Book of Ice
by Paul D. Miller with an introduction by Brian Greene
Mark Batty; 128 pages
Paul D. Miller is probably best known as DJ Spooky, outelectronica artist. But he’s also an eloquent author about DJing and musical aesthetics in books such as Rhythm Science and Sound Unbound. Well versed in contemporary classical music, Miller has collaborated with and remixed music by Steve Reich, Iannis Xenakis, and Terry Riley. His latest project is perhaps his most ambitious and it involves one of the longest field trips and most far flung residencies an artist can make: a trip to Antartica.
In order to do research for Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antartica, a work commissioned by BAM for its 2009 Next Wave festival, Miller travelled to this remote region, soaking in its forbidding landscapes. Book of Ice is a companion to the Terra Nova project, a journal of the work in process. It’s also a travelogue for this most unlikely of destinations. Miller meditates on a complex array of associations - historical, sociological, and imaginational – that humankind has with this principally uninhabited continent.
Along the way, readers are treated to a glimpse of Antartica’s fascinating past and its very uncertain and environmentally unstable future. Miller is a nimble ecological advocate, expounding upon the dangers we face from climate change – underscored by the impact it’s already had on polar ice caps – without ever allowing the book to tread too heavily. He also manages to make what might at first seem to be an unlikely pairing – that of DJ culture and Antartic exploits – cohere into an edifying and engaging read throughout.
There are a few more concerts happening in New York this week that you should know about, and then I’ll give the concert updates a rest for a while. Promise.
Tonight (Tuesday, October 12), is your last chance to see the New York premiere of Kraft by Magnus Lindberg. 7:30pm, New York Philharmonic, Avery Fisher Hall. If you somehow haven’t heard about this, you can read the s21 posts about it here, here, and here; the New York Times articles and videos here, and here. You can even find some info over at Huffington Post. Check on ticket availability here, and see you tonight!
Thursday (October 14), like most nights here, is full of fantastic concerts to check out. Here are two that I strongly recommend: Option #1, Transit presents So Percussion, Tristan Perich, and Corps Exquis (a collaboration between Daniel Wohl and six video artists) at Galapagos (8pm). Option #2, Talea Ensemble is presenting a concert called KINETICS (also at 8pm at the Rose Studio at Lincoln Center); they will perform music by Philippe Leroux, Luciano Berio, Frank Denyer, Manfred Stahnke, and a world premiere by Alexandre Lunsqui appropriately titled Kineticstudies. Good luck choosing!
Friday (October 15) is the season opener for the American Composers Orchestra (7:30pm. Zankel Hall). Their program is called “Mystics & Magic” and they will present John Luther Adams, Jacob Druckman, Wang Jie (winner of ACO’s 2009 Underwood New Music Readings Commission), Alvin Singleton, and Claude Vivier. And they will also be welcome two truly amazing soloists: soprano Susan Narucki (for Claude’s piece), and pianist Ursula Oppens (for Alvin’s piece).
Saturday (October 16) I’ll be checking out A House in Bali over at BAM. Of course, this is actually being presented the 14-16th, so take your pick. There’s no need to go into details about it here, you can read my earlier post for more information.
Finally, it’s almost here, after over a year of waiting, the east coast premiere of Evan Ziporyn’s new opera A House in Bali.
Our friends in Boston get to check it out first this weekend: Friday and Saturday, October 8th and 9th, at the Cutler Majestic Theater (219 Tremont Street). The good folks at Bang on a Can have even made a special offer available for these two shows – just click here for the offer.
Then, the next weekend, the whole production is coming down to NYC for performances at BAM, October 14-16th, as part of the 2010 Next Wave Festival.
While I know that I have been waiting a year to see this, I realize that people may not know what A House in Bali is all about.
A House in Bali (featuring a rare U.S. appearance by the 16-member Balinese gamelan orchestra Salukat intertwined with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, western opera, live video feeds, and traditional Balinese dance) tells the “East meets West” story of composer Colin McPhee and his immersion in Balinese music and culture. The trailblazing work directed by Jay Scheib with libretto by Paul Schick follows the course of McPhee’s sojourn to Bali, his encounters with anthropologist Margaret Mead and painter Walter Spies, and their ultimately tragic relationship with dancer I Sampih, a Balinese youth whom McPhee mentors after the boy saves his life. In addition to Gamelan Salukat and Bang on a Can All-Stars, featured performers include Dewa Ketut Alit, recognized worldwide as one of the top Indonesian composer-performers of his generation, renowned American tenor Peter Tantsits as Colin McPhee, mesmerizing dancers Kadek Dewi Aryani and Desak Madé Suarti Laksmi, celebrated Balinese masked dancer I Nyoman Catra, tenor Timur Bekbosunov, soprano Anne Harley, and Nyoman Triyana Usadhi.
