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The Knights Perform Vijay Iyer's Crisis Modes at Tanglewood

Jul. 15, 2021

The Knights, led by Eric Jacobsen, performed Vijay Iyer's Crisis Modes alongside George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (featuring pianist Aaron Diehl) on July 9 at the opening concert of Tanglewood’s 2021 summer season. Crisis Modes was premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, under the baton of Paolo Bortolameolli in 2018. The composer describes the work:

"When we improvise, music happens in the present; it is how we commune with the forces around us, human and otherwise. By contrast, when we compose (which the great Wayne Shorter succinctly defined as “slowed-down improvisation”), we are sending a piece of music downstream, to be heard in the future. Like the other composers on this program, I find myself doing a lot of both: digging in to the “now,” with and among others, and plotting events for the “then,” for others. These are some ways that we make music for today and for tomorrow. I chose to approach this piece of music-for-tomorrow like a time capsule. There’s no denying it: we live in a time of struggle, with humanitarian and environmental crises gripping us every day. So what might I try to tell future audiences, besides “S.O.S.”? I want to communicate to them, and to you, what it is possible for us to imagine from this scarred planet at the dawn of 2019. Speculative fiction author N. K. Jemisin recently said in an interview, “My job is to help the world… That is what an artist’s job is -- to the degree that we can… It is an artist’s job to speak truth to power.” Crisis Modes offers a version of the present in which we call each other to action, push through a haze of denial, and organize ourselves as a coherent, constructive oppositional force. I don’t exactly know what that sounds like, but I can at least imagine how it feels, so this piece is my attempt to trace that affective landscape. The central episode, “Denial,” first came to me as a piano improvisation, which I then orchestrated for strings and percussion. I’d never done that before, but I felt that this would be a way to access an embodied, emotionally unfiltered musicality. I built outward from there, framing that section with a series of activations: various qualities of movement that trace their origins to South Asian- and African-descended musical systems and to the ambient rhythms of cities."

On July 6, Min Kwon premiered Vijay Iyer's Crown Thy Goodas part of the America/Beautiful project which invited over 70 composers to compose works for solo piano in response to the traditional patriotic song, "America the Beautiful." Vijay Iyer noted:

"In all honesty, when I was invited by Min Kwon to participate in this project, I was quite reluctant. I find nationalistic sentiment dangerous, and will not write or sing praise songs to this or any nation. I am surely not alone in this, especially now that we’ve seen some of this nation’s most powerful citizens implement terror, cruelty, and violence against the most vulnerable, under a false banner of patriotism. In the end, instead of declining the invitation, I managed to assemble this depleted, ambivalent, mournful echo of the original."

(5K3 Sessions interview Vijay Iyer)

To learn more about Vijay Iyer, visit:

Vijay Iyer
Crisis Modes (2018)
for percussion and strings
3 percussion: I: snare drum, 4 tom-toms, kick drum, 5 temple blocks, 5 wood blocks, tubular bells, handclaps, glockenspiel; II: 5 temple blocks, handclaps, claves, triangle, glockenspiel, bass drum, vibraphone, xylophone; III: 5 temple blocks, handclaps, bass drum, vibraphone, xylophone