Eric Sawyer has an affinity for projects based on American history and myth.Two operas, The Garden of Martyrs (2013) and Our American Cousin (2008) are among the largest of these, but he has been drawn to other projects centering on modern representations of old American stories.
Fall 2006 saw the premiere of Itasca, in collaboration with poet John Shoptaw. The work was based on the 1832 exploration of the headwaters of the Mississippi. Scored for four voices and live electronics, the work offers a poetic dramatization of the journals kept by Henry Schoolcraft during his journey up the river, and a rethinking of the world of Longfellow’s epic Hiawatha. In this work, the surge and ebb of water sounds accompanies an unusual text setting technique mixing speech and song, with movement
for the singers.
Fall 2006 also brought the premiere performances in Boston and Western MA of another Sawyer piece drawn from American history, the cantata The Humble Heart, based on texts from the American Shakers.
Commissioned by New England Voices, the work dramatizes two contrasting aspects of the religious sect that spread widely westward from New England during the nineteenth century – the immersion of selfhood in the discipline of community and rites of ecstatic experience. The work was recently recorded for release on the Albany Records label.
Music inspired by North America’s first poet, Anne Bradstreet, premiered in 2009. Earthly Store: two Anne Bradstreet songs for soprano, flute, cello and piano by Eric Sawyer, was commissioned by the Essex Chamber Players.
Eric Sawyer’s 2013 triple concerto for piano trio and orchestra, Concord Conversations evoked the animated debates of the 19th century American Transcendentalists, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller. A review describes the performance of the Triple Helix Trio.
Sawyer’s latest opera, The Scarlet Professor, received its premiere on September 15, 2017. It is based on the arrest of renowned literary critic Newton Arvin. This nationally famous case is seen as an historical fulcrum, perched between the cultural McCarthyism of the 1950s and the “new world” of personal liberation ushered in by the 1960s