Over the past couple years I have been able to sit down and talk with most of the members of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, who will all be performing in these Boston and New York productions. None of the interviews are about A House in Bali specifically, but they are all about these musicians’ experience working with composers. Click on a name to go straight to the audio: Evan Ziporyn, Vicky Chow, Robert Black, Ashley Bathgate, and Derek Johnson (subbing for Mark Stewart).
And, if any of you can’t seem to get enough of Evan, he also has this show at Carnegie on October 30th… if you aren’t already going to this or this.
Philip Glass always does the unexpected. Or, as he said to me when we were talking on the phone about his subsequently Oscar-nominated score for Errol Morris’ 2003 The Fog of War, “I’m a bad person to interview because I never stay on the subject.” Well, yes and no. Yes, because Glass’s focus on the work in front of him is unflinching, and no, because his instincts always lead him to surprising solutions. His two-act 155 minute intermission-less new opera Kepler is yet another example of Glass’s wandering, yet disciplined, mind. Premiered at the Linz Opera by American conductor Dennis Russell Davies and his Bruckner Orchester Linz on September 20 2009 as part of that city’s celebrations as this year’s Cultural Capital of Europe, Kepler made the trip to Brooklyn smoothly, carrying a bit of history. Kepler lived in Linz, Mozart’s Symphony #36 was dedicated to it, Bruckner was choir director there — and two of the Nazis’ death camps — Mauthausen and Gusen, whose specialty was getting rid of the intelligentsia, were scant kilometres from its city limits. But then darkness is rarely far from light.
And darkness, as distinct, or in contrast/opposition to — light –is the motor that drives Glass’s Kepler, but not in a Manichean way. Glass is far too subtle to put his cards on one table. Instead, being a practical and practicing Buddhist, he seems to have chosen the unglamorous “Middle Way” which means seeing “things as they are” and in Kepler’s case this is war, strife, and people who dared question him. The mathematician-teacher-astronomer-astrologer and all-round provocateur, who lived from 1571 to 1630, seems to have been at the epicenter of cultural ferment, and of course, the first decade or so of The Thirty Years War (1618-1648), which began more or less as a conflict between Catholics and Protestants and ended up devastating much of Europe, with a death toll as high as 11.5 million people.
Glass dramatizes these stresses in a direct and indirect way. And Glass’s German and Latin libretto, assembled by Austrian artist Martina Winkel, from Kepler’s theoretical writings on the laws of planetary motion and other major discoveries, his enemies list, passages from the Lutheran Bible, and poems by Andreas Gryphius (1616-1664), works both as reportage and evocation. The oratorio-like piece for the 79 member BOL was partially staged here with effective lighting and Karel van Laere’s costumes for its seven soloists — bass-baritone Martin Achrainer as Kepler is the only specified character with Soprano 1 — Sadie Rosales who substituted for the indisposed Cassandra McConnell — Soprano 2 (Cheryl Lichter), Mezzo (Katherina Hebelkova), Tenor (Pedro Velazquez Diaz), Baritone (Seho Chang), and Bass (Florian Spiess) — who functioned as aspects of Kepler’s often beleaguered psyche. The 40 member Linz chorus moved incrementally through the work.
I’d have to agree with my “plus 1″ friend that the first 20 or so minutes (after a wonderfully transparent orchestra only prologue with lovely chromatic figures for the strings) was pretty tough going. But things began to pick up when Kepler outlines his theories and his conflicts – the notion that heaven’s not a place inhabited by “divine beings” but a “clockwork” – which, of course, suits Glass’s formal processes perfectly. The chorus, operating as both character and commentator, gave Kepler heft and vivid and enormously varied contrasts. Glass has always written superbly for massed voices — the choruses in Satyagraha (1979) are contemporary landmarks — and those here were both affecting and powerful, especially the “Vanitas! Vanitas!” , which the full vocal ensemble sang on the lip of the stage facing the audience, with the orchestra seated behind. And wouldn’t you know it, my cell rang — being a neophyte in all things cell –which was the only sound in the house as the audience was completely spellbound — and how could they not be — by this arresting passage. I promise to learn how to turn the damned thing off. Read the rest of this entry »