American Composers Orchestra & Carnegie Hall Co-Present
March 25, 2022 at 7:30pm
AMERICAN COMPOSERS ORCHESTRA
Marin Alsop, Guest Conductor
Jennifer Koh, Violin
About the Program, Composers & Works
In the Composer’s Own Words
I composed Restless Oceans for Marin Alsop and the Taki Concordia Orchestra for performance at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. The piece received its world premiere at the opening ceremony in 2019 where Marin Alsop was presented with the Forum’s prestigious Crystal Award in recognition of her championship of diversity in music. This work draws inspiration and its title from A Woman Speaks – a poem by Audre Lorde and was composed with this particular all-women orchestra in mind. In addition to playing their instruments, the musicians are also called to use their voices in song and strong vocalizations, and their feet to stomp and to bring them to stand united at the end. My intention was to write a defiant piece that embraces the power of women. Restless Oceans is dedicated with thanks to Marin Alsop.
A Woman Speaks – by Audre Lorde
Moon marked and touched by sun
my magic is unwritten
but when the sea turns back
it will leave my shape behind.
I seek no favor
untouched by blood
unrelenting as the curse of love
permanent as my errors
or my pride
I do not mix
love with pity
nor hate with scorn
and if you would know me
look into the entrails of Uranus
where the restless oceans pound.
I do not dwell
within my birth nor my divinities
who am ageless and half-grown
and still seeking
witches in Dahomey
wear me inside their coiled cloths
as our mother did
I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic
and the noon’s new fury
with all your wide futures
and not white.
Excerpt of Anna Clyne’s Restless Oceans
Hannah Kendall’s work has been widely celebrated. She has created pieces such as Disillusioned Dreamer (2018), which the San Francisco Chronicle praised for having a ‘rich inner life’, as well as The Knife of Dawn (2016), a chamber opera that received critical acclaim for its involving and claustrophobic representation of the incarceration of Guyanese political activist Martin Carter. Read More
In the Composer’s Own Words
Tuxedo: Vasco ‘de’ Gama takes its title from Jean-Michel Basquiat’s iconic 1982-1983 artwork ‘Tuxedo’, a collection of sixteen diagrammatic block pieces that come together to form a figure adorned with Basquiat’s trademark three-point crown symbol. It highlights reoccurring notions of majesty in his output, as does the tuxedo itself, which is a garment associated with luxury and elegance. A multitude of Basquiat’s thematic preoccupations are displayed in the intricate hand-drawn and hand-written iconographic detail, encompassing a variety of histories. Indeed, his reference to Vasco da Gama (written as ‘Vasco de Gama’), the first European to voyage to Asia by sea, offers a commentary on exploration, and the seeds of globalisation and multiculturalism; two important themes regarding the year 2020.The music moves between bright and buoyant moments of high energy, and expansive stillness, underpinned by the incorporated harmonicas, which also function as a nod to the Blues. Basquiat often drew attention to historical and contemporary matters of the African Diaspora. In a similar fashion, I have included a transcription of ‘Wade in the Water’, a traditional African-American Spiritual song, for music box.
Excerpt of Hannah Kendall’s Tuxedo Vasca ‘de’ Gama
Dai Wei is originally from China. Her musical journey navigates in the spaces between east and west, classical and pop, electronic and acoustic, innovation and tradition. She often draws from eastern philosophy and aesthetics to create works with contemporary resonance, and reflect an introspection on how these multidimensional conflicts and tension can create and inhabit worlds of their own. Read More
In the Composer’s Own Words
When I was in Tibet, I was told that there was a legendary realm of peace and prosperity, governed by wisdom and passion. This place is called Shambhala. It is said that at the bottom of Potala Palace, there is a secret tunnel to the Shambhala. This immediately reminds me of the mandala thangka, where geometric patterns are constructed on a series of concentric squares or circles with numerous entrances. In Invisible Portals, my hope is that it opens up adventurous portals to a place that does not come only from the West or the East; a place where multicultural and multidimensional conversations interweave beyond time and space. Ultimately it takes me to the Shambhala I carry inside.
Excerpt of Dai Wei’s Samsaric Dance, recorded at ACO’s EarShot Reading in 2020
Paula Matthusen is a composer who writes both electroacoustic and acoustic music and realizes sound installations. In addition to composing for a variety of different ensembles, she also collaborates with choreographers and theater companies. She has written for diverse instrumentations, such as “run-on sentence of the pavement” for piano, ping-pong balls, and electronics, which Alex Ross of The New Yorker noted as being “entrancing”. Read More
Matthusen’s work often considers discrepancies in musical space—real, imagined, and remembered. Recent areas of creative inquiry include extensive field recording, which has led to compositions and sound projects in aqueducts, caves, and sites of historic infrastructure.
