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John Wineglass celebrates Steinbeck and California in new work

Lisa Ledin and John Wineglass pose next to each other in the KAZU studio.
Dylan Music/KAZU
KAZU's Lisa Ledin and composer John Wineglass strike a pose in the studio.

Emmy Award-winning composer John Wineglass has two Monterey Peninsula world premieres in February: "Pastures of Heaven" with Ensemble Monterey and "The Great Migration" with the Monterey Symphony, where he serves as composer in residence. Like a writer or photographer drawn to the beauty and history of the Central Coast, Wineglass paints luscious musical pictures, paying close attention to themes of social justice, geography and nature, like in his works "Big Sur: the Night Sun" and "Bonny Doon."

Now, Wineglass takes inspiration from Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck in "Pastures of Heaven" scored for children's choir, chorus and chamber ensemble. He takes the title from Steinbeck's famous collection of tales set in the hills of Corral de Tierra.

John Wineglass: I grew up on all of [Steinbeck's] books in seventh grade. That was my favorite writer of all time. And then I got to stay in his cottage here in Pacific Grove because a friend of mine had access [to it], and so I spent three months of last year there fully immersed in his cottage.

Lisa Ledin: Could you describe the forces in the movements?

JW: Well, it's really a piece about California. When I thought about California—there's different pastures to heaven in terms of beauty. As far as using Steinbeck's titles, I thought that would be an appropriate title for this piece because it's just different. It deals with different aspects of California, from the railroads to the Mormons, African-Americans settling here, the Chinese settling here. It's kind of that kind of thing.

Ledin and Wineglass in conversation
Dylan Music/KAZU
Ledin and Wineglass in conversation in the KAZU studio

LL: You were exercising another talent, and that is writing.

JW: Yes. I wasn't going to expose this, but here we are. With the help of ChatGPT I came up with the text. So, I'm not a librettist, and usually when I work with vocals I have a librettist or a libretto of some sort. Since I was kind of starting from scratch, I was able to put in a Shakespearean sonnet describing Salinas Valley and then from there I just used the text and worked the words the way I needed them to fit within the context of the music.

"Pastures of Heaven" is one of four premiers this month alone for Wineglass. Ensemble Monterey performs "Pastures of Heaven" with Cantiamo Cabrillo Youth Chorus under John Anderson February 3rd in Monterey and February 4th in Santa Cruz.

Ensemble Monterey and the Monterey Symphony are two of KAZU's many financial supporters.

Lisa Ledin joined KAZU in 2009, bringing with her a treasure trove of knowledge and expertise in local arts and culture. She is a voice of KAZU's underwriting announcements and also hosts Morning Edition every Friday, and Weekend Edition Saturdays.