And so the heavens turned
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Brown and White get to work
The Momenta Quartet joins forces with composers Elizabeth Brown and Frances White in a multimedia evening fusing Western contemporary music with Japanese aesthetics, literary references, and a video/sculpture installation by artist Lothar Osterburg. This dynamic program is slated for two performances in December 2019 on the Interpretations series at Roulette and at Bard College, featuring Momenta alongside baritone/narrator Thomas Buckner (a fixture of the Downtown new-music scene) and Elizabeth Brown in her equal capacity as shakuhachi master.
Brown and White’s respective sound worlds embrace a sense of beauty and romanticism—inspired by the notion that music, storytelling, and language are intertwined, their combination leading to the most powerful artistic impact. Brown’s quartet “Just Visible in the Distance,” dedicated to Momenta, draws its title, inspiration, and form from W.G. Sebald’s book “The Rings of Saturn.” The piece, inspired by Sebald’s continuous narrative arc, consists of intuitively-assembled small movements, each flowing into the next. White’s “And so the heavens turned” for quartet and narrator, a collaboration with writer James Pritchett, contemplates the mystery of storytelling itself. Pritchett’s text, inspired by the 11th-century Persian epic “Shahnameh,” is read before the music and during its closing, evoking at times the anguish and passion of the epic’s mythic lovers, at others a questioning stillness. Past mythology comes into full play in the world premiere of “Babel”, a multimedia collaboration between Brown and Osterburg using music, video, electronics, and sculpture to celebrate NYC as a living organism. Momenta is spaced around Osterburg’s monumental interpretation of Babel, covered with pages from discarded books in a multitude of languages. Brown’s collected recordings of Emma Lazarus’s verse from the Statue of Liberty, read in English in a multitude of accents, form the soundscape’s center. In this positive version of Babel, nothing is destroyed; instead, it is cumulative, with its architectural history visible, its constant influx of immigrants the source of its life and beauty.
The spiritual and sonic qualities of the shakuhachi tradition, with its delicate timbre and poetic expression lending itself to musical storytelling, bring two world premieres to this concert. Brown’s “Dialect” for solo shakuhachi uses repeating, morphing phrases to trace the evolution of a unique language. White’s “The book of evening” for quartet and shakuhachi is drawn from Mark Strand’s beautiful poem “Moon,” picturing the moon appearing between clouds. The music reflects this as a sonic image, the shakuhachi surrounded by the strings’ musical “clouds.” Strand’s moon creates a path to “those places where what you had wished for happens.” The music evokes longing for that place, vanishing as the book of evening closes.
Momenta’s exploratory philosophy has led to countless collaborations with dance, film, drama, and non-Western instruments. This multidisciplinary project–intertwining strings and shakuhachi with sculpture, video, electronics, narration, and cross-cultural narratives–highlights the importance of upholding inclusiveness and diversity, no less in this fraught day and age. It marks a decade of collaboration between Momenta, Brown and Osterburg, and the important addition of White’s works to Momenta’s unique personal repertoire.
“Piranesi” is a collaboration of composer/thereminist Elizabeth Brown and her partner, photogravurist and filmmaker Lothar Osterburg, in homage to the exaggerated architectural world created by master printmaker G. B. Piranesi (1720-1778) in his Carceri (etchings of imaginary prisons). Brown’s score, blending string quartet with the theremin’s unearthly voice, is combined with Osterburg’s miniature models and stop-motion animation capturing his own unique artistic process. Performed live on 10/1/17 at Momenta Festival III (Dixon Place, NYC).
This is an excerpt from “And so the heavens turned”, for string quartet and narrator, performed by Maya Bennardo, Sabina Torosjan, Liuh-Wen Ting, and Kate Dillingham. The text is by James Pritchett (text is available on the SoundCloud page).
“And so the heavens turned” is about both story and storyteller. The story is from the Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), the 11th-century Persian epic written by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. The stoyteller is Mohammed Habibian, who introduced us to the “Shanameh” and other works of Persian literature.
“Mirage” is one of a series of Brown’s pieces combining shakuhachi with Western instruments; the two musical traditions exchange ideas and language in a series of scenes which emerge and then dissolve. This is a live performance by Brown and the Momenta Quartet at Brooklyn Conservatory in 2012.
Start and End Dates
11/29/2019 — 12/12/2019
New York, New York