The Blue Hour



Program Notes:

One way that humans strive to control uncontrollable realities such as death is by imposing arbitrary rules and structures on the chaotic and inevitable. Another is by participating in the difficult but necessary act of being active members of a community or communities. The Blue Hour, in its conception, its process, and its content, lives and breathes these paradoxes. The work, on its premiere tour this November after a long process of composition and workshopping, is an ambitious collaboration between five composers (Rachel Grimes, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova, and Caroline Shaw), a vocalist (Grammy-winner Luciana Souza), and the democratic, self-conducted string collective A Far Cry.

The work uses as its text Carolyn Forché’s poem, “On Earth,” which catalogs the scattered thoughts, visions, and imagery of a life passing ever closer to death, organized through the objective but arbitrary tool of alphabetization. This explicitly rationalized poetic form simultaneously evokes cold modernism and its ancient predecessors in biblical and gnostic abecedaries. The music that sets the poem draws similarly from an eclectic set of influences, at times setting the text quite literally (as with explicit references to Bach and settings that evoke plainchant and Renaissance polyphony), and at times using extended string techniques to create kaleidoscopic sound-paintings of Forché’s moments of fantastical, jarring imagery. The work also gleams with power ballads – unapologetic lyricism and no-nonsense songwriting that is often associated with contemporary non-classical genres but which here contributes to the intimacy and universality of the subject matter. The various movements, each entirely written by one of the composers, access the personal vernaculars and interests of each composer as they pass through the ordered but nonlinear narrative of Forché’s poem, contributing to the scope and scale of the work and its underlying subjects.

When the five composers and members of A Far Cry sat down for a meeting in the summer of 2016 about the possibility of bringing this song cycle to life, the group discussed in depth what justification there was for attempting a collaboration on such a scale for such a deeply personal work. As collaborators shared their own takes on the meaningful urgency of the project, the following statement took hold as a sort of “mission statement:”

In a time when we are seeing masses of people dehumanized – by war, displacement, poverty – we are looking here at a single life, the beautiful detail of one human existence. There is something precious in that; that through our sense of empathy with this one individual, we are given a lens through which to see our own world with greater clarity.

– Program note by Alex Fortes

January 7, 2023

New Sounds

"These five gifted composers speak to a circle of stories – shared influences, revelatory experiences- all riffing off of and taking inspiration from one another, as they respond collectively to a flood of memories from a woman traveling the space between life and death as laid out in the poem." — New Sounds Top Ten Albums of 2022

John Schaefer
December 29, 2022

The Nation

"You don’t need to know the madly ambitious conceit of this song cycle to revel in its sheer beauty and poignancy." The Nation Top Ten Albums of 2022

David Hajdu
December 27, 2022

The Boston Globe

"Collectively written works are rarely memorable, but the balance of similarity and otherness among the five composers is so sure as to make “The Blue Hour” seem like the work of a unified compositional voice."--The Boston Globe Top Ten of 2022

David Weininger
December 8, 2022


"Few multi-composer collaborations are memorable. However, The Blue Hour, an engrossing cycle of songs by Caroline Shaw, Angelica Negrón, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Rachel Grimes and Shara unforgettable." NPR Top Ten Albums of 2022

Tom Huizenga
November 17, 2022

Van Magazine

"This architecture lends to The Blue Hour’s compulsive relistenability, new lines emerging as significant with each turn. I want to revisit this album like I revisit certain books every few years or so, using it as a sort of psychological yardstick or Rorschach test to see what stands out. It’s both a means and manifestation of contemplation." -- Van Magazine

Olivia Gioveti
October 18, 2022


"Stunning…The 75-minute song cycle flows seamlessly, thanks to a lush, integrated composing style adhered to by Caroline Shaw, Angélica Negrón, Rachel Grimes, Sarah Kirkland Snider and Shara Nova, who sings the entire cycle. The music is gorgeously realized by A Far Cry, the Boston-based chamber orchestra." — NPR

Tom Huizenga
October 14, 2022

The Guardian

"['The Blue Hour' is] a semi-operatic song-cycle written collaboratively by a veritable who’s who of new female composers..."

John Lewis
November 21, 2017

I Care If You Listen

“The Blue Hour is less about the fact that the five composers are women and more about the shared aesthetic of the five composers—which is emotionally direct, unapologetically lyrical, luminously consonant, and melodically expressive. Snider has previously commented on the challenges of staying true to this aesthetic in new music’s dichotomy of “serious/cerebral/systems-based/complex/masculine vs. less serious/emotional/intuitive/simple/feminine.” However, the sincere, genuine expressivity of the music is precisely the thing that makes The Blue Hour so successful—it serves the text above all else and creates a lush sonic landscape that is reflective of the poetry. The Blue Hour is a remarkable achievement by five of today’s leading composers… The final result of these disparate parts coming together is an incredibly moving work that certainly accomplishes the intent of the project: to elicit empathy and provide “a lens through which to see our own world with greater clarity.”

Amanda Cook
November 12, 2017

The Boston Globe

"The hauntingly beautiful, evening-length song-cycle titled “The Blue Hour” reflects a whole new level of ambition, care, and capacity…[it] is a rare species in contemporary classical music: a successful group composition."

Jeremy Eichler
November 5, 2017

The Washington Post

“Working together, composers Rachel Grimes, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova and Caroline Shaw, the Grammy Award-winning singer Luciana Souza and the 18 string players of A Far Cry have come up with a gorgeous and remarkably unified work ['The Blue Hour']."

Joan Reinthaler

BBC Magazine

"A subtle reflection of dehumanisation, examined through alphabetically arranged phrases woven into 40 movements, each created by individual composers—Rachel Grimes, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova, and Caroline Shaw." -- BBC Magazine

Claire Jackson