MICHELE NORRIS, host:

We turn now to love, joy, heartbreak and death. Those are the themes coursing through a new work by composer Peter Lieberson. It's called "Songs of Love and Sorrow," and it's a sequel of sorts to an acclaimed piece of music Lieberson wrote in 2005 for his late wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson.

From member station WBUR, Andrea Shea reports.

ANDREA SHEA: Composer Peter Lieberson and mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt first met in 1997, and before long their lives were intertwined in marriage and in art.

Mr. PETER LIEBERSON (Composer): She gave everything to her art, so to speak. But it's more than that. She was like that all the time.

SHEA: That intensity and the way Lorraine sang helped Peter Lieberson compose a song cycle especially for her. For the words, he chose some of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's sensual, raw love sonnets.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. LORRAINE HUNT LIEBERSON (Late Mezzo-Soprano): (Singing in foreign language)

SHEA: She's singing - my love, if I die and you don't, my love, if you die and I don't, let's not give grief an even greater field.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. HUNT LIEBERSON: (Singing in foreign language)

SHEA: Neruda's words are tragically poignant. Lorraine was battling breast cancer. She died in July of 2006, just months after performing the premier of Neruda Songs. She was 52 years old. Then, Peter Lieberson was diagnosed with advanced lymphoma.

Mr. LIEBERSON: I was just a few months away from dying myself.

SHEA: He couldn't compose, even though after the premiere of Neruda Songs, he was immediately asked to write a sequel. Lieberson says it took him more than two years to rediscover the meaning in the words of Pablo Neruda.

Mr. LIEBERSON: He said, love is like a river. You know, it has no birth and death, just changing lands and changing lips. I found it to be very true myself, because when I was really recovering from grueling treatment, all of a sudden, fell in love again. So these things happen.

SHEA: Lieberson married a former Buddhist nun and says his capacity to love again gave him the strength to write his new song cycle. He calls it "Songs of Love and Sorrow." Like "Neruda Songs," the orchestration is set to the poet's words, but this time it's coming from a different perspective.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. GERALD FINLEY (Baritone): (Singing in foreign language)

Mr. LIEBERSON: I didn't want to write another piece for a mezzo. It just didn't come up in my mind that that was a good idea, and I felt it would be nice to write for a male voice, for a baritone.

SHEA: That baritone is Gerald Finley.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. FINLEY: (Singing in foreign language)

SHEA: Finley has known Lieberson for many years and says he was humbled when Peter first showed him which love sonnets he chose for the new piece.

Mr. FINLEY: To be honest, I was very quiet in reaction to them, because they are very intimate and completely heartfelt.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. FINLEY: (Singing in foreign language)

In some ways, what I love about these pieces is that Peter has also now given voice to his private side. And in many ways, the reason that my reaction was very quiet is I suddenly thought, this is Peter's voice through me now.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. FINLEY: (Singing in foreign language)

SHEA: The composer warns against taking "Songs of Love and Sorrow" too literally. It's not meant to be an elegy memorializing Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. That said, Peter Lieberson acknowledges it is autobiographical.

Mr. LIEBERSON: Elements of Lorraine and our love are definitely in this piece, and things that she evoked in me and that I remember about her. And then there's also elements of my new love, and there's elements of life that has taken place over the last three years.

SHEA: This idea is a reflection of Peter Lieberson's lifelong study of Buddhism. Even the final stanza of the new song cycle speaks of impermanence. The word adios repeats over and over.

Mr. LIEBERSON: We're always saying adios, every time we close the door. We say goodbye to our lover, adios. We say goodbye to our parents, adios. And one of my teachers said, always smile when you say goodbye, because you never know if it's the last time.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. FINLEY: (Singing in foreign language)

SHEA: For NPR News, I'm Andrea Shea in Boston.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. FINLEY: (Singing in foreign language)

NORRIS: You can hear of the world premiere performance of Lieberson's new song cycle at our Web site, NPRMusic.org.

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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