I am super excited to announce the final phase of my project – the official release of Cyprian Films/Minos Papas’ fabulous film of
The Lost String Quartet:
A theatrical string quartet for children (and playful adults of all ages)
Concept and original music: Stephanie Griffin
Script and theater direction: Fernando Villa Proal
Based on the book THE LOST STRING QUARTET by N. M. Bodecker
Copyright © 1983 by N. M. Bodecker
Adapted for the stage by permission of Atheneum Books For Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division. All rights reserved.
I’ve embedded the entire film into this update – and you can also read more about the whole project on Momenta’s new Lost String Quartet web page.
For the purposes of New Music USA, the project is now officially over, but it is really just the beginning! Our production designer, Pedro Pazarán Trujillo, designed the show so that the whole production fits into four heavy suitcases…and the Momenta Quartet and Fernando Villa Proal would love to bring it to you!
We already performed the piece for 400 New York public school children under the auspices of Cyndie Bellen-Berthézène’s incredible program, The Time In Children’s Arts Initiative. The children ranged in age from 5 to 11, and all of them loved the show! You will see happy children interacting with Fernando and Momenta in the film. Adults really enjoyed it too…
So I am reaching out to the New Music USA community, and asking you all this:
If you know of any presenters who would like to bring this production to your area, please let me know. In fact, Fernando will be in New York in early September and we have plans to bring him for some shows in Philadelphia in mid February to early March 2019 – so those would be two perfect times! Any other time is possible, too, of course – flights from Mexico City are not that expensive…
Meanwhile, since this will be my final update on the project – here are some thoughts about what The Lost String Quartet meant to me as a composer:
The Lost String Quartet is an original concert-length theatrical string quartet piece for children and playful adults of all ages, based on the children’s book by N. M. Bodecker, with my concept and music, script and theater direction by Fernando Villa Proal, and performance by Fernando with my own string quartet, the Momenta Quartet. Fernando and Momenta combine physical comedy and musical performance to recount the bizarre misadventures of a string quartet on its way to a gig on the other side of the mountain. Throughout the course of the story, the quartet’s car and all of its instruments are destroyed. As each instrument meets its unfortunate demise, an original junkyard creation by experimental percussionist Michael Evans takes its place. As the old adage goes – the show must go on! Against all odds, the Momenta Quartet gives a concert that everyone in the audience will certainly remember.
Like in the story, this film version of The Lost String Quartet is the culmination of years of adventures for me, starting from the moment I found N. M. Bodecker’s book at a book vendor’s stall on Broadway at West 73rd Street over ten years ago. Adapting this book into a theatrical string quartet has been a dream for me ever since then. The concept was immediately clear to me, but it took me a while to get to it, since I didn’t really know anyone in theater. I am glad I waited, because at that time I was not self-identifying as a composer, and I would have spent lots of time fundraising to outsource my idea to another composer!
Every couple years I revisited the idea, and when I was no longer consciously thinking about it, I met the perfect director and actor, Fernando Villa Proal, at Momenta’s concert at the Búcareli 69 Casa de Artes in Mexico City in 2015. Then ensued the quest for the composer – who turned out to be me! Who would have guessed?
By the time all that came together, the optimum audience became apparent – namely the children of Cyndie Bellen-Berthézène’s incredible program, The Time In Children’s Arts Initiative. And the venue – of course we would do the world premiere production in Time In’s gorgeous gallery space in Chelsea – and just in the nick of time, since Time In had to give up the space only months thereafter.
Then there was the challenge of doing something I had never done before. I had not yet composed something of this scope, and had never collaborated with a theater artist. Moreover my creative collaborator lived in Mexico City! It was exciting – Fernando and I Skyped at least once a month, and after many hours of discussion the form of the piece emerged, and Fernando began to email me drafts of the script. I started sketching music and working with Michael Evans on creating the homemade instruments.
Once the creative work began, there ensued a massive fundraising effort. I was fortunate to receive this project grant from New Music USA, and another one from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC), and Momenta had some grant money of its own from NYSCA, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, The Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University and the Amphion Foundation. Still not enough – but this project was clearly meant to be: just at the perfect moment I was awarded composition fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) in 2016 and from The Jerome Foundation in 2017. Without that support it would have been very difficult to mount the world premiere production, and absolutely impossible to make the film!
Thankfully, my fellowship awards also made it possible for me to bring Fernando twice to the United States. On his first trip, in August 2017, he joined Momenta at Fred Tauber’s Avaloch Farm Music Institute in New Hampshire. I don’t know how we would have put the whole piece together without Avaloch Farm. It was absolutely perfect to be all together in the countryside, with our own studio, all the homemade instruments, no distractions, and an incredible chef cooking three meals a day for us…
The next hurdle: Momenta had to learn how to act! Through Fernando’s Facebook connections, we met the astounding actress and physical comedy coach, Hilary Chaplain. She is a remarkable teacher and if you live in NYC, I highly recommend her physical comedy workshops.
And then Fernando brought Pedro Pazarán Trujillo on board to design the whole production and oversee the making of all the set, props and costumes in Mexico City.
The whole project was magical, and I couldn’t have even imagined a happier outcome.
Beyond what the project meant to me, and to all of my collaborators, the most important aspect of The Lost String Quartet is its audience. For many of 400 children who saw the piece in New York City last December, this show was their first experience of a live string quartet and their first exposure to contemporary concert music and live theater. And we are deeply committed to sharing this show with many more children in the years to come: the Momenta Quartet and Fernando Villa Proal are ready to haul those 4 heavy suitcases and all our instruments to whatever venue can bring more kids who would like to see it!
I hope you all enjoy the film and wish you all the best for your summer travels and adventures,