Matthusen’s music has been performed by Grossman Ensemble, Experiments in Opera, Dither, Mantra Percussion, the Bang On A Can All-Stars, Brooklyn Rider, Loadbang, New York New Music Ensemble, Splinter Reeds, the Scharoun Ensemble, Alarm Will Sound, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), orchest de ereprijs, The Glass Farm Ensemble, the Estonian National Ballet, James Moore, Terri Hron, Dana Jessen, Kathryn Woodard, Todd Reynolds, Kathleen Supové, Margaret Lancaster and Jody Redhage. Her work has been performed at numerous venues and festivals in America and Europe, including the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music, the Caramoor Festival, the MusicNOW Series of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Ecstatic Music Festival, Other Minds, the MATA Festival, Merkin Concert Hall, the Aspen Music Festival, Bang on a Can Summer Institute of Music at MassMoCA, the Gaudeamus New Music Week, SEAMUS, International Computer Music Conference and Dither’s Invisible Dog Extravaganza.
Matthusen performs frequently on live-electronics as well, and has been a featured composer and performer at Experimental Intermedia Festival (NYC), 9 Evenings +50 at Fridman Gallery (NYC), SPLICE Festival (Kalamazoo), BEASt FEaST (Birmingham, UK), Ultrasons (Montreal), and Salon Bruit (Berlin). She also performs frequently with Object Collection, and is involved in interdisciplinary collaborations such as the project between systems and grounds with visual artist Olivia Valentine for live-textile generation and live-electronics, and Kite Choir with artist Firat Erdim.
Awards include the Walter Hinrichsen Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Fulbright Grant, two ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composers’ Awards, First Prize in the Young Composers’ Meeting Composition Competition, the MacCracken and Langley Ryan Fellowship, the “New Genre Prize” from the IAWM Search for New Music, and recently the 2014 Elliott Carter Rome Prize. Matthusen has also held residencies at The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Hambidge, ACRE, create@iEar at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, STEIM, and the Atlantic Center for the Arts. Matthusen is currently Professor of Music at Wesleyan University, and teaches experimental music, composition, and music technology. Matthusen’s work is available through Innova, Cantaloupe Music, New Amsterdam Records, AntiCausal Systems, Carrier Records, Quiet Design Records, and C.F. Peters.
In the Composer’s Own Words
Prophecy in Reverse began with the prompt to consider notions of sanctuary. As such, it seeks an ebb and flow and moments of musical space, noting that moments of respite and healing can come from surprising interconnections. Structurally, I am curious as to what the word “sanctuary” evokes – is it a space? A feeling? A sound? These possibilities and potentialities are powerful as they overlap with one another. Embracing multiplicities of meaning, the piece evolved into a collaboration with poet Danielle Vogel, whose work Sea Margin: a prophecy in reverse, was written in response to early sketches of this piece. Excerpts of this work punctuate each of the movements, either as projected or printed material. I am tremendously grateful to the many creative efforts and layers of expertise that make this piece and performance possible. Many thanks to the American Composers Orchestra, its staff and musicians, for making its premiere at Zankel Hall in a time of enormous precarity both for the performing arts and public gathering possible. Special thanks to artistic director Derek Bermel and conductor Marin Alsop. Many thanks as well to Ben Melsky and Warren Enstrom.
Composer, producer, and vocalist Lisa Bielawa is a Rome Prize winner in Musical Composition and takes inspiration for her work from literary sources and close artistic collaborations. She is the recipient of the 2017 Music Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters and a 2020 OPERA America Grant for Female Composers. Read More
Bielawa consistently executes work that incorporates community-making as part of her artistic vision. She has created music for public spaces in Lower Manhattan, the banks of the Tiber River in Rome, on the sites of former airfields in Berlin in San Francisco, to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and virtually during the coronavirus lockdown using submitted testimonies and recorded voices from six continents. Her music has been premiered at the NY PHIL BIENNIAL, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, SHIFT Festival, Naumburg Orchestral Concerts, National Cathedral, Rouen Opera, MAXXI Museum in Rome, and Helsinki Music Center, among others. Orchestras that have championed her music include The Knights, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and the Orlando Philharmonic. Premieres of her work have been commissioned and presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Brooklyn Rider, Seattle Chamber Music Society, Radio France, and more.
Bielawa began touring as the vocalist with the Philip Glass Ensemble in 1992. In 1997 Bielawa co-founded the MATA Festival, which celebrates the work of young composers, and for five years she was the artistic director of the San Francisco Girls Chorus. She received a 2018 Los Angeles Area Emmy nomination for her unprecedented, made-for-TV-and-online opera Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser, created with librettist Erik Ehn and director Charles Otte. Vireo was filmed in twelve parts in locations across the country and features over 350 musicians. Vireo was released on CD/DVD in 2019 (Orange Mountain Music) and she is also recorded on the Tzadik, TROY, Innova, BMOP/sound, Supertrain Records, Sono Luminus, and Cedille labels. www.lisabielawa.net.
