The Brightness of Light

Solo Instrument(s) and Orchestra



Solo Instrument(s) and Orchestra


Soprano solo, baritone solo - - timp; 4 perc (optional 3); pno/cel; hp - str



commissioned by

The University of Texas at Austin, Texas Performing Arts and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Andris Nelsons, Music Director), Colorado Symphony Orchestra (Brett Mitchell, Music Director), National Symphony Orchestra (Gianandrea Noseda, Music Director), Eastman School of Music/Howard Hanson Institute for American Music, and Artis-Naples for the Naples Philharmonic (Andrey Boreyko, Music Director)

premiered by

Tanglewood Music Center Renée Fleming, soprano; Rodney Gilfrey, baritone; Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons, conductor

the letters by Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz used and reprinted by permission of the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. All rights reserved.”]

Preferred listing of movements for the program (Of course, please use whatever is your standard practice is for naming of performers in each movement). -KP

Introduction (Ms. Fleming)
First Correspondence (Ms. Fleming and Mr. Gilfry)
A Soul Like Yours (Mr. Gilfry)
Ache (Ms. Fleming and Mr. Gilfry)
Georgia and Alfred (Orchestral Interlude no. 1)
Violin (Ms. Fleming)
Faraway (Mr. Gilfry)
Taos (Ms. Fleming)
The Thing You Call Holy (Ms. Fleming and Mr. Gilfry)
The High Priestess of the Desert (Orchestral Interlude no. 2)
Friends (Ms. Fleming)
Sunset (Ms. Fleming)


In 2015, I received the honor of a commission from my alma mater, the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. The school’s orchestra was planning a trip to perform at Lincoln Center and wanted to include a new work written by an alumni composer to feature an alumni performer. The performer they had in mind was Renée Fleming and—to my great excitement—she accepted the offer, thereby initiating one of the most treasured collaborations of my career.

We wanted to focus on an iconic American woman as the subject, and I happened on a quote by Georgia O’Keeffe:

My first memory is of the brightness of light, light all around.

I could imagine this line sung right at the start. I learned that O’Keeffe had written thousands of letters over the course of her lifetime, many of them to Alfred Stieglitz, the renowned photographer and art curator who became her husband. Sarah Greenough’s indispensable two-volume My Faraway One (Vol. 2 forthcoming) includes the complete correspondence between O’Keeffe and Stieglitz from their first contact in 1915 until

Stieglitz’ death in 1946. With intense emotion—and often humor—these letters chronicle O’Keeffe’s journey from a young artist enthralled by and indebted to the older Stieglitz to her complete immersion in the North American Southwest where she lived alone for many years, finding inspiration for her best-known works. The letters themselves are the property of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University, and I am deeply grateful for the right they granted me to craft a “libretto” made of excerpts from the letters. Letters from Georgia was premiered by Ms. Fleming and the Eastman Philharmonia at Alice Tully Hall on November 14, 2016, with Neil Varon conducting.

Having wholeheartedly embraced the role of O’Keeffe, Renée proposed expanding the work to include an equal part for Stieglitz. I welcomed this challenging of creating a larger work which would encompass their years both together and apart, from the first cautious exchanges between the two artists, through their impassioned and complicated relationship, to the years long after Stieglitz’ death, when I imagine O’Keeffe writing to him even still.

By design, all the music from Letters found its way into The Brightness of Light. Ironically perhaps, it was the vivid, poetic language of these two artists best known for their visual art which I found most inspiring in the creation of these works.

It has been a great privilege to work with the baritone Rodney Gilfry who brings his tremendous gifts to the role of Stieglitz. I am grateful to Wendall Harrington for creating the projections which accompany the work, to Bette and Joseph Hirsch for their generous support of the work’s first incarnation, and to all the co-commissioners who have made its creation possible.

−Kevin Puts