ISSUE is pleased to premiere Orpheus Variations, a new composition by revolutionary American composer Alvin Lucier for solo cello, seven wind instruments, and seven dancers. Written for and performed by cellist Charles Curtis and wind ensemble, the piece is staged featuring new choreography from Abigail Levine. The piece is based on a particular sonority, that has haunted Lucier for decades, from the first movement of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet score, Orpheus. The evening also features Lucier’s Glacier for solo cello, also performed by Curtis.
Orpheus Variations is one of eight large-scale compositions made expressly for Charles Curtis by Alvin Lucier in the last 15 years. Curtis notes, “Lucier speaks first of a sonority, and only then of a chord. He discusses the chord, its notes and their disposition, but what haunts him is a ‘particular sonority.’ A sonority is the product of physical action on physical materials: the instruments, the registers in which they are activated, the breath of the musicians, the waveforms thus produced, their merging and interfering, and finally the moment and place of these actions. An energy field, certain to vanish completely once the musicians put down their instruments. However concrete and real the actions and materials, the sonority they produce is a phantom.”
In Orpheus Variations, Alvin Lucier arranges the pitches from a single chord of Stravinsky’s Orpheus, itself created as the score for a ballet. The chord is distributed across eight instrumental voices — seven winds and cello — who cycle through the pitches, meeting each other in moments of unison and counterpoint. Abigail Levine’s choreography for Orpheus Variations transposes Lucier’s score from sound to gesture. Performed by seven dancers, the choreography is composed with a closed set of seven gestures, which reflect the position, doubling, and progression of the pitches of Stravinsky’s chord. The dancers of the work become, fleetingly, an incarnation of this spectral sound.
Abigail Levine has organized an intergenerational group of dancers including Rob Besserer, Elena Demyanenko, Kentoria Earle, Ayano Elson, Maho Ogawa, and Kristopher K.Q. Pourzal.
The wind ensemble features students from the University of San Diego under the direction of Charles Curtis: Rachel Allen, Teresa Diaz de Cossio, Nicolee Kuester, Mike Lormand, Michael Matsuno, Alexandria Smith, and Berk Schneider.
Written in 2009, Glacier features a cellist slowly sweeping downward, tracking a graph of the mean mass balance of 30 glaciers over a 24-year period, from 1980 to 2004. Glacier was commissioned by Feet to the Fire, Exploring Global Climate Changes from Science to Art and has recently been performed by Curtis with the The Society For The Activation of Social Space Through Art and Sound in Los Angeles, and Lampo in Chicago. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Mark Swed describes Glacier as “A quiet piece and a sad one [but also] extremely delicate and endearingly lovely one.”