I wrote this short song for my dear friends baritone/countertenor Phillip Cheah and pianist Trudy Chan, who comprise the Cheah Chan Duo, for a recital they presented in June 2016 for Pride Week in New York City. Frank J. Oteri suggested that I look to the works of Richard Barnfield for this commission, pointing in particular to this sonnet, which is one of the most obviously homoerotic of the period (Barnfield was a contemporary and close friend of William Shakespeare, and it is speculated that Barnfield was the “rival poet” in Shakespeare’s own sonnets). I was instantly drawn to the tension in the text, which I chose to convey using static harmonies and shifts in texture: the narrator’s emotional turmoil over having kept his love for his friend a secret for so long, the uncertainty he faces in making this admission, and the way that the poem stops short of his friend’s reaction, leaving that question – and the tension – hanging. Although the situation could have gone in many different directions, I chose to present my own interpretation of the ending.
Dennis Tobenski is a composer of acoustic new music, a vocalist, and a strong advocate for new music and for the interests of living composers.
Dennis’s Only Air, a 20-minute work for high voice and orchestra memorializing the gay teenagers who have taken their own lives in recent years, was commissioned by the Illinois State University Symphony Orchestra, and has been performed in a chamber version by The Secret Opera in New York and members of the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony.
In February 2016, he and pianist Marc Peloquin released their first album together, a disc of art songs by living American composers titled And He’ll Be Mine.
Dennis received his B.Mus. in Vocal Performance and Music Theory & Composition from Illinois State University, and his M.A. in Music Composition from The City College of New York.
His principal teachers have included David Del Tredici, Chester Biscardi, and David Feurzeig. He is a member of the Board of Advisors for Composers Now, and the Board of Directors of the KeyedUp MusicProject. Dennis lives in New York City with his husband Darien Scott Shulman and their cat Pistachio.