, lyrical variety, should enjoy this disc, and for trumpet-fanciers it is a must."





(Review of Facets 3: New American Music for Trumpet)

November 2009

By Jonathan Woolf


These kinds of programmatic constructs all go toward a successful series of new works on disc. The Dickinson songs, for example, are themselves followed by four Thoreau songs by Francine Trester, written in the same year as the Dickinson set by Harbach. She captures the nature-rich setting of The Moon very adeptly and also the startlingly brittle ‘hate’ with which the next poem, Indeed, Indeed concludes. John Holt gives us appropriately richer tone than heretofore in the setting of Smoke. The final song is fulsome and romantic. The second Trester piece is her Sonata, a very generous spirited work redolent in places of ‘show’ tunes. She writes idiomatically for the trumpet/piano duo and Holt and Nataliya Sukhina respond with due flair and immediacy. The finale is especially nice, with its attaca and legato elements and hints of Gershwin.





Waking up to bedtime songs

April 30, 2009

By Taryn Plumb, Globe Correspondent 


Who’s afraid of a lullaby? Not Francine Trester, a Newton resident and lullaby lyricist whose music will be featured in a concert Friday at the New School of Music in Cambridge. Such sleepytime songs are sometimes the most cherished, as Cambridge classical guitarist and lullaby hunter Aaron Larget-Caplan discovered. He launched the New Lullaby Project, essentially an amalgam of bedtime ballads that he solicited from largely unknown composers.


The solo guitarist will perform several works from his collection in Friday’s concert, which begins at 7:30 p.m.


Trester, an associate professor at the Berklee College of Music who has composed all manner of concert pieces, described a ‘‘question mark’’ in people’s minds when it comes to new music or unfamiliar composers. ‘‘New music can be accessible,’’ she said. ‘‘The comfort that people take in a lullaby they should also take in new music.’’ Sometimes it can be more familiar than you think. For instance, her lullaby, ‘‘My Darling’s Slumber,’’ is a play on a celebrated piece by Stephen Collins Foster, ‘‘Slumber My Darling.’’ Besides the mix-and-match title, Trester inverted the 19th-century composer’s melody and melodic intervals. ‘‘It has its roots in a song I grew up with,’’ said Trester, whose work has been performed throughout Boston and at New York’s Carnegie Hall. ‘‘It’s lyrical, and it’s comforting.’’


Larget-Caplan first discovered the allure of lullabies three years ago, when he released his debut album; included in his recordings of guitar solos from six countries was a Cuban lullaby arranged by Leo Brouwer. After performances, the simple nocturnal ode received the most comments — repeatedly, listeners said it just ‘‘hooked’’ them. Intrigued, Larget-Caplan started collecting lullabies; some from as far away as England and Australia. Eventually, he would like to put them together in an anthology, he said. The project pays long overdue respect to nighttime refrains — but it’s also meant to tune people’s ears beyond archetypal, time-honored concert music. ‘‘It helps to demystify new music,’’ noted Larget-Caplan. ‘‘Who’s afraid of a lullaby?’’


Aaron Larget-Caplan will present ‘‘Who’s Afraid of a Lullaby?!’’ at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the New School of Music, 25 Lowell St., 

Cambridge. For details, e-mail aaron@ aaronlc.com, call 617-947-1330, or visit www.aaronlc.com 





Bird Songs Old and New

February 26, 2009

By Mark DeVoto


John McDonald, composer and pianist, has taught at Tufts University for 19 years. During that time, he has nurtured and promoted a generation of undergraduate and graduate student composers while composing and performing literally hundreds of new works of his own, from pièces d’occasion to large-scale ensembles. No less important, in the public view, has been his manifold and generous service to dozens of Boston-area composers in performing and propagating their music through recitals and group performances which he has tirelessly organized. For two years his home base has been the handsome and acoustically serene Distler Auditorium in the newly-built Granoff Music Center at Tufts.


The Mockingbird Trio is a collaboration of old friends, well-established Bostonians, that has been in existence now for five years and consists of McDonald, the contralto Elizabeth Anker, and the violist Scott Woolweaver. On February 26 they paid tribute to five years’ good feeling with some fine old music (songs and piano pieces by Mozart, Schubert, Brahms and Mahler), some of the songs they had premiered previously (by Tom Fettke, Peter Aldins, and Janice Giteck), and two new works of major proportions. Howard Frazin, of the Longy School and Composers in Red Sneakers, was on hand to hear his song “The Wren,” on a text by Denise Levertov, which was also a tribute to the poet who taught for several years at Tufts. Levertov’s work also provided the text for McDonald’s song “The Mockingbird of Mockingbirds,” in which the protagonist is a “lord of a thousand songs,” as all of us know about this southern bird which extended its range into New England less than a century ago. The composer prefaced it with a short piano prelude called Forerunner.


The ornithological theme was emphatically brought home in A Field Guide to Backyard Birds, a cycle of six songs on her own texts by Francine Trester, who has taught at Tufts and currently teaches at the Berklee College of Music. These delightful and inventive pieces showed an abundance of expressive tonal harmony, sometimes sounding like Barber, or Copland, or even Gershwin, but colored with a bittersweet chromaticism that was Trester’s own. The vocal-instrumental dialogue varied from song to song, including spoken text through much of the fourth number, “Tom Turkey,” and it was a pleasant realization that nowhere in the cycle were there any of the ordinary imitative effects that listeners come to expect in bird music. This cycle should have a wide appeal to performers and audiences alike.


