The Anchoress, a new monodrama by David Ludwig, “a composer with something urgent to say” (Philadelphia Inquirer), has its New York premiere on Thursday, October 18 at 8:00 PM at The DiMenna Center for Classical Music, Cary Hall. Set to texts by Katie Ford, The Anchoress is inspired by the medieval mystic tradition called anchorism and its relationship to contemporary society. In what may be the first-ever combination of voice, period wind instruments, and saxophones, The Anchoress will be performed by soprano Hyunah Yu; the early music ensemble Piffaro, The Renaissance Band; and the PRISM Quartet.
The Anchoress explores struggles with faith, alienation, gender, and social power through the imagined person of a Medieval anchoress. Anchorism as a movement lasted throughout early Christianity to about the time of Shakespeare; and though it was a gender-neutral practice, at its height women anchorites outnumbered men four to one. An anchoress would permanently sequester herself into a small cell attached to a church. She had one small window through which to speak to townspeople coming to her for guidance. Her daily life resembled a prayerful funereal rite, as she would remain in the “anchorhold” under her eventual passing. By withdrawing from the world and choosing a form of death, she became a “living saint” in the eyes of the Church.
David Ludwig writes, “The Anchoress explores contrasting wind ensemble sonorities from opposite ends of Western music history: the ancient, now unusual street band instruments of the Piffaro consort and the versatile and contemporary saxophone quartet. This may be the first work of its kind to bring these specific instruments from antiquity and modernity together into one piece. The Anchoress further offers social commentary. Medieval and Renaissance-era women had few professional opportunities; the anchoritic calling offered a life where scholarly and creative pursuits were a possibility. Accounts of their mystic visions have informed theology for hundreds of years, as meaningful in today’s instantaneous and multi-layered digital world as it was in the spiritual and ascetic culture of the anchorites.”
Also on the program are three of the composer’s earlier works: Our Long War, a song cycle and Ludwig’s first collaboration with poet Katie Ford featuring soprano Tiffany Townsend, violinist Karen Kim, and pianist Susan Nowicki; Josquin Microludes (commissioned by the PRISM Quartet), a set of miniatures that incorporates Josquin’s Mille Regretz into its musical language; and Three Anchoress Songs for flute and saxophone, composed as Ludwig was developing The Anchoress song cycle, which will be performed by flutist Mimi Stillman and PRISM saxophonist Matthew Levy. Additionally, Piffaro will perform works by the medieval French poet and composer Guillaume de Machaut, newly arranged by Ludwig.