Known for its variety of innovative cultural events productions, this evening’s fascinating program for the River to River festival was realized by Beth Morrison. River to River promotes cultural life, particularly in downtown Manhattan, and the Beth Morrison Project put its creative initiative into this event’s planning. This evening’s program enveloped me with candle light and surrealistic backdrop video installations, as a sampler of the fantastic collaboration and exchange between the attending musicians.
Paola Prestini, one of the vibrant composers who shared the bill together with Missy Mazzoli and Nico Muhly (whose works were solemnly performed by the Trinity Choir conducted by Julian Wachner at the festival) took the time to bring me closer into the performance of her House of Solitude –A Poet’s Labyrinth. ” The work is still in progress” she explained, “and the completed version will premiere at the Krannert Center in 2013. The KBOW, which is Neil’s bow, was invented by the famed Keith McMillan, triggers sound files and effects but will eventually trigger lighting and film. We are working on that and expanding the piece now… Keith invented Zeta instruments and Neil is endorsing the KBOW.” With intoxicating motions, that seemed to make sound waves emerge beyond the bowing of his violin, the luminous Cornelius Dufallo (see also my article here ) performed Prestini’s work in conjunction with a conceptually surrealist and amorphously mood-altering video, designed by Carmen Kordas, which was shown on a back dropped screen.
Mazzoli, on keyboard, performed with the expressive violist Nadia Sirota, to videos by Jennifer Stock as well as Alice Lovejoy. The interplay of this duo had been feelingly explored before. And Mazzoli too, reflects on progress as a constant in her life; making life itself a conscious work in progress.
“Never knowing what is going to happen tomorrow, the adventure of performing, composing, educating, producing…” are her ideas of having a great time with music.
“I am constantly developing and changing my own voice, it is always influenced by new genres, by new and old composers and by visual arts. Inevitably that’s going to change my writing. For example in the moment, I am fascinated with the visual impact of Sol Levitt or the music of John Luther Adams; I am struck by how one can create a piece out of these patterns and create those collages,” says Mazzoli. That does not exclude her fascination with Beethoven’s classicism.
The best thing that happened according to Mazzoli was having had the opportunity to spend time in Amsterdam at 21, on a Fulbright grant, where she studied with Louis Andriessen, who incidentally was named Musical America’s composer of 2010. She describes that period as a powerful life experience, performing in clubs, putting on shows, and traveling with her first band hills not skyscrapers. Upon her return and receiving her Master’s degree from Yale, she held several music related positions, ranging from personal assistant of Meredith Monk to an executive position running the Philip Glass founded MATA festival, where she started as one of the performers. Everything is connected and it is about exposure and cooperation with performers who become friends and a network that leads constantly to bigger and better things.
Recording producer Judd Greenstein, a good friend of Mazzoli, also recorded her first album Cathedral City that was released with her all- female performers band Victoire last September and was ranked one of the best classical CDs of 2010 by NPR, the New York Times, as well as by New Yorker’s own Alex Ross, naming Mazzoli as “a leader of New York’s young moderns.”
Even though she describes it as accidental,that all the performers at Victoire are female, she welcomes the opportunity, in a field still somewhat dominated by male composers as well as instrumentalists, to work with women. The quintet, performing Mazzoli’s electrically amplified works, was founded in 2008. Mazzoli does not typically perform her own works much; instead she is commissioned by artists around the world. The Kronos Quartet, Eight Blackbird and the American Composers Orchestra are among many of her regulars.
Before Mazzoli, who actually owned up to a bit of stage nerves, got ready for her performance that evening at Trinity Church, the festival’s venue, we talked about the medium of opera that seems to dominate musical exploration of the moment. While the news of Nico Muhly’s grand production Opera-debut in London just made the headlines, Mazzoli is similarly looking to expand the medium of an orchestra piece or a song cycle for one of her new projects. Inspired by a theme, based on the life of North- Africa explorer Isabelle Eberhardt, which she feels requires a larger staging, multiple voices and more time expansion, she plans on producing an opera that will be a scaled down version of what is usually known to be an opera production, with all the key ingredients intact.
“People will realize that the definition of opera is flexible. You don’t need millions of dollars for a full cast of divas and the MET. My opera will consist of a 5 people orchestra, 5 soloists, projections, video production and it will manage to tell the story with multiple voices, librettos and so on…and full staging. Supported by a Jerome Foundation grant that recently others have shared in, it will be a ca.70 minutes performance at The Kitchen, a black box theater with full set design.
Beth Morrison Project is currently planning an elaborate program with the same participants to celebrate Philip Glass’ seventy-fifth birthday.
For Paola Prestini
For Nico Muhly
For Missy Mazzoli