Definitions of the word “sanctuary” center around sacredness, but also around safety. It keeps something or someone in and also keeps something or someone out. It can protect either the innocent or the guilty. It serves to set something apart as sacred, to sanctify. It protects from influence and preserves the purity of things and ideas.
The word has new prominence and resonance in our current cultural climate. Inspired by the role of Sanctuary in the lives of American people, including people I know and love, and in Jennifer Koh’s life as well as my own, I undertook a large-scale research project around this powerful word.
My task was simple: find instances of the use of “sanctuary” in a broad range of American writings, in order to reach a greater understanding of its layered meaning within American consciousness. I undertook the historical research for the Sanctuary project at the American Antiquarian Society in MA, where I was the William Randolph Hearst Artist Fellow in July 2018. I explored broadsides, poetry, political tracts and speeches, novels and children’s literature – vernacular as well as statesmanlike works – discovering writings that capture the off-hand use of the word in different eras of American history.
In all cases, “sanctuary” carries a sense of the inviolable. It is used to appeal to a sense of the absolute. It appears in the rhetoric of both sides of every important American struggle: Abolition, Suffrage, Secession, Manifest Destiny, Temperance, Marriage Rights, Civil Rights, and the foundational thinking of the Founding Fathers. It aims to bypass rational argument and addresses itself directly to sentiment, justice, moral rightness, piety, bigotry, romantic feeling or patriotism.
In the sources I found, sanctuary can denote separate spheres within one’s domain: his study or studio, her virtue, her boudoir, his private correspondence. It can be a safe place, away from bad influences like Drinking, or a “safe” space for debauchery to express itself freely away from corrective influences like women’s company or the Law. Intimacy and love pierce the ‘inner’ sanctuary of the heart and spirit. The White Man’s predations pierce the sanctuary of the Native American’s beloved land. The presence of a loved one can turn a place into a sanctuary for the beloved. People build sanctuaries around their hearts or souls because they have been hurt, and new tenderness or desire can pierce those protective walls. Poetry can be a sanctuary from darker thoughts. Learning that one you love has done evil can make you feel the shame of having the sanctuary of your heart violated.
Sanctuary, the violin concerto, is in three movements that articulate a journey towards sanctuary. The first movement, “Speak,” explores the emotional space within one’s soul or mind that spins out ever more urgent appeals for succor or deliverance. Its epigraph, from 1859, is an anonymous quote from a poem in Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion: “Within the soul’s deep sanctuary, thought, / Are shadow forms, dim present to my view, / Nor wholly spectral, yet embodied not, / And yet they speak to me with voices true…”
The second movement, “Threshold,” takes its title from a contemporary biography of Abraham Lincoln entitled Every-Day Life of Lincoln, in which the author quotes a woman who had met the President in person: “…his face! – oh, the pathos of it!…I gazed at him through tears, and felt I had stepped upon the threshold of a sanctuary too sacred for human feet.” In this long movement, the actual research comes to life: the movement begins with the orchestra in rhythmic unison, uttering the exact scansion of a collection of found phrases that use the word “sanctuary.” The texts, listed below this note in order, can be followed as the movement is heard. I have set the word “sanctuary,” which of course occurs at different times in each of the quoted phrases, exactly the same way, following the syllabic emphasis and contour of the word itself. Those who recognize the significance of the intervals I’ve chosen will notice that they spell H-C-B-A (transposed freely), a shuffling of the B-A-C-H motif first used by Bach himself and then, in homage to him, by hundreds of composers since, including Schumann, Brahms, Schoenberg, Poulenc, and Pärt. The cadenza at the heart of this movement is an expanded utterance of, and meditation on, a quote from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 masterpiece Uncle Tom’s Cabin: “the heart…took refuge in that inarticulate sanctuary of music, and found there a language in which to breathe…” The cadenza is the threshold of the piece itself, taking us through struggle and distress to a place of release. What follows is an encounter with a personal memory of musical sanctuary: playing Chopin’s Etude Opus 10 No. 4 very, very slowly, in order to feel myself crawling inside the yearning yet soothing chromaticism of the inner accompanimental line that runs through it.
The last word of Stowe’s quote provides the title of the last short movement, which fills out the joy of finding sanctuary in music. Almost every musician and music-lover I know, including Jenny and myself, has found sanctuary in the music of Bach at one time or other in their lives. Here I remember and celebrate specifically the third movement, Allegro Assai, from Bach’s A-minor violin concerto, complete with its 9/8 lilt and its extended bariolage.
So many people on our stages and in our audiences are immigrants and refugees. Personal journeys and tribulations also find us urgently seeking new ground. Music provides a sanctuary; through it we create sacredness and refuge for ourselves and for each other.