Monday, February 15, 2010

Lisa Bielawa's Graffiti dell'amante: A World Premiere in Harrisburg

The string quartet that calls itself “Brooklyn Rider” will be performing a program this weekend at Market Square Church in downtown Harrisburg ranging from the 1820s to the newest of the new, the world premiere of a work commissioned by Market Square Concerts just for this occasion. Philip Glass's 2nd String Quartet (“Company”) from 1984 adds to a program that includes “Achilles' Heel” by the ensemble's second violinist, Colin Jacobsen, and “Lachrymosa” by the Uzbek-born composer Dmitri Yanov Yanovsky.

The program concludes with one of the great quartets from the 19th Century, the Quartet in D Minor by Franz Schubert, known as the “Death and the Maiden” Quartet because it quotes from one of his songs as the basis of a set of variations in the slow movement.

To give you a little information about the world premiere – Graffiti dell'amante by Lisa Bielawa – I'll just quote from Ellen Hughes' press release about the concert.

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Composer and vocalist Lisa Bielawa’s Graffiti dell’amante will receive its world premiere in a concert by the string quartet Brooklyn Rider with Ms. Bielawa as vocal soloist at 8 pm on Saturday, February 20, 2010 presented by Market Square Concerts at Market Square Church (20 S. 2nd St., Harrisburg, PA).

Written in Rome, where stories of love echo across centuries of art and poetry, Graffiti dell’amante is an open-ended song cycle for string quartet and soprano, in which the segments (called “Figures”) that are performed at each concert are selected by the audience members.

Ms. Bielawa explains, “Originally inspired by Roland Barthes’ playful yet poignant collection of poems A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, the piece uses various declarations of romantic Love to enact what Barthes calls the “Figures” of the Lover (“Absence,” “Devotion,” “Ravishment,” “Remembering,” etc.). The poems describe a great variety of subjects and narrators: male poet writes to a female Beloved; male poet writes a love poem from a woman’s point of view; female novelist (with a male pseudonym) writes dialogue for a male character in love; male poet secretly writes taboo love poetry to another man. The Lover declares him/herself to, from, and through so many faces!”

Each performance of Graffiti dell’amante can include a different subset and arrangement of the Figures, resulting in a different piece every time – which might be any length, containing any combination of possible predicaments in any order.

Because the audience selects the Figures to be performed, the piece will become a portrait of that group’s combined attitude toward love at that moment.

Lisa Bielawa is a 2009 Rome Prize winner in Musical Composition and is based at the American Academy in Rome until August 2010. Ms. Bielawa has written numerous works for voice, including her piece Chance Encounter, conceived with the soprano Susan Narucki, for twelve migrating instrumentalists and singer. Chance Encounter uses overheard speech and is meant to be performed in public places. It was premiered by Ms. Narucki and The Knights in Manhattan’s Seward Park, and was performed again at the Whitney Museum in February. The work has been recorded by Grammy Award-winning producer Adam Abeshouse for release on the Orange Mountain Music label.

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Ms. Bielawa has also been blogging from Rome - Lend Me Your Ears - not entirely about the composition we'll be hearing but her wide range of topics and interests will give you an insight into the time she was writing it and experiencing life in the Eternal City. The posts are at the WQXR website but they don't have a single link to the entire blog, so here are the four posts, listed in chronological order:

When in Rouen (November 16, 2009)
Extravagant Stories (November 30, 2009)
Voices from Above and Beyond (December 18, 2009)
Musicians Without Borders (January 25, 2010)

Okay, you might be thinking "that's not a lot of blogging," but after all she was living in Rome and supposed to be spending most of her time composing!

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