After the intermission came another premiere, of McDonald’s New York Wedding Tucket for viola and piano, written for the wedding of friends and combining sketches and fragments of earlier works that were psychologically associated but that did not relate to the concert’s prevailing ornithology. The piece included a lot of low-register piano to offset the viola’s higher-altitude gestures, but, as the composer mentioned to me afterwards, “It wasn’t easy to write a fanfare for viola.” Another new work by McDonald, written for the trio, followed: From the Fall of a Sparrow, “A six-part setting of excerpts from Sandra Steingraber’s 2008 Orion magazine article.” The six parts, honoring the house sparrow, Passer domesticus, a significant urban pest introduced from Europe, celebrate “Where they live,” “What the evolutionary ecologists say,” “Where they came from,” “What they eat,” “What they say,” and “The mystery of their worldwide disappearance,” with an ecological envoi that may be ominous: “The sparrow is the new canary.”


The concert continued with outdoor songs by Brahms and Schubert (I had not realized, hearing Brahms’s Feldeinsamkeit, op. 86 no. 2, that Mahler had almost literally quoted four bars from this song in the sixth movement of his Third Symphony, bars 9-11) and finally Mahler’s Lob des hohen Verstandes (”Praise of Intellect”, from Des Knaben Wunderhorn). The ornithological motif was triumphant to the end in this memorable comedy about the competition between the cuckoo and the nightingale, refereed by the donkey.


Elizabeth Anker and John McDonald gave the final number as an improvisation, on Francine Trester’s “Mourning Dove” heard earlier in the evening. Scott Woolweaver, from the back of the hall, provided some fine A-string harmonics as bird calls, but from some other species. 


Mark DeVoto, musicologist and composer, is an expert in Alban Berg, also Ravel and Debussy. A graduate of Harvard College (1961) and Princeton (PhD, 1967), he has published extensively on these composers and many music subjects, most notably, music harmony.





Six Berklee Composers, One from Tufts, Offer Sensuous Tango, Sinuous Glissandi, Caressing Sounds

January 29, 2009

By Mark DeVoto 


The audience was small but satisfied at this comfortable event, “Crosscurrents: New Directions in Classical Music: A Concert of New Classical Compositions by the Composition Faculty of Berklee College of Music,” held at the Brighton-Allston Congregational Church in Brighton Center on January 25. Admission was by contribution, for the benefit of the Community Supper kitchen. 


It’s interesting that “classical” was twice emphasized in the long headline on the program; perhaps the emphasis was necessary because the Berklee College of Music is widely known as an institution for jazz and popular music, despite its long-standing commitment to so-called “serious” art. But the serious message of these composers was unmistakable, no less than the careful craft behind each work. Six Berklee faculty were featured, and one guest composer, John McDonald of Tufts University. The entire afternoon was fine testimony to composers’ imagination and excellent performance, more evidence, if any were needed, of the rich variety of Boston concert life in the service of new music.




John McDonald offered two recent short pieces of his own: Wenchuan County, Sichuan Province, “five verses containing five phrases each,” pointillistic and sometimes harsh; and Morning Practice from the School of Appling, in memory of the composer’s early teacher and mentor William Appling. McDonald called this a “distant, tender slow drag,” but the caressing sounds of parallel sixths in the right hand were the most obvious clue to the ragtime connection. McDonald remained at the piano for two short pieces by Francine Trester, A Brief Observation and Briefly Observed, pieces very different in character despite the similar titles. The first of these, beginning with a fast 12/8 pattern, included a clever dialogue of major and minor triads with some orientalist filigree; the second piece, clinging much of the time to upper registers, brought together short melodic bursts with a finely-shaped, almost sentimental tonal harmony..





(Review of Facets 2: John Holt, Trumpet)

February 5, 2005

By Jonathan Woolf 


“…There are sheerly lyric morceaux as well, from Merrill Ellis and Fisher Tull and a charming one from Francine Trester. To add some more novelty there’s also Turrin’s arrangement of Gershwin’s Someone to Watch Over Me …The performances are excellent and the sound quality, in the Texas Mesquite Arts Centre, is thoroughly sympathetic





(Review of recital by Elizabeth Anker)

January 9, 2005

By Heuwell Tircuit


“…Trester set Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Nobody sees a flower” with simple piano accompaniment, really a bit of lovely prose with simple warmth and sincerity. It’s a lovely thing, to be admired.”


and the notes are the infamous Crystal fold out jobs – origami style…”





(Review of String Works CD)

November 14, 2005

By J Scott Morrison


 “…The Quartet is coupled with the one-movement 'Pas de deux' for violin and cello, played here by Francine Trester, violin, and Michael Bonner, cello. Also in the more dissonant style of the Second Quartet, it calls for close-order drill by the two instrumentalists. Some exceedingly complex writing is handled admirably by the players.”





(Review of Elizabeth Anker’s Poet Power! recital at Longy School of Music)

June 19, 2004


By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff

“…All of the new songs were well tailored to Anker's voice and art, and there was a strong showing from the local contingent, including Francine Trester, Howard Frazin, and Paul Brust.”





(Review of Sequitur concert)

“Mediations on Power, Old and Freshly Minted” 

May 22, 2003

By Allan Kozinn 


“Besides its more conventional concerts of new music, the inventive Sequitur ensemble periodically assembles cabaret songs, with newly commissioned pieces set alongside established standards. So far, the programs have been thematic, with an edge of political satire…

The subject (and the title) of the program Sequitur presented at Joe's Pub on Sunday evening was Power…


Francine Trester's ''Meeting at 11,'' about being caught in traffic, and John La Chiusa's ''Senator's Mistress'' seemed suited to the evening's theme, as did a pair of Cole Porter songs, the macabre ''Miss Otis Regrets'' and ''Give Him the Ooo-La-La.''



Return to the home page.