Playing for a modest-sized audience in Urness Recital Hall, soprano Kult and pianist Hagen opened the program with "The Clan of the Lichens," a five-movement work by Betinis commissioned by the Linden Duo in 2004. A setting of text by Opal Whiteley, an early twentieth century child prodigy who later battled schizophrenia, "Lichens" alternated bursts of melodic invention with dreamlike passages of impressionist harmony. In the works highlight, its agile fourth movement, piano glissandi represented the endless flight of a comet that yearns for rest.
Composer Betinis, one of Kult's housemates, was present at the recital and provided an introduction to her work. "Since I hear Jen practice almost every day I was able to tailor this piece in a way that really fit [the Duos] strengths," Betinis said.
The program continued with "Songs of Fields and Prairies," Hagen's ode to her childhood home in rural North Dakota. An epic but intimate cycle with nature-oriented texts from such diverse sources as Walt Whitman, the Old Testament and Hagen's great-grandmother Anne Ranes Boise, "Fields and Prairies" showcased the virtuosity of both performers, including Kult's two-octave vocal range. In the cathartic final movement, setting poetry by Boise in memory of Hagens grandfather, the work became an emotional tribute to the surroundings that link generations.
The next work, "Songs of Woods and Water" by contemporary American composer Dorothy Chang, featured four brief Michael Bullock poems about seasonal shifts. In the work's strikingly unconventional second half, the colors of fall are portrayed with fiery dissonance while winter's depiction is one of glassy tonal stability.
The program concluded with "Songs About Spring," a 1951 work by Pulitzer Prize-winning Minnesota composer Dominick Argento, recipient of an honorary doctorate from St. Olaf in 2003.
With five movements of playful text by e.e. cummings, this accessible work charmingly conveyed springtime imagery such as mud puddles, flowers in bloom and children playing hopscotch.
Both Kult and Hagen have been active in creating and pursuing outlets for their artistic ambitions since graduating from St. Olaf. In addition to working at Minneapolis Southern Theater, Kult has performed in numerous stage works, concerts, workshops and competitions.
Hagen, meanwhile, is a fellow at the University of Minnesota, composer-in-residence at St. Paul Central High School and sings with the Dale Warland Singers spin-off group The Singers: Minnesota Choral Artists. This summer she will launch Graphite Publishing, an online contemporary music distribution business, with fellow St. Olaf alumnus and composer Timothy Takach 00.
"Supporting yourself as a professional musician means working hard all the time, but eventually it pays off," Hagen said. Recently, she received two first place awards in national composition contests and an Honorable Mention in the prestigious ASCAP Rudolph Nissim Composition Competition for her requiem mass "Ashes of Roses."
The Linden Duos next performance is slated for this August at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis.