Friday, February 27, 2004 at 7:30pm “Orchestra Underground”
“I roam above the sea,
I wait for the right weather,
I beckon to the sails of ships.
Under the cope of storms, with waves disputing,
On the free crossway of the sea
When shall I start on my free course?”
– Aleksandr Pushkin, “Eugene Onegin”
tr. Vladimir Nabokov
If in Buddhism one practices Detachment, in Russia one practices Attachment. When I was finishing The Right Weather, I went to the Pushkin Museum in St. Petersburg and stood in the poet’s study where he died. Everything has been left exactly as it was that night after his ill-fated duel. The clock has been stopped at 2:45 am.
There is such beauty and even strength in the part of us that stubbornly will not move on. When I read this Pushkin excerpt, which is a meditation on the narrator’s own internal exile, I felt I had found a whole emotional world that could guide me through an extended musical journey. We Roam, we Wait, we Beckon – and we must do all of these things, richly and with a sincere (if broken) heart, before we may Start again. This is the journey I wanted to share with the listener in The Right Weather.
In Red Square, a microtonal carillon pierces the cold air every hour. These bells are refracted in the Prologue.
The sound world of ROAM (section 1) is restless. I was aware of a roiling impatience underlying a deceptively calm, passive scene: the view from a remote cliff, overlooking an unpropitious sea.
The same tenacious musical material appears in WAIT (section 2), only now in a dialogue between the soloist and an orchestral drone. When Andy Armstrong first encountered WAIT, he wrote to me, “the drone lets the piano music have its impetuous, child-like way. It lets the piano protest, wonder, love, regret – all those messy things human beings do in between our two eternal silences.”
After visiting the still-nascent Zankel Hall last Spring, I visualized BECKON (section 3) thus: small groups of players call out the same material to each other, but with completely different understandings. Imagine that you and I both read a story. You think it is a love story, I think it is an adventure story. Now we tell the story to each other, only sort of listening to each other. “Wow, it almost seems like the same story as mine!” we say to each other, full of enthusiasm and without any sadness or confusion, because in each of us, the story is complete.
And it is this completeness that ushers in START (section 4), a celebration of volition and readiness. It revels in flourishing details and grandeur, qualities I hear in equal measure in Zankel. START cherishes that kind of pianism that hears a world of nuance in the most urgent, sustained exuberance.
Perhaps we sentimentalize our exile the most when we are finally leaving it behind, and so START is not heedless of nostalgia. But always, the world ahead holds improbable, unfamiliar promise. It shimmers. It radiates initiative and readiness. Joy.
The Right Weather is scored for 2 flutes (one doubling piccolo); 1 clarinet (doubling bass clarinet); 2 horns; 3 trumpets; 2 trombones; 2 percussionists; harp; accordion; strings.
By Lisa Bielawa
Aleksandr Pushkin, Eugene Onegin
translated by Vladimir Nabokov
Volume I, Chapter One, Stanza L, page 117
©1964 by Bollingen Foundation
Revised Edition ©1975 by Princeton University Press
Library of Congress #80-8730
Produced in collaboration with Ridge Theater
“New York is peculiarly constructed to absorb any event that comes along, without inflicting the event on its inhabitants; so that every event is, in a sense, optional, and the inhabitant is in the happy position of being able to choose his spectacle and so conserve his soul… I believe (this) has a positive effect on the creative capacities of New Yorkers – for creation is in part the business of forgoing the great and small distractions.”
“Here is New York”, by E.B. White, Summer 1948
New York was the first place where I felt like just another regular guy walking down the street. I was just an anonymous guy in a city too diverse to notice me, and too busy to care. My first New York cup of coffee was at Cozy Soup and Burger, a place to which I may never return. It remains the place I sat that first day as a 19 year old art student, and that is what it remains for me. I seldom return to any of my old haunts, even though most of them are still only blocks away. In this way, New York has sometimes felt like a small town. Yet it is many small towns layered one on top of another, blocks of time unnoticeably plopped on top of physical city blocks.
New York continually rebuilds itself, reinventing and re-imagining itself, building on top itself, layering over the past, declaring entire eras over and ushering in newly minted ones. We walk the streets of our neighborhood, remembering the names of stores that once stood where a new one now stands, remembering the actual name, or what we used to call it. Buildings and relationships have been built and demolished, and new ones built on the ashes of the old.
In Gotham, we look to New York’s past in the endless troves of old newsreel films. We look at its present in a myriad of small details, patterns and repetition which patina the superstructure over time. There is a sense of amazement that this city could be built by human hands, ones not unlike our own. And we look to its future in the continuous cycle of construction and collapse. The constant reconfiguring of the skyline has rendered our attachment to any one place or time optional. New York has always offered its inhabitants a clean slate, and the opportunity to find a new place to anonymously get one’s coffee. And to conserve his soul.
Gotham is scored for 2 flutes; 2 clarinets; 2 horns; 3 trumpets; 2 trombones; 2 percussionists; electric guitar; electric bass; strings.
Bill Morrison, January 2004
Laurie Olinder, Michael Gordon, Bob McGrath