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Posts tagged 'The Crossing'

Listening to Social (and Musical) Distance with Wang Lu

As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to make live concerts with large audiences impossible, musicians and composers are faced with a unique opportunity to think carefully about the sociality of composition, performance, and listening: since sound can travel through physical space (and digital space), what can music mean, or do, in a time of social distance?

Wang Lu is a composer whose work has explored ideas of the distances of time, memory, and place—often evoking, recreating, altering, manifesting places and times from her own distant memories. The titular work on her recently-released album, An Atlas of Time, maps and remembers sound and space from her own past: the opening melody of a children’s television broadcast is reincarnated in the strangeness of the present; fragments of the ambitiously trans-historical "Internationale" struggle among instruments responding to its insistent reemergence. In this sense, Wang’s pre-COVID music was already exploring ideas of “social distance”: a kind of musical sociality between people that connects them through time and space. 

During the COVID era, Wang has had the opportunity to stage this kind of “distant musical sociality” through a residency as a Vanguard Young Composer in Residence at Chicago Opera Theater: a paradoxical residency that is at once physically present yet also largely virtual. The experience of working with music and theater is new to Wang, who says that it has changed the way she thinks about her role as the composer: not only is she working with performers and conductors, but now also a director and a dramaturg, all of whom increase the complexity of composing in musical time. Wang reflects: “Now I have to think about dramatic action, movement, breathing, how much time and space a person needs to express themselves… and to translate that into Sibelius, with its insistent metronome—it’s hard to translate time!”  

One example of how Wang is navigating this new dynamic is a series of four art songs she has composed for the singers of the Chicago Opera Theater—who, she reports, have been living in a “pod” and quarantining before rehearsals in order to continue their craft. In “The Everlasting Voices”, sung by bass-baritone Keanon Kyles, Wang translates the senses of time, distance, and memory she has developed in her works for chamber ensembles into a composition for a single voice—from extremely dense polyphony to the simple, modal writing of an a capella voce.  

Wang also brought this sense of a personal unfolding of time to her new work Like Clockwork, which was commissioned and premiered by the Seattle Modern Orchestra—entirely remotely. For this work, written with Beethoven’s 250th birthyear in mind, Wang created a score that includes guided improvisation, asking five performers to record themselves at home, listening to recordings of each other as they improvise, remembering what role Beethoven’s music played in their own musical development. “Some repertoire might be right on your fingertips, memories in your hands from training… each gesture moves through the next like a clock—it’s what retains a sense of time, clock and calendar.” In Like Clockwork, Wang meditates on her own memories: “like walking through an old conservatory building in china, where all of the practice rooms leak sound”, creating a spatial memory. 

In June 2021, Wang is scheduled to premiere a new work for The Crossing: a socially-distanced, outdoor performance for 24 singers, each equipped with their own personal microphone and speaker, allowing them to stand in a 170-foot-diameter circle. A concentric circle inside will contain loudspeakers, and inside that circle, pods of audience members will listen in the round. Wang says that this work, which will set poems from Forrest Gander’s 2018 Be With, will continue to explore topics of distance, connection, and mourning. “Intricate rhythm of response isn’t possible with physical distance. But like ‘mountain songs’ sung by distant lovers across valleys, with communication across physical distance, it makes private relationships become uniquely public.” 


Ted Hearne: Sounds from the Bench

There is a multiple valence to the "political" aspect of the music of Ted Hearne. Yes, it often sets texts pulled from contemporary politics—WikiLeaks, court testimony, headlines; but it also creates, in the moment of its performance, a polis—a community of performers and witnesses, confronted with texts laid bare by their setting and repetition. At the Philly Fringe Festival this past weekend, The Crossing performed a program of Hearne's music entitled "Sounds from the Bench"—four compositions that use texts drawn from our own contemporary media polis

(pages from Consent

The works performed included Sound from the Bench, which used the words of Supreme Court oral arguments on corporate personhood mixed with language from ventriloquism manuals; Ripple, which sets one line of text from the Iraq War Logs; Privilege, which uses text by David Simon, creator of "The Wire"; and Consent, which combines love letters with text messages cited in the Stuebenville High School rape case of 2012. (Consent will also be performed alongside the World Premiere of Hannah Lash's Reqiuem later this month in New Haven and New York, as well as at the Ear Taxi Festival in Chicago on October 6) Listen to a sample of Consent below.

A few weeks earlier, Cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, formerly of the Kronos Quartet, and percussionist Ian Rosenbaum recently performed Hearne's Furtive Movements in Tulsa as a part of a four-day residency, organized through Choregus Productions.

Furtive Movements, a non-texted piece, approaches the political in a different way. Hearne's concern with this piece is to subvert the identities of these two different instruments—one ostensibly melodic, one rhythmic— by moving beyond the concepts of pitch and rhythm, and into the areas of timbre and phrasing. The cello is "prepared" with a wine cork in-between its G and D strings; rhythmic phrases pass between both players, and often they are called to play in unison. 

(pages from Furtive Movements

And why might this music be "furtive"? Hearne writes: "this phrase conveys the assumption of guilt [...] based on appearance or demeanor in a given moment, which is striking to me because it speaks more to the expectations of the observer than to a useful description of the subject." Our expectations of what music is, or can be, are called into question here: Hearne points our assumptions back at ourselves, forcing us to grapple with our own desire of what music should be by showing us what it could be, otherwise. 

Furtive Movements will also be performed later in the month by members of The Knights to accompany new choreography by Pam Tanowitz at The Joyce's NY Quadrille

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