Song is alchemy, a transformation of words through music that at its best creates a new form greater than the sum of its parts. An art song composer must have a variety of gifts: the ability to recognize and be inspired by memorable lyrics; the talent to evoke a mood or a specific sound through music; an intimate knowledge of the voice; and sensitivity to the rhythms of speech and prosody. When successful, the art song creates an inner world that tells us more than the text or music alone could convey.The song cycles on this album make a compelling case for Aaron Jay Kernis as one of today's most gifted song composers. More than simply a collection of individual songs, each of these cycles presents an integrated narrative arc that leaves one with the satisfied feeling of having traveled away and back. This is musical and structural magic of the highest order.Another attribute we require of contemporary composers is an original musical language--an individual compositional voice. With all the isms available to composers today (from minimalism to tonalism to totalism), much new music sounds derivative. Kernis's music however, while it draws from a variety of techniques and suggests affinities, always remains original, taking the best of what has come before and making it new.