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Coming Together / Attica Shows Dignity in the Face of Atrocities

invisible-dog-logo-250wOver a year ago I heard Arundhati Roy barraged with a series of idiotic questions from a couple college professors after a talk she gave on her book, Walking with the Comrades, about the Naxalite communist guerilla insurgency in India. The idiocy resulted from the wide gap between well-intentioned US intellectuals and the real life experiences of oppression and resistance among the impoverished Indian peasants and Adivasis depicted in Roy’s book. Perhaps the most inane question asked to her was “how do you find the beauty in the most terrible circumstances?”  Roy’s excellent response was something to the effect of “Because it’s there!…in the people struggling for their very existence and seeking to create a better world” (her exact words were more poetic.) Such beauty in the midst of the worst of atrocities was captured by recent performances of Coming Together / Attica by Frederic Rzewski with original choreography by Rebecca Lazier. On June 13-15, 2013, at the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn, Newspeak ensemble, conducted by David T. Little, and Lazier’s dancers projected a fleeting moment of human dignity for the oppressed in American history.

Coming Together/Attica - Photo by Julie Lemberger

Coming Together/Attica – Photo by Julie Lemberger

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5 questions to Rebecca Lazier (dancer, choreographer, teacher)

On June 13-15, 2013, Rebecca Lazier and her performers will team up with Newspeak to present the NY premiere of Coming Together/Attica, an immersive, site-specific dance work to Frederic Rzewski’s iconic scores at The Invisible Dog Art Center. We asked 5 questions to Rebecca about this project.

How, for you, does Rzewski’s Coming Together / Attica speak to the present?

When I first heard Coming Together and Attica – a friend sat me down, gave me headphones and told me to listen – it was entirely without context. I was unaware of when it was composed, the source of the texts, the performer instructions, the compositional techniques, the significance of the riots in American history or of Rzewski’s controversial position in the music world. Despite my naiveté, I was immediately struck by its combination of structural clarity and emotional power. I wanted to know how it was made, what made it work and who Frederic Rzewski was.

As I learned about the history, context and structure of the piece, I noticed that while knowing more allowed me to appreciate the work and see it as an artistic challenge, the piece resonated with present-day compositional methods and provided insight into disturbing current cultural policies. As I delved into it, I realized the music isn’t just about a single moment of American history, but a work that continues to shed light on relevant abstract and political questions. Although it was inspired by the riots, Rzewski does not dictate an ideology in the piece, he invites the listener to create his or her own meanings. This allows it to be timeless.

For me, the piece speaks to the present on several levels. Rzewski’s compositional approach to merge formal constraints with political content is used across art disciplines today. Performing the piece now can also raise consciousness of the current prison crisis in America. An unprecedented proportion of our population is incarcerated. The perverse lack of rehabilitation services and the use of isolation to treat symptomatic behavior is tantamount to a humanitarian disaster and demonstrates questionable educational, cultural and political policy.

Rzewski’s work brought new perspectives to my experience of isolation and confinement, introduced possibilities for structural invention, motivated me to research the historical and current conditions of imprisonment, and enabled me to imagine social change through art.

Rebecca Lazier - Photo by Bentley Drezner

Rebecca Lazier – Photo by Bentley Drezner

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ICE Presents Gubaidulina Composer Portrait at Miller Theatre

When I discovered that the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) was putting on an all-Gubaidulina program at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre on February 9, 2013, I jumped at the chance to attend. Sofia Gubaidulina certainly stands as one of the best and most original composers of the last several decades. Using cutting-edge instrumental techniques to great effect, Gubaidulina’s music is painted with innovative strokes of sound. Add to this canvas a compelling sensibility for solo voices that gives each composition different characters to work with, and the result is always fascinating. ICE, with its large pool of solid instrumentalists, seems capable of pulling off anything, no matter how difficult the score and how wacky the instrumentation. This makes them well-positioned to bring to life Gubaidulina’s always interesting selections of instrumentation, chosen with a deep knowledge of what the instruments are capable of and how to push their limits. Indeed, ICE’s Composer Portrait concert of works by Gubaidulina at Miller Theatre proved the prowess of composer and ensemble alike.

Bassoonist Rebekah Heller of International Contemporary Ensemble (photo credit: Larry Dunn)

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I Sing Beijing at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall

Lincoln-Center-logoDespite it being the year 2013, the notion of art music is generally equated exclusively with the Western classical tradition. The American debut of I Sing Beijing at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in NYC this past Saturday, however, exemplified the rich operatic tradition in China with excerpts from several works composed within the last century. Just as exciting as the music performed was the fact that the concert was the result of intensive training in Mandarin diction and rigorous vocal coaching of a number of young up-and-coming singers from around the world.

(photo credit: Chris Lee)

(photo credit: Chris Lee)


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Asian Music for String Quartet

The New Zealand String Quartet has shown much care and attention to detail in bringing to life the music of four Asian composers on their latest recording for Naxos. The CD, Asian Music for String Quartet, presents disparate sound worlds influenced to varying degrees by Asian music and instruments. The techniques, timbres, and stylistic nuances demanded of the performers would be a challenge for the best of ensembles, and it is testament to the New Zealand Quartet’s hard work, expressive sensitivity, and diligent interpretation that each composition’s unique qualities shine.

New Zealand String Quartet

New Zealand String Quartet, image © Robert Catto, www.catto.co.nz, all rights reserved.

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